Keepers' Diaries, January 2021

Select your unit:

Nairobi Nursery Unit

The baby elephants in our care continue to demonstrate their capacity for love on a daily basis, even at this formative young age. Despite coming from different places and elephant families from across the country, they form tight bonds and lavish love on one another. After all, elephants are incredibly social mammals that live in tight-knit groups with strong social bonds and family values, and our orphans are no different.

There were many such examples we can call on this month, like when Nabulu got stuck in the mud bath and Maisha rushed to her friend's side and manoeuvred her body close to Nabulu, so that she could lean against her and heave herself out. We often witness this nurturing behaviour from the older females in the herd, such as Maisha, Nabulu and Kiasa, especially towards the youngsters whenever they need comforting. Roho is still particularly close to Maisha, and Larro is becoming quite the little mini-matriarch who will certainly be able to fill the shoes of the older females once they graduate to our Reintegration Units this year. Larro is particularly fond of Bondeni and is always checking on him and escorting him about the forest.

Naleku and Roho very much have a ‘sibling’ like bond. Roho was rescued from Tsavo and Naleku from the Masai Mara, but they are neighbours at night and similar in age, so they have formed a tight bond. Although they might quarrel and push each other around during the day, one night Roho was scared of a thunderstorm and we watched as Naleku moved over to the partition between their rooms and positioned herself to reach her trunk through to affectionately touch him, staying close to soothe and calm him down. Naleku has always been able to take care of herself, but despite being a little older, Roho needs a little more TLC, and Naleku is very much aware of that.

That is not to say that the orphans don’t have ‘off days’ or can be in a grumpy mood! In these scenarios, it is very much up to the older females and the Keepers, to restore peace. One day, for example, Kiombo was in a naughty mood and wasn’t being very friendly with some of the younger orphans. He pushed Bondeni, who of course yelled out loudly, and Maisha, Kiasa, and Maktao all came running over to help the poor little bull. Olorien, seemingly scared of Kiombo, ran off and Larro quickly ran to retrieve and calm her. Maktao and Kiasa kept a close eye on Bondeni while Maisha was sure to discipline Kiombo and chase him far away from the younger orphans. In this situation, the gentle ‘uncle’ Maktao was also there to lend his support. He is such a calm bull and always likes to look out for the little ones. 

While Maktao is very gentle with the youngsters, it’s a different story with the other older bulls in the Nursery, Mukkoka and Kiombo. As they are growing in size and personality, the games between these bulls have turned a little rougher as they continue to test one another to establish their dominance in the herd. Kiombo is slightly bigger than Maktao and Mukkoka, so the three bulls have never-ending wrestling matches on an almost daily basis! Maktao and Kiombo are neighbours at night, and spend most of their evening wrestling across the partition between their stockades, with neither of them sleeping very much. Despite these boisterous activities, Mukkoka is still also very friendly with little Naleku, and this unlikely friendship between the older bull and little girl is seemingly stronger than ever.

Raising baby elephants is certainly tempestuous; for every heart-warming moment and milestone achieved, there might be heartache just around the corner. Despite doing everything we could for little Shaka, we couldn’t get ahead of the parasites which plagued this young bull and unfortunately he passed away on the 28th, surrounded by loving Keepers who reassured him in his last moments and made him comfortable. While he was only with us a short while, every loss is felt deeply here at the Nursery. We are very heartened, however, by little Ziwadi’s progress this month, and she seems to be making great strides. Despite having a single seizure one night, which was her first in more than five months, she seemed otherwise better than ever. For the first time, it was she who led the herd out with Olorien one morning, and all the others happily followed behind them. She seems to be developing more of a sense of awareness about her, and even though she still enjoys browsing on her own, she spends a lot of time with the younger orphans and can even be quite protective of them. One afternoon, we watched as some warthogs came to browse close to her little group, but she wasn’t having any of it and kept chasing the warthogs away, which is something we haven’t seen her do before. Although she can easily feed on leaves, grass, and greens with her trunk, she hasn’t quite mastered how to drink with it yet and continues to drink water with her mouth. Larro was also a slow-learner regarding how to drink water and the Keepers are hopeful that, much like Larro, Ziwadi will also figure it out in time.

It was quite uncharacteristic to have rain this month, but we did have a week or so of rainy weather. We were very grateful for this, as it will help ease the dry season and tide us over until the long rains in March/April. Some of the orphans like Mukkoka, Kiasa, Larro, Maisha, Naleku, Roho, and Maktao still dislike the rain and aren’t always as eager to leave their stables or stockades if it is raining in the morning. They show their disdain by avoiding the wet bushes and sticking to the wider and dryer pathways through the forest. Every time the Keepers tried to direct them into the thick of the forest, Maktao, Mukkoka, and Kiasa would rumble in protest and refuse to move; even Naleku and Roho joined them in protest. Nabulu, Kiombo, and Naboishu, conversely, aren’t bothered at all by the rain or the wet branches in the forest and are very happy just to crash through. While they might not like the rain, orphans like Roho, Kiasa, and Mukkoka are some of the first orphans to enjoy a mud bath as soon as it warms up!

Of course one orphan that enjoys the rain immensely is black rhino Maxwell. One morning after another heavy downpour he came out of his bedroom and went straight to enjoy a long mud bath in the muddy waters in his stockade. Maxwell also enjoyed many happy encounters with the elephants this month. First it was Kiasa, who noticed one morning that Maxwell was standing near one of his gates. We watched her touching and grabbing his ears with her trunk and their game continued until it was time for Kiasa to head off into the forest. A few days later, it was Maisha who initiated a game with Maxwell, tapping him on his back with her trunk. Maxwell appeared to be enjoying this short interaction with her as he continued to rest against his gate. Their warm moment came to an abrupt end, however, when Maisha suddenly pushed at Maxwell’s gate. This really annoyed Maxwell and he got so irritated that he adopted the typical rhino defence tactic of spraying urine, which sent Maisha running off into the forest after her friends!

Another morning, Roho, Mukkoka, Larro, Maktao, and Kiasa all ran over to Maxwell’s gate to greet him. They all enjoyed a fun little game of pushing at his gate and then waiting for him to push back at the gate and then they would pat his back with their trunks to watch his reaction. Maxwell seems to thoroughly enjoy these playful moments with the orphans, and when the elephant orphans head off, he happily heads back to this bedroom or up to his lucerne pellets. Maxwell’s favourite thing on a warm day is to find the best sunny spot and enjoy a nap to its fullest. We have seen Maxwell in such a deep slumber that even an agama lizard can run around on his back without him batting at ear. Unlike rhinos in the wild, Maxwell can safely fall into such a fitful sleep, secure within the stockade we have erected for this gentle blind rhino.

Larro and Mukkoka are the best timekeepers of the Nursery herd. They always know exactly when it is time for the orphans to have their milk bottles. But while she is such a good little mini-matriarch, Larro, just like Kiasa, can sometimes act up around milk feedings in search of an extra drop of the delicious formula. She will often try to sneak over to the wheelbarrow, or one of the other orphans, and either try to steal or ask for more milk from the Keepers. Kiasa still comes in last for milk feeds to avoid disrupting the others, but she started up a habit of being naughty when coming home to her stockade and refusing to go to bed! The whole time she had a twinkle in her eye as the Keepers dashed around after her, but the Keepers soon learnt that if they ignored her and pretended to walk away and keep everything quiet, she would obediently follow them into her stockade. This game purely seemed to amuse our clever rascal Kiasa!

Our divine arrivals from the Kaluku Nursery, Kinyei, Kindani, and Bondeni, are doing immensely well in the Nursery. Kinyei and Roho are becoming close friends and have recently been enjoying some playful moments together. Although younger than Kindani, Kinyei seems to be a little more curious of the other orphans and keen to forge new friendships. Bondeni is so very playful and has favourite games, like knocking over water troughs and kicking them around, or even doing the same with his mattress at night. He can turn almost anything into a game if he puts his mind to it, and he steals the Keepers’ hearts on an almost daily basis. He loves playing with them, too — especially wrestling games or hide and seek!

January 2021 day to day

01 Jan

It’s the new year and all the orphans seem to have woken up in a very excitable mood. They all charged out of their stables and walked straight out to the forest where they quickly settled to browse. After a short time the Keepers could see that some of the bulls were starting to get playful and Mukkoka, Maktao and Kiombo were quick to start their own wrestling game. Kiombo, who is the biggest of the three, was quick to demonstrate his strength and take the victory. Maktao and Mukkoka, once defeated, were quick to walk off and start browsing again. 

Roho and Naleku also seemed to be in a jovial mood this morning, and they too decided to have their own wrestling game. Roho seemed to initiate the game, and the Keepers were quite amused watching the young bull continuously trying to challenge the young independent girl and as soon as Naleku would retaliate, he would quickly run and hide behind Maisha. As Naleku knows all too well that Maisha may get angry with them, so she would not chase after him but instead moved off towards some of the other orphans. 

Kiasa started her new year in full swing by taking care of poor Ziwadi who was being pushed by Naboishu. Ziwadi was happily browsing next to Olorien, Kindani, Kinyei, and Bondeni when Naboishu decided to push her away. As soon as he pushed her, Kiasa came charging over to intervene and quickly pushed Naboishu far away from Ziwadi and the other younger orphans. It was almost as though she chased him over into the naughty corner for a time out before returning to the herd. Once Naboishu was moved out of the way, Ziwadi happily returned to her browsing. 

Maxwell also seemed to be in a feisty mood this morning as he was seen chasing after the warthogs who were already munching away at his Lucerne pellets. He was quick to chase them out of his stockade and then walk back to his pellets where he began to enjoy his breakfast. Once he had had his fill he went and relaxed in the morning sun. 

Mukkoka and Maktao wrestling in the early hours

Naleku browsing with Nabulu and Roho

The warthogs munching as Maxwell naps