Keepers' Diaries, January 2023

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Kaluku Neonate Unit

The new year began with a sweet new addition to our eclectic orphan herd: Harvey, an aptly named Harvey’s duiker. The other orphaned duikers currently at Kaluku are very hands-off, but Harvey loves to cuddle. Of course, he will phase out of this as he grows up, but for now it is very sweet to see him nuzzling and nudging his way into the laps of his carers. 

We are best known for raising orphaned elephants and rhinos, but we are deeply invested in any creature we rescue — big or small! Squeaky the ground squirrel came into our care in 2021. She has since transitioned to the wild and given birth to several litters of kits. When she is not busy caring for her own family, she loves to visit the people who raised her. We always keep a stash of peanuts and vegetables ready for her. 

Apollo the orphaned rhino:

This month was all about relaxation for Apollo. If December was all about browsing the buffet of green brought on by the rains, he spent January firmly focused on napping, wallowing, and conserving energy. It has gotten quite hot again, which puts the rhino in a leisurely mood. Some days, he even refused to leave the mud bath. The orphaned elephants would come careening in for their bottles, only to find Apollo swathed across the wet earth. Of course, great drama ensued, as everyone charged about in mock alarm. In reality, both the elephants and Apollo love these not-so-impromptu run-ins. 

Apollo is a real creature of habit. After having his morning milk bottle, he strides over to the water trough. He is perfectly capable of drinking himself, but he prefers when his favourite Keeper, Justus, splashes water into his open mouth. From there, he moves along to ‘Apollo’s rock,’ located on our Field Manager’s lawn. He has a good, long scratch before continuing into the bush. Usually, Twiggy the giraffe is standing by, quietly observing his rituals unfold.

The orphaned elephants:

Doldol is still our miniature elephant, but she is getting larger, bit by bit. She may always be on the petite side, but it is relieving to know that she won’t be teeny tiny forever! She is an excellent timekeeper and really keeps Mishak and Peter on task with her milk feedings. While they prepare her bottles, she waits impatiently at the gate, her heart ears on full display. Any tardiness is met with a chorus of irate trumpets.

One of Doldol’s favourite activities is exploring the Athi River. This excursion is reserved for sunrise, before the heat of the day has set in. She spends a few hours cavorting through the sandy beaches, bravely crossing the water (only after her Keepers have shown her the way), and splashing in small pools. After all that activity, she rests her head on Mishak and Peter’s laps for a nap.

Over at the larger orphan compound, Mwinzi continues to run the show. He is such a confident, self-sufficient young chap — we really marvel at his personality! At midday, after everyone has drunk their milk bottles and quenched their thirst, the four big orphans continue into the mud bath. However, Mwinzi has other plans. He always toddles over to a small, shady tree, where he enjoys a long scratch followed by a mini dust bath. Only after he has completed this ritual does he join the others for a group wallow. 

Out in the bush, Mwinzi is not concerned by the comings and goings of the bigger orphans. He enjoys their company, but he certainly doesn’t seem rudderless if they leave him unattended. Instead, he busies himself with his favourite activity: eating greens. Like Doldol, he has a delightfully round tummy.

Rokka has calmed down a lot in the past few months. Not so long ago, she delighted in charging anyone she sensed to be an ‘easy target’ — namely, any unfamiliar faces who entered her orbit. Now she seems above such mischief. However, we would never describe her as placid. She has a fire that comes out several times a day, whether it’s putting her boyfriends in their place or flaring her ears at her nighttime neighbour, Twiggy. 

Manda also seems to be embracing a more docile side. He remains the most unpredictable member of the Kaluku herd, but no longer seems as keen to get involved in conflict. Most mornings, he positions himself directly behind the Keepers as they walk into the bush, so he can have first pick of the prime browsing locations. As we mentioned last month, we suspect all the newly sprouted greens around Kaluku have contributed to Manda’s overall feeling of wellness.

Vaarti is all sweetness — but he does have a wily side! We have had to reinforce all the stockade locks at Kaluku, because he had started unlocking his own bedroom at night and then doing the same to his friends’ bedrooms. Of course, we commend his cleverness, but a nocturnal disappearing act is the last thing we need in Tsavo. We let Vaarti have his Houdini fix in the morning, when he is allowed to go over to Rokka’s stockade and let her out.

Mayan remains the gentle big brother to Mwinzi. He dotes upon the young bull — perhaps because he too appreciates being babied! He is perfectly capable of browsing by himself, but he loves when the Keepers break off some fresh leaves for him to eat directly from their hands. As he enjoys this special treat, he closes his eyes in a state of bliss. We always remark on how striking Mayan’s eyes are; we have never seen an elephant with that unique honey hue. 

Twiggy the orphaned giraffe:

Twiggy is a very, very cool customer. She takes charge of her own schedule, striding out of her stockade in the morning and getting right down to browsing. Her travels usually take her through the compound and up to our Field Manager’s house, where she spends some quality time with the orphaned duikers. She is an excellent time keeper and knows when Apollo is heading to the mud bath. As he wallows, she quietly browses nearby. 

Twiggy can usually be found in the company of Susu the eland and Kwale the hartebeest. The orphans don’t directly interact much, but they all coexist and enjoy one other’s company. It is a lovely display of interspecies friendships.

Mwinzi, Manda, Vaarti, Mayan, Rokka
Doldol at the Athi river
Manda, Mayan, Rokka, Vaarti, Mwinzi
Apollo enjoying a dust bath
Apollo at dust bath
Doldol with Mishak
Heading out in the morning
Doldol with Peter at the Athi river
Mayan and Rokka
Doldol's morning river rambles
Mayan, Mwinzi, and Rokka
Mayan and Rokka
Mwinzi claiming the hose
Mwinzi and Jackson
Peter with little Nini, (big) Susu, and Billy watching on
Mwinzi admiring Vaarti's face plant
Twiggy likes to join Apollo at mud bath
Mwinzi at the baobab
Vaarti and Mwinzi
Our Kaluku elephant quartet