Keepers' Diaries, January 2023

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

The year began with mischief — and predictably, it was Bondeni who was at the heart of it all. He convinced Olorien and Naleku to join him in a raucous game of hide-and-seek with the Keepers. The three elephants careened around the stockade area, chasing each other and hiding in corners. Once in the forest, Bondeni was eager to continue the game. He trumpeted at Suguroi and Naleku, inviting them to join him as he bolted away from the herd. However, the sensible mini matriarchs knew that the moment had passed and ignored him. Realising that no one wanted to play, Bondeni reluctantly settled down. 

This month, Kerrio had several glorious games with the resident warthogs. She lumbers around after them, trying her best to mimic their darting gait. Assured victory each time, the warthogs enjoy these games enormously. No elephant could hope to best a warthog’s speed or agility, but we marvel at Kerrio’s mobility. Watching her these days, it is easy to forget that she was nearly paralysed when we rescued her 16 months ago.

During early mornings in the forest, wily little Nyambeni is never far from her Keepers. This is so she can be first in line for milk feeds. As soon as she hears the telltale whistle, she shoots over to the feeding area and waits expectantly. One day, Mageno beat her to it and got his bottle first. Nyambeni quickly formulated a revenge plan and overtook Mageno with great flourish as they headed down to the mud bath. He trumpeted in displeasure, but it was no good — Nyambeni was the winner!

Recent rescues Kitiak, Kitich, Elerai, Iletilal, Muwingu, and Weka really enjoy each other's company. In the early mornings, they often hang out in a contented mini herd at a distance from the others. Occasionally, Ziwadi chose to join the newbies, much to their delight. Everybody loves Ziwadi; she is a quirky young lady who does not make demands on others.

Ziwadi has always been Ziwadi, doing her own thing, making her own decisions, and going in her own directions. Historically, she has not been a big fan of the mud bath — but this month, she turned into a wallower of note! She had so much fun cooling off with her friends, rolling around and splashing water everywhere. 

Some days, our evolving herd dynamics are on full display. One morning, Taabu — who has become the Nursery’s up-and-coming playmaker — charged over to Maxwell’s enclosure and then embroiled Tingai in a pushing game. Tingai is known for his quirky trunk-sucking habit, but tends to be quite reserved. It was great to see him fully involved in playing with Taabu.

While this game unfolded, Kindani and Sileita were having a lovely time babysitting Muridjo and Shujaa. As they browsed, the big girls pulled down branches from the taller trees and gave them to the youngsters. Over by the mud bath, old rivals Kerrio and Mukutan got into a bitter argument over a small stick. As they squared up for a battle, Latika and Sileita stepped in to separate them. Meanwhile, Rafiki and Ahmed took the opportunity to pull a disappearing act, sneaking off for a private wallow. These little vignettes show how every individual personality fits into the orphan herd.

The middle of the month was marked by quite a drama. As they headed out into the forest, the orphans came across a lioness lying ahead on the path. Courageous Esoit charged at her, trumpeting loudly and flapping his ears aggressively, followed by an equally brave Ahmed. Alas, the lioness was completely unimpressed by their show. Although she had no interest in bothering them, she was not about to be told what to do by a group of baby elephants. The Keepers drove the lioness away, while pushing the orphans in a quieter direction.  

Muridjo is such a character. Although she is indisputably a baby, she does not want to be considered as such. She is constantly trying to assert herself as a ‘big girl’ — often with comical results. One day, she gave her friend Mageno a vigorous shove for no reason at all. Because she is six months younger than him and significantly smaller, the push simply propelled Muridjo backwards into the mud bath, which was full of wallowing orphans. The little girl ended up next to Kindani who kindly helped her climb out. Feeling temporarily cowed, she trotted over to hang out with the other blanket babies.

Kitich has really settled into the Nursery. He is becoming a friendly boy — and also a greedy one! He knows the feeding schedule, but out in the bush, he raises up his trunk to the Keepers and gently touches them, hoping to woo them into giving him an impromptu bottle of milk. 

The Nursery seems to be full of naughty boys at the moment. One day, it was Mukutan’s turn to throw his weight around. After downing his two bottles of milk, he gave Choka a shove in an attempt to steal a third bottle from him. The two young bulls started sparring, pulling and pushing each other around the mud bath. It was a good-humoured contest, but with a serious edge. This time, Choka emerged the winner, leaving Mukutan to sulk for the rest of the morning.

Lodo is usually quiet, but that may be starting to change! During a memorable mud bath, he was the first to arrive, sprinting in as fast as his legs would carry him and trumpeting in excitement. As soon as he had gulped down his bottle, he dove into the mud bath for a wallow. It was so out of character, but so lovely to witness.

On 18th January, Naleku, Suguroi, and Sagateisa left the Nursery to continue their reintegration journey in Ithumba. After weeks and weeks of graduation training, the day finally arrived. As they watched the moving lorry disappear down the drive, bound for Tsavo, the Keepers felt enormous pride for their little charges. From Ithumba, each girl will eventually reclaim their place in the wild, which is the goal of our Orphans’ Project.

Plodding out of her stable after dawn, Nyambeni began to look for Naleku and Suguroi. She was starting to become quite frantic, until Olorien stepped in. The wise female followed her to the mud bath and calmed her down with lots of rumbling and trunk touching. Olorien laid her trunk along the baby’s back for a few minutes, perhaps reassuring her that everything was okay, before escorting her back to the stockades. From that moment onwards, everyone seemed to understand that the graduates had simply moved to a new chapter, and there was no more drama or discord.

During another hot day in the forest, our ‘mischievous wanderers’ Weka and Iletilal started drifting away from the group. A Keeper set off after them, but as soon as they realised that they were being followed, the pair sprinted off in opposite directions, trunks and tails aloft. When a Keeper whistled sternly, they slowly turned about and plodded back to join their friends. We are happy to see this friendship blossoming; before, Iletilal was friends mainly with Elerai, but now he is widening his circle of buddies.

Elerai is doing the same. He is very interested in becoming better friends with Esoit. Although he is a respected older bull, Esoit is exceptionally sweet and has time for everyone. He eagerly responded to Elerai’s overtures of friendship.

Although Kamili was rescued more than a year ago, she is still quite introverted and shy of human beings. She throws up her trunk apprehensively if anyone startles her, even her trusted Keepers. Thus, everyone was very happy to see her visibly relaxed while hanging out with Iletilal. He is a good choice of friend, as he is a peaceful chap who does not often push or fight with the others. 

Latika seems to be turning over a new leaf, making new friends and trying new things. She usually bypasses the mud bath, but this month, she eagerly waddled into the water many times. She used her short trunk to throw mud on herself, before slowly climbing out and rolling around in the dust, almost with glee. Typically, she hangs out on her own in the forest, but recently she has preferred to remain firmly in the middle of the herd, browsing and rumbling with her friends.

When Naleku and Suguroi graduated to Ithumba, lovely Olorien slipped seamlessly into their shoes. She has become the mini matriarch of the Nursery herd, with Kerrio at her side as an elder sister. One afternoon, the Keepers witnessed Olorien teaching Nyambeni and Mzinga a game. She lay down, pretending to be asleep, which was the babies’ cue to climb on top of her. She would then ‘wake up’, sending them scuttling off, only for the game to start again.

Kerrio learned a great deal from wise Naleku. Ever since her older friend graduated, Kerrio has emerged as an excellent ‘elder sister’ and has even taken over some of Naleku’s rituals. First thing in the morning, she makes a beeline for Mzinga, Nyambeni, and Shujaa’s bedrooms, waiting patiently until they emerge. In the evening, Kerrio usually walks slowly back to the stockades behind Mzinga, touching her back occasionally with her trunk — shades of Naleku once again.

Ahmed is also establishing her role in the herd. She is spending lots of time with Shujaa, Muridjo, Kamili, and Muwingu, standing close to them out in the forest and looking after her young friends. One day, Bondeni gave the small boy a big push, knocking him over. Ahmed immediately sprinted over to rescue Shujaa, putting her trunk all over him to check that he was okay. She and Muwingu then chased after Bondeni and told him off sternly.

Kinyei, meanwhile, has no mini matriarch aspirations. She is an independent young lady – a caring elephant who has good friends, but is mostly interested in doing her own thing. She is always happy to hang with Bondeni and Kindani, but she is in her element when forging her own path.

When we think of Tingai and Sileita, the word ‘mischief’ doesn’t come to mind — in fact, they are two of the quietest members of our herd. However, one day their desire for milk usurped any manners. The duo arrived as normal with the first group and gulped down their bottles. But then, instead of moving on, they doubled back and tagged along behind the second group. The Keepers were surprised and amused by their duplicity.

Kitiak has changed so much since his arrival at the Nursery. Initially, he was quite aggressive towards the Keepers. Over the passing weeks, however, he has become more trusting and friendly towards his carers. He has become good friends with Ahmed, Lodo, and Elerai, which has undoubtedly bolstered his comfort and confidence among the herd.

Choka likes to pretend he’s a big, brave bull, but we know otherwise! One morning, the dreamy young boy didn’t realise that the other orphans had left for the forest. He made the discovery ten minutes later — and was very upset to be left behind. Choka sprinted out of his stockade, tail up and ears flapping, accompanied by a flurry of irate trumpets.

Maxwell, our resident blind rhino, is a popular chap. A stream of visitors pass through his large enclosure throughout the day, including birds, warthogs, baboons, and monkeys. One afternoon, a tiny warthog joined him for an afternoon snooze in the shade. And of course, the orphaned elephants always pay their respects at Max’s stockade before heading out into the forest each morning.

January ended with a charming moment featuring our sweet Ziwadi. She was lying down close to the babies, while a Keeper sprinkled her with mud. As she relaxed in the sunshine, Mzinga, Muridjo, Nyambeni, Shujaa, and Kerrio surrounded her, enveloping her in a halo of tiny elephants.

January 2023 day to day

01 Jan

The new year began with a bright sunny morning. Awake but still in their stockades, the orphans were rumbling and trumpeting their desires to start the day and head out into the forest with their Keepers. They downed their bottles of milk and set out to browse.

Except for Bondeni, Olorien and Naleku who were playing hide and seek with the Keepers! The three elephants were running up and down the stockade area, chasing each other and hiding in corners. When a Keeper told them off firmly, they reluctantly followed their friends out into the forest.

Once there, naughty Bondeni sprinted off in a different direction. He trumpeted at Suguroi and Naleku, inviting them to join him, as he bolted away from the herd. The two sensible mini matriarchs completely ignored him, continuing instead to trunk touch and tend to Nyambeni and Mzinga. Realizing that no one wanted to play, the disgruntled big boy settled down and got on with eating his greens.

In the afternoon, Suguroi was the first in the mud bath, paddling for a few minutes before squatting on her bottom and lying down on her side to wallow. She was soon joined by Olorien and Kinyei – the two girls rubbed their big bodies against each other as they lay side by side in the thick mud.

Naleku and Suguroi with Nyambeni

Suguroi swimming

Olorien and Kinyei