Keepers' Diaries, July 2023

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

July began with a rude awakening, courtesy of Choka and Taabu. The boys woke up before dawn and, rather than let everyone else sleep peacefully, they started rumbling noisily from their respective stockades. Their conversation roused everyone from their slumber, and it wasn’t long before most of the Nursery herd was shoving their gates and rumbling excitedly. When the Keepers opened their doors, Tingai, Rafiki, Mukutan, and Weka burst out and began chasing each other, full of energy.  

Finally, little Raha has started eating solid foods. This is a big development for our brave rhino, whose rectum was mauled by predators when she was rescued. We had to tread carefully with Raha after her surgery, and she was understandably reluctant to eat solids. But now, she has sufficiently healed and is really starting to put on weight. Raha is a chatty girl who entertains her Keepers with a constant stream of conversation, consisting of the daintiest of squeaks.

Meanwhile, Maxwell the blind black rhino has been busy entertaining his usual guests. The warthogs usually trot into his enclosure just after dawn, hoping to join the rhino for breakfast. They make for rather rude guests, as they don’t wait for an invitation and tuck right in, greedily helping themselves to the best greens. Although he cannot see, Maxwell knows exactly what is going on. He often turns in their direction, as if he cannot believe their brazenness.

Usually, as Kitich runs for his milk feed, he trumpets loudly and indignantly. He insists upon drinking on his own and pushes away anyone who comes too close. One afternoon, however, he was on his very best behaviour. He plodded silently down the path, stood close to his friends as he drank his milk, and then popped over to the mud bath for a happy roll-around and a swim.

Sileita is shaping up to be an excellent mini matriarch. She is caring, kind, and absolutely refuses to be flustered. One morning, Taabu and Tingai decided to stage their wrestling match inches from where Sileita stood, going as far as to back into the very bush where she was browsing. Many girls would trumpet irately or run from the scene, but placid Sileita just shifted a bit and let them carry on their way. It is incredible how elephants in such close proximity can be on such different wavelengths. 

One afternoon, Rafiki and Mukutan suddenly started darting around and trumpeting in alarm. The Keepers discovered two wild rhinos, standing just a few steps away from Taroha and Mokogodo. They were peacefully watching the small blue-blanket-clad babies as they moved through the bush. As Rafiki and Mukutan continued to kick up a commotion, the rhinos disappeared into the forest. The young bulls had been protecting the babies!

Ahmed may be one of the oldest girls in the herd, but she is still one of the shyest. Rescued when she was already two, she is wary of human beings and elephants alike. She is, however, intrigued by early-morning tea in the forest. As the Keepers sip from their steaming mugs, she often stands quietly beside them. These tea parties are becoming a regular part of her day. 

Mzinga and Shujaa were orphaned within a few months of each other and, much like any siblings of similar ages, they treat bickering as a competitive sport. This morning, Shujaa — ever the pesky brother — was really teasing Mzinga, pushing her around and refusing to give up. However, Shujaa didn’t realise that Kerrio was watching. Once she realised this spat was becoming a real quarrel, the mini matriarch came over and broke up the pair. Shujaa, who knew he was the guilty party, prudently scampered away and made himself scarce.

Tingai, rather than Rafiki or Kitiak, has assumed the role of the dominant bull in the Nursery herd. He is rather a stern uncle to the younger elephants, who are wary of him and tend to look for their nannies when he approaches. Despite his behaviour to the little ones, he always listens to the Keepers and obediently follows their whistles. 

Mushuru is a recent addition to the Nursery herd, rescued after she was found alone with a spear wound. It has taken time for the young girl to trust either another elephant or a human being. But she is recovering from her ordeal and beginning to feel at ease. At the mud bath one morning, she gulped down her bottle and immediately demanded another. Mushuru plodded around all the Keepers, asking for more until there was no milk left. The fact that she feels comfortable asserting her demands is an encouraging sign.

Elerai is challenging everyone’s assumptions about him. We think of him as a reserved bull, which is largely true, but he is not to be underestimated. At the mud bath one afternoon, Elerai and Weka were having a spat that descended into a quarrel. The Keepers separated the two orphans, pointing sternly at them. They were surprised to see reserved Elerai take on feisty Weka, but not as surprised as Weka herself!

Mid-month, we were treated to a wonderful encounter between Raha, the little rhino, and Nyambeni, the little elephant. Nyambeni was the first orphan to arrive at the mud bath for her mid-morning milk feed, just as Raha was being led away. Spotting her disappearing backside, Nyambeni paddled over to say hello. Raha is friends with Mzinga, but she doesn’t know Nyambeni as well, so she reacted by charging several times. Even as the little rhino head-butted her, Nyambeni refused to be flustered and stood still, her trunk outstretched. They stood next to each other for a moment, then Raha confidently waddled all the way round Nyambeni, smelling her new friend. 

Muridjo, our fiery blanket baby, started pushing the other youngsters around at feeding times. Her behaviour earned her a move to the second group, where she is dwarfed by her older friends. Since then, she has been a model of good behaviour — calm, well-mannered and obedient. 

After nearly two years of nurturing by the Keepers, Latika is becoming a mini matriarch. Mokogodo seems to be her adopted baby of choice. Given the chance, Latika will spend hours with her little charge, standing close and keeping the boisterous boys away. She also enjoys looking after Taroha, Mokogodo’s very best friend.

In fact, everyone is jostling for Mokogodo and Taroha’s affections. As they compete for top nanny, Latika, Weka, Sileita, Kerrio, Muridjo, Mzinga, and Nyambeni often walk shoulder-to-shoulder with the babies, trunk touching them at every opportunity. Although Mokogodo is the undisputed favourite, everyone loves Taroha, too. One morning, the gentle bull was reluctant to leave his room and dawdled at the end of the line. Mzinga, Nyambeni, Muridjo, and, of course, Mokogodo adjusted their pace in tandem, falling behind so as to walk with him. 

Usually, a stern word or a finger wave is all it takes to remind misbehaving orphans of their manners. Sometimes, however, stricter measures are required. At the mud bath one morning, Elerai, Rafiki, Sholumai, Tingai and Taabu were acting out and bullying the youngsters. As a result, the Keepers punished them with a time-out. As occurs in wild elephant families and in human families, the misbehaving children were removed from the group and taken a short distance away, where they sulked and considered their actions.

The 17th July marked Talek’s first proper day with her new family. Talek was rescued by our SWT/KWS Mara Veterinary Unit on 26th June and has been adjusting to her new life within the security of her stockade. After the trauma of losing her mother, it took time for Talek to accept either a milk bottle or the presence of her Keepers. Soon after her first bottle, however, she began to trust her Keepers. At last, we felt she was ready to join the orphan herd out in the forest.

Early in the morning, a Keeper led Talek out to meet the orphans in the forest. The herd welcomed their new addition with rumbles and trunk hugs as they crowded around her. Talek coped remarkably well, but kept touching her Keeper for reassurance. Kerrio, Latika, Weka, and Taabu were especially kind, guiding her around and telling off Nyambeni and Shujaa for behaving roughly. Budding matriarchs Kerrio and Latika sandwiched the little elephant between them and kept her close all morning. As Talek relaxed, the Keeper moved away, leaving her in the capable care of the two older girls.

Kamili prefers to remain on the fringes, rather than place herself at the heart of the orphan herd. One day, she had two little shadows in the form of Loldaiga and Muwingu, who followed her wherever she went. After drinking her bottle, Kamili ambled off to the bush, rather than staying at the mud bath with the others. Loldaiga and Muwingu toddled after her. They followed suit later that afternoon; as many orphans swam, Kamili ambled off to the bush, once again with Loldaiga and Muwingu in her wake.

Where has the old, reserved Tingai gone? In his place is a playful, confident young bull. In the forest one afternoon, Tingai and Kitiak were playing games. The evenly matched boys had a great time until Tingai pushed a bit too hard, causing Kitiak to whirl around and charge at his friend, ears flared and trunk raised. Immediately, Taabu intervened, striding between the pair. As he diffused the situation, little Mokogodo decided that her help was also needed. She toddled over and gave Kitiak her hardest possible push. Having no impact whatsoever on the bull, she bounced off his solid wall of a body and fell over. This time, it was Sileita to the rescue — she whisked the baby away and peace was restored.

Mzinga is becoming a notorious milk thief. After finishing her bottle, she potters over to browse on greens, looking her sweetest and most innocent. Every time the Keepers turn their backs, however, she darts over to the wheelbarrow in the hope of pinching an extra bottle of milk. Her success rate is quite low, but that doesn't stop her from trying! 

Although their graduation training has been suspended until conditions improve, Ahmed, Rafiki and Kitiak have not forgotten about the moving lorry and its delicious contents. (We stage milk feeds and snack time inside the moving lorry, to help trainees acclimate and associate the truck with good things.) The trio often snuck back to the truck, hoping to find extra bottles of milk and snacks of sugarcane and range cubes.

Shy little Loldaiga is starting to come out of his shell. One day, he stuck to two Keepers like glue in the forest. A pushing match with his good friends Mageno and Kitich distracted him for a time, but he soon returned to the Keepers, following them closely. Muwingu tends to hang out with orphans rather than Keepers, but on this particular day, she also preferred human company. Something must have been in the air!

Kerrio is developing into a wonderful mini matriarch. She has made it her responsibility to protect and look after the little ones, no matter the situation or time of day. If one of the blanket babies complains or calls out, she will be there. One night, Mokogodo had a bad dream and caused a great commotion, yelling and pushing at her stable door. Although her Keeper was there to calm her down, Kerrio was very upset to hear Mokogodo’s distress and wanted to soothe her. First thing in the morning, she made a beeline for the little girl’s stockade.

The month ended with a mini rhino rebellion. Raha does a lap of honour around the mud bath each morning. On this particular day, she was feeling very perky. As she marched past the visitors, she decided to pop beneath the cordon to suckle someone’s trousers. When her Keeper tried to intercept her, she sped up and trotted ahead of him, her little ears flapping jauntily. 

July 2023 day to day

01 Jul

Choka and Taabu were awake before dawn this morning, rumbling to each other from their stockades as they finished off leftover greens. They were being so noisy that they woke up the rest of the herd. Some of their friends joined in with the action, shoving their gates and rumbling excitedly. When the Keepers opened the doors, the elephants immediately trundled out. Tingai, Rafiki, Mukutan and Weka began chasing each other around the stockades as others cavorted in the bush. The ‘blanket babies’ thought about joining in but did not, instead gravitating towards Sileita and Kerrio.

This morning, Maxwell was entertaining his usual guests. The warthogs trotted into his enclosure soon after dawn, hoping to join the rhino for breakfast. They make for rather rude guests as they don’t wait for an invitation and tuck right in, greedily helping themselves to the tastiest greens. Maxwell turned to them, as if he could not quite believe their brazenness – but he prefers the thorny acacia anyway.

Kitich was a cheerful chap today — and, in contrast to recent days, a quiet one! Usually, as he runs down to the mud bath for a milk feed, he trumpets loudly and indignantly. On arrival, he insists on drinking on his own and pushes away anyone who comes too close. Today, he was a model elephant! He plodded silently down the path, stood close to his friends as he drank his milk and then popped over to the mud bath. In he got, for a happy roll-around and a swim with a couple of friends — although not many attended, as it was a cloudy afternoon. Finally, he climbed out to play the pushing and mounting game with Kerrio.

As Kitich was relaxing in the muddy water, Mokogodo was trotting along the cordon, greeting the visitors. Today, she even nipped beneath the rope to mingle until a Keeper whisked her back where, undeterred, she frolicked around in circles, waving her trunk with her tiny tail aloft.

Weka in the forest

Maxwell after breakfast

Kitich and Muwingu