Keepers' Diaries, June 2023

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Kaluku Neonate Unit

Our Kaluku Neonate Nursery has always been home to an eclectic group of orphans, from warthogs to antelopes to bushbucks. Many of the smaller orphans don’t join our foster program, simply because their reintegration unfolds at a much more rapid pace. However, each one has a unique personality and leaves a big impression on us, regardless of the amount of time they choose to spend in our care. 

One afternoon, Keeper Peter received a call that Kwale the hartebeest, Nini the antelope, and Susu and Billy the elands went walkabout to a neighbour’s house. While the others are big enough for such excursions, he worried about little Nini and made a plan to fetch her.

However, he needn’t have: By 11:30am, Nini had found his way home on his own accord. He clearly knew that his milk feeds happen at noon and didn’t want to miss a meal! Orphans big and small constantly impress us with their timekeeping skills and sense of direction.

Apollo the orphaned rhino:

This was a dramatic month for Apollo. One day, he encountered a herd of wild elephants out in the bush. For reasons we will never comprehend, the young rhino felt compelled to approach the biggest female. He further raised the stakes by poking her in the bottom with his horn. The elephant was shocked, annoyed, and angered by the rhino’s insolence — and understandably so! She wrapped her trunk around Apollo and sent him tumbling to his side, legs akimbo.

One might have hoped that Apollo had learned his lesson, but he went back for a second round, prodding her yet again with his sharp horn. This time, the female brought in reinforcements. Apollo may be large, but he is no match for two adult elephants. The Keepers and KWS rangers acted fast and made a great racket, which broke up the altercation. Apollo ran off with a series of babyish squeaks, as if shocked by the outcome of this interaction.

We believe that Apollo will know better than to take on full-grown elephants again in the future. It must be said that he was rather subdued for the remainder of the month, not unlike a teenager who just learned a humbling lesson.

The orphaned elephants:

As anyone who has beheld her round tummy can attest to, Doldol has a voracious appetite. She has been spoiled throughout her childhood, as Keepers Mishak, Peter, and Jonas harvest delicious greens for her throughout the day. Now, she knows how to browse herself — although she still enjoys the personal touch of hand-picked greens! Doldol’s favourite haunt is the cluster of acacias by the river, which have swooping, tumbling branches that form a verdant cave for feasting. Sometimes, we wish that Doldol was a bit more selective in her palate. For instance, she will happily eat bark or dust if the mood strikes her, unperturbed that they give her tummy aches.

At the larger orphan compound, Mwinzi runs the show. He is such an easy-going chap, sauntering through life in his signature, laid-back banner. With that said, he also has a jealous streak. If he catches one of the other orphans receiving special attention, Mwinzi sees red. We were reminded of that this month, when Keeper Justus and Rokka were enjoying a quiet moment together. It wasn’t long before Mwinzi trundled over, pushing the older girl aside with a firm head-butt. Of course, he is a fraction of Rokka’s size and barely budged her an inch, but his determination was off the charts!

As ever, Vaarti remains obsessed with the hosepipe. He speeds ahead during milk feeds, propelled by ulterior motives: He finishes his bottle first, which means he can stroll over to the hosepipe in a leisurely manner. By the time Rokka (his main competitor in ‘hose wars’) approaches to wrest the hose from his grasp, he has already had his fill of fresh, cold water.

Mayan has become inseparable with a new addition to our Kaluku herd, named Natibu. Natibu, who is about Mwinzi’s age, hero-worships Mayan. In the morning, he makes a beeline for Mayan’s stockade and patiently waits for the bigger bull to emerge. Bodies touching, they walk out into the bush together, where they spend most of the day browsing side by side. It’s easy to see why Mayan, with his gentle, patient character, is a favourite ‘big brother’ figure.

Rokka is a changed elephant. She was once full of fire and mischief, but now she is calm and polite. Whereas she once delighted in chasing and charging, she now prefers quality time with her Keepers, purring loudly as they scratch behind her ears or beneath her chin. This shift can largely be attributed to her new matriarchal responsibilities; she no longer has the time or energy for much nonsense. Sometimes, however, we see glimmers of Rokka’s old personality. She will get a spark in her eye and charge out of nowhere, as if reminding everyone what she is capable of!

Manda is another changed elephant. He used to be fixated on asserting his dominance within the herd. At last, he seems to understand that’s not really a priority among our relaxed Kaluku elephants. This realisation has helped him relax, too. Manda has become a great playmate to Mwinzi and Natibu, particularly in the mud bath. As the babies wiggle and waddle in the cool, wet earth, he stands over them, carefully shielding them from the hot sun. We notice that Natibu is very similar to Manda in terms of physique; both boys are unusually leggy and tall.

Twiggy the orphaned giraffe:

Twiggy loves her daily routine. She follows her own path in the early morning, browsing first around the stockades and then expanding to the lawns surrounding the compound. By mid-morning, she gathers her motley band of friends — Harvey the duiker, Nini the antelope, Kwale the hartebeest, Susu and Billy the elands — and links up with the orphaned elephants. Sometimes, the entire crew joins her; other times, she travels with one or two colleagues. Twiggy loves catching up with everyone throughout the day. After overseeing the elephants’ milk feed, she ambles back into the bush, where she remains until Apollo’s 11 o'clock mud bath.

As she grows taller, Twiggy has increasingly been using her height to her advantage. We laughed this month, when she arrived back at the stockades earlier than usual, only to find her bedroom door shut. No matter: She simply arched her long neck over the top of the fence, easily reaching the bounty of greens that had been placed within her stockade. She placidly snacked until a Keeper came over and opened the gate.

Kaluku herd at mud bath
Manda in the morning
Mwinzi, with Susu and Billy the elands behind
Vaarti sunrise
Rokka with hose and Mayan in mud bath
Mayan and Mwinzi browsing
Apollo in a lugga
Doldol with her friend Kimoli behind
Joseph with Toto and Mayan
Milk for Manda
Kaluku elephant herd
Kimoli and Doldol enjoying their milk
Manda and Natibu at rear, Vaarti and Mwinzi at the front
Peter and rescued orphan gazelle Nini
Mayan and Mwinzi in the mud
Doldol and Peter
Mwinzi sneakily tries to get hose from Rokka
Mishak picking greens for Doldol
Apollo following his Keeper
Mwinzi, Manda and Natibu drinking. Rokka and Vaarti beind
Rokka and Mayan milk time
Mwinzi and his herd enjoying a dusting
Natibu and Manda browsing
Doldol and Peter
Natibu and Rokka
Relaxed Mwinzi eating with legs crossed
Mwinzi still trying to get hose of Rokka
Doldol at the river beach
Mayan standing over Natibu and Mwinzi
Rokka, Natibu and Mayan
Mishak with Kimoli, Doldol sneaking in
Jackson dusting Rokka, Mwinzi resting
Apollo on 'his' dust pile
Mwinzi forever eating