Keepers' Diaries, June 2023

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

June began with Raha’s grand debut at the mud bath. She was rescued last September, but given her extensive injuries and vulnerable condition, she kept a low profile in the intervening months. At last, however, we felt she was ready for this new experience. Raha toddled down with her Keeper, ahead of the elephants. She behaved beautifully and seemed to really enjoy the experience. 

June also began with translocation training for our next class of graduates. This time, it is Ahmed’s Rafiki, and Kitiak’s turn. They won’t move until conditions are right, but we wanted to get the ball rolling, particularly as all were rescued fairly recently and at relatively older ages — meaning we might face a steep learning curve.

As it turned out, our intuition was spot-on! The three proved to be extremely reluctant trainees. By mid-month, Rafiki and Kitiak relented to having their milk feeds in the truck, while Ahmed wouldn’t budge beyond the ramp. She sometimes puts her forelegs onboard, but rarely enters the truck. Perhaps it brings back memories of her rescue, which unfolded less than a year ago. That’s okay; our upcoming graduates can take their time and acclimate to the moving routine at their own pace.

Taroha and Mokogodo — the youngest orphans in the Nursery — go everywhere together, as if linked by an invisible string. In the mornings, Taroha emerges from his stable, pops over to fetch Mokogodo, and the two head out with their Keepers. One morning saw a break in routine. Mokogodo started off ahead without Taroha in tow. She reached Maxwell’s stockade when she realised her mistake. Where was her friend? She stopped, dug her sturdy feet into the dirt, about turned, trumpeted, and ran as fast as she could to find Taroha. She thundered up to him, screeched to a halt, and started trunk touching him all over. All was well again as the two friends paddled off to join the herd.

It’s fair to say that tiny Mokogodo has stolen everyone’s hearts. Nyambeni and Mzinga have transformed from little sisters to big sisters — big, competitive sisters, at that! The Keepers have noticed that the two friends have a roster of who scoops up Mokogodo from her stable, alternating by day. One morning, however, the roster went awry. Although it was Mzinga’s day, Nyambeni happened to leave her room first. She walked directly to Mokogodo’s stable and started pushing and pulling at the door. When Mzinga saw what was happening, she dashed over in a huff. Nyambeni, who knew she wasn’t playing by the rules, sped away and made herself scarce.

Choka has emerged as the master of games. He has developed into a happy young bull who loves to play with anyone and everyone. One morning, he plodded up to Maxwell’s enclosure and head-butted his gate. His large friend woke up, clambered to his feet, and waddled over to see him. They played a lovely rhino-elephant game through the gate before Choka decided it was time to head into the forest.  

The orphans are very protective of each other. We really see this emerge when ‘interloping’ wild animals appear on the scene. One afternoon, Elerai was on warthog duty. Leading the herd, he came across a group of warthogs sleeping on the path. He walked up to them, he nudged them, he rumbled at them — but the pigs would not move. Running out of patience, he blew out a loud trumpet. Kitich and Choka, who were at the end of the line, responded to his war cry and sprinted to the front. Soon, everyone joined their chorus of trumpets, which finally convinced the warthogs that it was time for a speedy exit.

Two days later, Taabu was on baboon duty. The baboons were making a pre-dawn racket, clattering over stockade roofs in search of leftovers to eat. The orphans paced around their rooms, irritated by the noise. Taabu, Mukutan, Tingai and Ahmed were protesting the loudest, trumpeting their demands to be allowed out so they could chase the baboons. The Keepers opened Taabu’s door first and out he charged. Without waiting for reinforcements, he darted around the stockades, chasing away every single baboon. 

Weka continues to be the naughtiest member of our Nursery herd. She reserves her greatest mischief for the mud bath, perhaps because she appreciates an audience. One afternoon, she was in rare form — which is saying a lot, for Weka! She charged down the slope, trumpeting loudly, and grabbed a bottle from the waiting Keeper. As soon as she had finished the milk, she raised her trunk and opened her mouth, demanding another. Unsuccessful, it was time to enact plan B: She veered over to the wheelbarrow, only to be cut off by a number of Keepers. Now well and truly annoyed, Weka ran into the bush, trumpeting in indignation. Bemused by her behaviour, sweet Kamili trundled off after the noisy girl.

Loldaiga has really settled into his new life. While he used to shy away, he has started asserting himself. After finishing his bottle of milk at the mud bath one morning, he trumpeted at the top of his lungs while trying to grab Mageno’s bottle. A Keeper warned him off with a stern finger and a whistle. Taking cues from Weka, Loldaiga circled back to the wheelbarrow in an attempt to pinch another bottle. When the Keepers told him off, he trumpeted his annoyance and tried again minutes later. A solution was found: The naughty elephant was given an empty bottle, which satisfied him for a time and gave everyone else some peace. 

Sileita is another elephant who has transformed in recent months. When she first arrived at the Nursery, she was shy and reclusive. Now, she is a budding mini matriarch. As the orphans headed into the forest one morning, the Keepers noticed that Sileita was lagging behind. She walked a few more metres, before turning around and sprinting back to the stockades. The reason for her reaction became clear, as the blanket babies were still there. Sileita scooped up Nyambeni, Muridjo, Taroha, Mzinga, Shujaa, and Mokogodo, greeting each one and giving Mokogodo a particularly affectionate trunk hug. 

Kerrio is another excellent mini matriarch. She has a talent for diffusing difficult situations, particularly those involving the blanket babies. Case in point: Nyambeni likes to lead her group to milk feeds, but one afternoon, Mzinga overtook her. Mzinga gulped down her bottle, while Nyambeni arrived a bit later with Taroha and Mokogodo. Perhaps feeling big for her britches, Mzinga sauntered around, as the others finished their milk. However, Nyambeni had not forgiven Mzinga for overtaking her. She vented her frustration with a firm head butt, which soon devolved into a squabble. Observing the confrontation, Kerrio walked between the girls, standing still as she laid her trunk on Nyambeni. Tension diffused and peace restored, the best friends settled down to browse next to each other.

Mageno and Kitich have become best friends and favourite playmates.The small bulls often challenge each other to competitive pushing matches, which are always in the spirit of good fun. Mageno may be two months younger than chubby Kitich, but he holds his own with ease. 

Quiet Kamili tends to potter around, keeping to herself. One day, however, she decided to lead Weka, Kitich, Loldaiga, and Sholumae on an advanced excursion deep into the forest. The Keepers found the five elephants browsing happily quite far from the stockades. It was out of character for Kamili to be the ringleader, but perhaps this shows growing confidence!

Sweet Latika shares a similar character to Kamili. She is instantly recognisable thanks to her unusually tiny trunk. Despite this, she manages very well. One day, she pulled off an impressive manoeuvre, holding a thin stick in her mouth while also picking up small pieces of vegetation at the same time. Plucky little Shujaa did his best to copy her, with a degree of success.

Most of the time, Maxwell the black rhino enjoys the company of his warthog friends. Some days, however, he is simply not in the mood to be social. Ears on high alert for any intruders, he lumbers around his enclosure in a grump, chasing out all the interlopers.

Four months after her rescue, Mushuru is looking chubby and doing very well. She is quite shy and reserved, but she has been making friends and getting more involved in the Nursery goings-ons. However, she doesn’t show much interest in becoming a mini matriarch. While Sileita and Kerrio always keep a close eye on the little ones, Mushuru actually discourages the babies from approaching her. This may well change as she matures and recovers from her traumas — but equally, some elephants simply aren’t as nurturing by nature.

After Bondeni and Esoit graduated from the Nursery, Tingai became the dominant bull of the herd. A reserved but obedient orphan, he still likes to do his own thing. However, we have also noticed that he has become more engaged in herd activities, particularly with the other bulls. Some of his favourite playmates are Mukutan, Taabu, and Choka. 

Muridjo is a tough cookie. She is so eager to prove that she is not a baby — despite being one of the youngest members of the Nursery herd! However, we wonder if she might secretly begrudge Mokogodo and Taroha, who firmly replaced her as blanket babies. She often tries to give them sneaky pushes and unsociable little shoves, although Sileita and Kerrio are quick to nip her behaviour in the bud.

Mzinga and Raha have a special friendship. Raha is still nervous of most of the elephant herd, but not kind Mzinga — she is the only orphan who is really trying to make friends with the little rhino. If one of the other elephants approaches her, especially if they are running, Raha feels threatened and reacts aggressively. However, she always accepts Mzinga’s company and delicate trunk touching.

June 2023 day to day

01 Jun

The month began, most unusually, with a troubled night for Muridjo. In the middle of the night, the little elephant stood up in a panic, trumpeting in alarm as she tried to get closer to Mokogodo. Affected by her friend’s behaviour, the tiny orphan stood up, and paced up and down. Every time Mokogodo tried to go back to sleep, Muridjo woke her up with cries. Mini matriarchs Kerrio and Sileita woke up and responded with rumbles to their young friends as they pushed at their doors. Eventually, the Keepers sleeping in Muridjo’s and Mokogodo’s rooms were able to calm them down. As day broke, a Keeper opened Muridjo’s door – whereupon she sped out, ran off, and darted around the forest for some time before plodding back to the stockades. We’re not sure what bothered her so much.

The rest of the herd were standing quietly around their stockades, preparing to head out. When Muridjo arrived back, Kerrio and Sileita welcomed her warmly, touching her with their trunks. They remained with her and the other blanket babies as the older orphans wandered out to the forest. Nyambeni, Mzinga and Shujaa were trundling happily around after each other, playing hide and seek and a gentle version of the pushing game, watched by Taroha and Mokogodo. The three friends then greeted Maxwell and popped their tiny trunks through the gaps in his gate. Eventually, the mini herd set out to join their friends in the woods.

Today, Raha, the orphaned baby black rhino rescued in September 2022, visited the mud bath for the first time. She toddled down with her Keeper, ahead of the elephants. She wandered around for a time, behaving beautifully, before leaving as the first group of younger orphaned elephants arrived. After emptying their bottles, the orphans browsed and played next to the mud bath as it was too cold for swimming. Kitich and Mageno enjoyed several noisy rounds of wrestling, clashing heads and chasing each other around.

Translocation training started again today, this time for Ahmed, Rafiki and Kitiak. The three trainees kept running off – they did not want to be fed in the truck and refused to even go near the vehicle in the morning. The Keepers persevered, whistling and pointing in a reassuring manner. By the end of the day, they had succeeded in getting Rafiki and Kitiak to feed in the truck.


Muridjo, Kerrio and Mzinga