Keepers' Diaries, March 2023

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

For our Nursery herd, March began with a sweet morning moment between Esoit and Maxwell. As the orphans emerged from their nighttime bedrooms, Esoit made a beeline for the rhino’s stockade and put his trunk through the gate. Registering this cue, Maxwell trundled over and Esoit laid his trunk on his friend’s head. It was a lovely sight.

Olorien has emerged as a very capable mini matriarch, but even our most responsible orphans have their moments of rebellion. One morning, she darted away from a Keeper, wiggling her way between the stockades until she emerged outside the blanket babies’ stables. After Mzinga, Nyambeni, Shujaa, and Muridjo toddled out of their rooms, she led them out to the forest, completely ignoring the Keepers’ directions. When the Keepers shepherded the blanket babies back to the main herd, Olorien ran after them, trumpeting her displeasure. Her behaviour really affected the other orphans, who didn’t know why their matriarch was causing such a fuss and started darting around in response. The Keepers calmed everyone down by calling the orphans individually by name — but what a fiasco! 

When we think of Latika, ‘mischief maker’ isn’t the first phrase that springs to mind. However, our sweet, shy girl has a hidden rebellious streak! One day, she roped Mageno, Kamili, Iletilal, and Elerai into a game of hide-and-seek around the stockade compound when they were supposed to be heading out into the forest. Their objective was food, specifically the tantalising pile of greens inside the stockade of a recent rescue (who is confined to her stable while she gets used to her new life). The mischievous gang kept extending their trunks into the stockade and then darting off when a Keeper approached. Latika’s unusually petite trunk would never have reached its objective, but that did not deter her.

Kinyei and Kindani dote on Bondeni like a little brother, even though he’s rapidly outpacing them in size and strength. However, like any good big sisters, they also know how to keep him in line. One morning, Bondeni boldly tried to wrest Kinyei’s bottle away from her. She was having none of it and gave him a shove, which sent him charging off in a grump. He tried to take his anger out on his friend Taabu, but peacemaker Esoit stepped in and instructed Bondeni to stop such nonsense.

Shy Tingai is emerging from his shell. He used to spend much of his days wandering solo, but he has become less of a loner. This month, the Keepers were happy to see him seeking out Taabu and Choka for several wrestling matches. He has also become good friends with newbie Mushuru. Tingai and Mushuru share several quirky mannerisms: When greeted by a Keeper, they lower their heads demurely. Although they remain alert, they also tend to close their eyes when they are standing still.

While Tingai is becoming more social, best friends Kitich, Elerai, and Iletilal remain quite shy. However, they really enjoy each other’s company and spend hours together. Sometimes, they are so absorbed in their exclusive browsing sessions that they wander some distance away from the herd, without even realising it.

Mzinga and Muridjo are such precise timekeepers that the Keepers joke that they must have alarm clocks inside their heads. Ten minutes before it is time for the mud bath, the two babies sidle up to the Keepers, as if to remind them that it’s time to start gathering the herd for this highly anticipated pastime. In fact, Mzinga can usually be found by her Keepers. When she sees a member of her human family, she sprints towards him with her ears flapping, often adding a chorus of trumpets for good measure.

Muridjo may be a baby on the outside, but she is a teenager on the inside! She often tags along with the likes of Weka, Loldaiga, Mageno, Kerrio, Sileita, and Kamili, doing her best to look like she belongs in their gang. Like many elephants, she is very proud and embarrassed easily. As she plodded out of her stable one morning, she had a little tumble and fell onto the knees. To cover up her humiliation, she charged around the stockades and created a big distraction.

For a long time after her rescue, Ahmed preferred to remain in the background, but that is starting to change. She is very pushy during milk feedings, loudly requesting more bottles from the Keepers even after she has had her fill. When that fails, she attempts to steal bottles from her friends’ mouths. While this behaviour can be trying, the Keepers are pleased to see Ahmed becoming more assertive as she settles into her new family.

Shy Sileita is also still forging her identity within the Nursery herd, but she seems to be a very adept diplomat. One afternoon, Kerrio and Mukutan — who have always bickered like little siblings — were loudly squabbling over a stick. It was in danger of escalating into a proper fight until Sileita got involved. Calmly, she walked between the two indignant toddlers and removed the stick before walking away. We have one other interesting development to report in Sileita’s world: She has developed a quirky habit of kneeling down on her front legs while drinking her bottle, which really makes her stand out from every other orphan in the Nursery.

There always seems to be one older bull at the Nursery who takes up the mantle of ‘gentle uncle.’ Currently, Lodo holds that title. At the mid-morning mud bath, Bondeni was in a boisterous mood (as he always is!) and charged across to Mukutan, accidentally knocking him over in his enthusiasm. Lodo sprinted over, chased off Bondeni, and stood guard by Mukutan as the young bull got to his feet. The boys then played a round of wrestling before relenting and allowing Bondeni to join in.

A drought victim, Kamili came to us in very poor condition, and it has taken her a long time to recover from her ordeal. At last, she is emerging from her shell and interacting more with the herd. One morning, she woke up in an exuberant mood and engaged Kerrio in a pushing match. It was a more sedate, gentle version of the game, but still — progress!

16th March was a wonderful day, because at long last, it rained. The fragile blanket babies remained in their stables while the rest of the herd headed out to the bush. The older ones were very excited about the newly-wet world – some rolled in the mud, while others chased each other around in circles. Sweet Latika just lay down as the rain continued to fall, luxuriating in the cool, wet earth.

The next morning, we were treated to another surprise. Solio, an orphaned black rhino who we rescued, raised, and reintegrated back into the wild, showed up at the Nursery with her daughter Savannah in tow – nearly five years after her last visit. As it is bone dry in the park, the Keepers have been distributing supplemental lucerne outside the Nursery, which provides much-needed sustenance to Nairobi National Park’s wildlife. We were delighted to see Solio and Savannah looking so well, despite the challenging conditions. 

This month, Shujaa emerged as an up-and-coming swimming star! He is one of the first to stroll into the water as soon as he finishes his bottle. Even on cool days when the other orphans eschew the mud bath, he can be counted upon to swim in style. After showcasing his skills, he feels rather full of himself and often tries to mount the likes of Nyambeni or Mzinga. The girls quickly nip this behaviour in the bud, bringing the swimming star firmly back to earth.

Our new boys Loldaiga and Kitiak have struck up quite a friendship. One afternoon, while everyone else was busy playing, they snuck off to the mud bath in the hope of stealing an extra bottle of milk. They got a bit more than they bargained for, however, when they ran into an old bull buffalo who was blocking the path. They got such a fright and bolted back to the security of the herd, trumpeting as they went.

A separate buffalo encounter went a bit differently. It all began when little Kitich led the first group of orphans down to the mud bath. En route, he encountered two big buffaloes. The brave boy did not hesitate: He stood tall, spread his ears wide, and let out an enormous trumpet. The buffaloes hastily disappeared into the bushes, clearing the path for the elephants.

Kitich’s friend Weka likes to announce her arrival at the mud bath, just in case anyone missed it. As she canters down, she lets out an ear-splitting trumpet. When there are visitors, the Keepers have to reassure them that nothing is wrong — this is just Weka being a show-off.

The mud bath entrance is reserved for Weka, but the grand finale belongs to Nyambeni. Every evening, she is determined to be first in the spring home for bed. Even on nights when she starts at the back of the line, she determinedly accelerates past her friends with a burst of speed, almost levitating ahead of the pack. It is amazing how quickly her little legs can travel!

The ‘blanket babies’ seem to be breaking off into mini groups, each one dutifully looked over by older friends. Kerrio looks after Nyambeni, Mzinga, and Muridjo, while Shujaa seems to prefer the company of the bigger girls, particularly Olorien, Kindani, and Kinyei. Mageno, who used to spend lots of time with the Mzinga and Nyambeni, has been spending more time with Kitich, Loldaiga, Muwingu, and Weka. Friendships are ever-evolving during this formative Nursery period.

Mukutan acts like a tough boy, but all bravado is forgotten when it starts to rain. The poor boy hates thunderstorms and cannot keep it together when they roll through. Whenever the thunder rumbles, he trumpets back at it!

The month closed with great mischief, courtesy of Bondeni. This naughty bull loves diary cubes even more than bottles of milk. He has worked out which orphans do not eat all of this delicious treat during the night and makes a beeline for their stockades first thing in the morning. As soon as his door is opened, he charges off, darting in and out of the rooms where Elerai, Iletilal, Kitiak, and Mushuru sleep. The Keepers are usually able to bring him to heel, but this particular morning, he would not be stopped. He cheekily mock-charged the Keepers before continuing his crusade. Eventually, Bondeni was reined in by one of the most experienced Keepers — but mission largely accomplished, he sauntered off with a very full tummy to join the rest of the herd.

March 2023 day to day

01 Mar

In the early morning, the orphans emerged from their stockades to greet their friends and head out to the forest. Esoit started his day by going over to Maxwell’s gate to greet the rhino. When he put his trunk through the gate, Maxwell trundled over and Esoit laid his trunk on his friend’s head. It was a lovely sight.

Greetings over, Maxwell wandered over to his feeding area to browse on delicious green grass and pellets. Soon he was joined by his friends – this morning it was a motley crew of monkeys, baboons, warthogs and birds. They hung out together happily until one of the baboons made the mistake of slapping a baby baboon who let out a loud scream. A startled Maxwell charged at the miscreant, chasing him and all the other animals away. His grumpy mood was, however, short-lived – two hours later, he welcomed his friends back into his enclosure.

Out in the forest this morning, feisty Choka guzzled down his bottle and then started scoping out extras hiding in the wheelbarrow! He was soon joined by little Mzinga who wheedled over in the hope of an extra bottle. Meanwhile, his less greedy friends browsed peacefully in the background.

Returning to the mud bath later in the day for more milk and a wallow, water baby Kerrio was the first to plunge into the cooling mud bath. Her splashes attracted the attention of Nyambeni who soon toddled in to join her friend and nanny. They had a lovely time playing and then lying down next to each other in the mud. Rafiki was not tempted to swim, drinking his milk slowly as he held the bottle expertly with his trunk.

Maxwell relaxing

Water baby Kerrio

Rafiki holding his bottle