Keepers' Diaries, May 2020

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

This month we bid farewell to a number of our Nursery residents, and the first to head to Tsavo was our mini matriarch Tagwa and her friend Tamiyoi who both graduated to our Voi Reintegration Unit situated in the southern sector of Tsavo East National Park.  On the 17th, it was the turn of three bulls Musiara, Sattao and Dololo to graduate to our Ithumba Reintegration Unit situated in the northern sector of Tsavo East National Park. At the end of the month we bid farewell to Luggard and Enkesha who graduated to our Umani Unit situated within the Kibwezi Forest and Chyulu Hills National Park. One always feels such an immense sense of pride and accomplishment at these times. Naturally there is some sadness seeing them move on from daily Nursery life, having raised the babies through their most vulnerable moments and been a part of their everyday, but these feelings are always tempered by the joy that they have come this far, and are now about to begin the next crucial stage in their lives, as they move one step closer to finally living the wild life each one deserves, the greatest gift one could ever grant them.  

The training for the orphans to follow their milk bottles to enter the translocation lorry began tentatively. We began on the 4th of the month with Musiara, Luggard, Tamiyoi, Tagwa, Dololo and Enkesha who had their first training session during their 9am milk-feeding time. Tagwa and Musiara were initially reluctant to come anywhere near the lorry, Tagwa knowing full well what was up having made a trip to Voi already, and Musiara sensing her reluctance. All elephants differ however and it is completely normal to have those that are cautious of the lorry, and those that have no qualms whatsoever. Fortunately the rest of the orphans were all too happy to receive their milk bottles and they took very little notice of the lorry, especially Tamiyoi and Enkesha.

Once we felt they were ready, on the 11th Tagwa and Tamiyoi set off for the Voi Unit. As is customary we make sure the orphans have a smooth move before the heat of the day, it was a very early start with the translocation lorry ready by 2:30am in the morning. 

As with all of our moves, there follows a brief period of adjustment in the Nursery as the orphans settle down into a new hierarchy. Maisha was visibly delighted to have all the babies under her care, and swiftly assumed the role of matriarch in the Nursery, ably assisted by Kiasa and Nabulu. This is the reason we decided to keep Maisha back until perhaps the November moves, so that she could fill the absence of Tagwa and Tamiyoi, and she did this seamlessly. Enkesha, ever independent, didn’t seem to take too much interest and carried on in her own aloof way. She is always kind and gentle, but is happy to do her own thing, and seems to prefer it that way. 

Musiara soon adjusted to his training boarding the lorry and after a few days started to feel confident enough to take his milk inside the compartment without his Keepers having to walk towards him with the bottle. He was comfortable with only one of the compartments however, and that became ‘Musiara’s’. Having been rescued a few months apart and similar in age, Sattao and Musiara have always been close. Watching them take this next step together was heart-warming indeed, considering how far they have both come. On the 17th the day arrived and again the Keepers began loading the boys onto the lorry very early in the morning. The move went without a hitch and they have taken to life at Ithumba very well indeed. 

The following morning the rest of the orphans had a quiet day in the forest, adjusting to the new dynamics and spending most of their day very close to their Keepers. Mukkoka, Naleku, and Naboishu seemed to be oblivious to the three boys not being around and they carried on with their day as usual! Following Dololo’s move Maktao seemed to gain confidence in the herd as he assumed the position of one of the oldest bulls. We often find after the move of older orphans that without that dominating influence some of the younger orphans really come out of their shells and their characters blossom.  For the rest of the month Maktao and Kiombo were constantly engrossed in wrestling matches, trying to establish who was the strongest and most dominant among them! Kiasa often found herself refereeing these matches as a mini-matriarch in the herd, who likes to restore order. If she spots these games becoming a little rough, she runs over and stands in-between the two boys. Kiasa is a caring girl and doesn’t want there to be any mischief amongst the Nursery herd. Unfortunately her caring nature sometimes vanishes around milk feeding times when the naughty habits of old come to the fore.  These times she can be a real handful, demanding extra shares from orphans trying to have their own bottles.

Little Roho still adores Maisha and is always by her side, following her like a shadow. Kiasa will often assume the role of nanny should Maisha be away browsing and little Naleku will often be in the company of Enkesha, Larro, and even Naboishu. She has really grown in confidence in the Nursery and despite being younger, seems braver and more self-assured than little Roho in many ways. Roho still bares the scares of his harrowing rescue losing his mother so dramatically, and then having to be coaxed off the top of a lava flow in order to be saved. Naleku still enjoys Mukkoka’s company, even though the young bull isn’t always so welcoming. 

Naboishu is settling in well too, having joined the other orphans out in the forest, he is getting used to the routines. He has made friends with Roho, and they too have mastered the different hand signals of their Keepers, knowing exactly when it is milk feeding time. When they hear the Keepers radios going they know full well that the milk bottles are on their way, and they both become restless and yell to be allowed to run to the front for their milk. 

Over the past few months, we noticed a change in Luggard. Sometimes he appeared to be in a bad mood, shunning other company and even pushing some of the other orphans away. All his friends from years gone by were beginning to graduate from the Nursery and he was by far the oldest bull left. Mentally, we felt he was feeling bored in the Nursery, and moving him to the Umani Reintegration Unit, built for orphans like him in mind, felt like the next best step for him. We had no idea how right we would be, for when Luggard arrived at the Umani Unit in the Kibwezi Forest on the 31st, with the steadying force of Enkesha by his side, it was as if he had arrived home. To see how all the orphans there, but particularly the older females Murera and Sonje who suffered similar fates immediately took him under their wing, besotted with both him and Enkesha, was very emotional for all present. Our preconceived apprehensions dissipated and we knew Luggard would be very happy in his new home. Enkesha, calm and collected as always, just appeared to be excited by all the plentiful and varied vegetation on offer! 

Larro has recently learnt how to perfect drinking water using her trunk. In this regard she has been a real late-starter. Like Ziwadi, she used to dunk her head in the water in order to have a drink but over the last few days she has been sucking water up using her trunk and then releasing it into her mouth. This is a skill she will continue to master as she gets older. Ziwadi continues to drink water through her mouth, but the Keepers hope that over time she too will master how to drink using her trunk, just as Larro has. She has improved in leaps and bounds over the last month, and hasn’t suffered from any more debilitating seizures, and has even grown physically as well.

Maxwell the rhino has had a very quiet month. He has been worrying us recently as he has lost a bit of condition. We are increasing his feeds in an effort to improve his condition and hope the tests we have done and subsequent treatments will get him back to his old self. He is naturally a mellow fellow, and we were also happy to see him start to venture over to the other side of his stockade extension again as well, which was previously used by Kiko the giraffe when lions were in the vicinity. With all the commotion of the elephants training and the other orphans being fed up by the top of his stockade, he would often walk up to the top to listen to everything happening around him, curious of proceedings. When he is in the mood to play, Max can be found waiting to greet the elephants at his lower gate in the morning as they emerge from their night stockades. On particularly cold mornings, he will remain in his bedroom and won’t come out to see the orphans head off into the forest, but other times he is up well before the elephant orphans, and it is on those occasions he partakes in games and chooses to interact with them.

May 2020 day to day

01 May

It was a very wet morning as there had been rain throughout the evening. As it was quite cold, some of the orphans weren’t as eager to leave their rooms including Ziwadi and Luggard. The duo often browse near one another and keeping each other company as they walk around the forest and when it is cold they both prefer to stay closer to their stables. As the morning warmed up, they both began to venture further out in the forest. 

Naboishu seems to be developing new friendships and is becoming more and more confident amongst the Nursery herd as the days pass. He appears to want to spend more and more time with little Naleku and Roho, whom are often in the company of the older girls such as Kiasa. After the orphans finished their midday bottles of milk, Naboishu walked over and joined the two youngsters who were browsing in the company of Kiasa. He happily joined them and began to browse right by them.

The orphans had a lovely afternoon browsing before making their way back to the stockade compound in the evening. 

Luggard cuddling his Keeper from his stable

Ziwadi out browsing on a cloudy morning

Naboishu browsing with Naleku