Keepers' Diaries, May 2021

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

May was a big month at the Nursery, as five elephants took the next step in their reintegration journey. Graduations are always bittersweet affairs, but so important for our orphans: The Nursery is where they find their footing after being rescued; Reintegration Units are where they find their place back in the wild. It is important to note that the journey back into the wild still takes eight to ten years. Just as we are looking forward for these older individuals, we also must think of the herd they leave behind at the Nursery. We knew that Larro would step up as mini matriarch, but it was equally important that the young bulls have role models to look up to. Mukkoka had originally started training for graduation, but as time progressed, we realized that Roho and Naboishu might flounder without the continued presence of an older bull. Because Mukkoka was the youngest of the upcoming graduates, we chose to postpone his move so he could continue to mentor his friends in the Nursery herd.

On the 24th, Kiombo, Maktao, and Kiasa boarded the translocation vehicle and embarked for our Umani Springs Reintegration Unit, where a rapturous welcome awaited them. While some members of the Nursery herd were a bit confused as to where their three friends had gone, others adapted right away: Mukkoka, who was clearly already relishing his new status as the most senior bull in the herd, spent the afternoon wrestling with Naboishu. They didn’t have long to ponder the new herd dynamics, because the very next day, a new member arrived in the form of Shukuru! This wasn’t the first return trip for poor Shukuru, who originally came back from Ithumba in December 2017. She has suffered from chronic ill issues over the past few years, the source of which remains a mystery. Following a dip in her condition, we decided to bring her back to Nairobi, where she could benefit from blood diagnostics and hands-on veterinary care. She is very familiar with the Nursery and happily settled back into the routine. Shukuru was shy of the Umani Springs herd recently due to her weakened state, so she is relieved to be surrounded by small elephants here in Nairobi while she remains so poorly. 

After Shukuru’s arrival, it was again time for farewells. In the early hours of the 26th, Maisha and Nabulu graduated to our Ithumba Reintegration Unit. They had become wonderful mini matriarchs of the Nursery herd, but it was time for them to spread their wings. We knew that Roho, who was particularly attached to Maisha, would miss her presence. Sure enough, he made a beeline for her stockade that morning and began to inspect it. The Keepers were right there to comfort him, and he seemed to relax as soon as he was out with the other orphans. In fact, Roho has been maturing a lot. Towards the end of Maisha’s Nursery stage, he was no longer as reliant on her, expressing far more interest in wrestling with Naboishu and the other boys. He also has a newfound friend in Esoit, a little bull we rescued on the 4th.

Just as we expected, Larro confidently stepped up to fill Maisha’s shoes as mini matriarch. She is such an eager leader; if any of the youngsters yell or trumpet, she is there in a minute to find out what’s wrong. Naleku’s confidence has also soared without the older girls around. When Maisha was around, she would tolerate Roho’s antics, but now she has no time for it. If he annoys her, she immediately puts him in his place and chases him away. Roho and Naleku have always gone head-to-head, almost like bickering siblings.

Rama has been fast friends with Ziwadi since his arrival at the Nursery. While most of the orphans dart off into the forest in the morning, they both take a leisurely approach to life. Rama is all too happy to linger by Ziwadi’s side while she stops by the water troughs for a long drink, dunking her head directly underwater in her distinctive manner. Naleku has shown a lot of interest in joining their dynamic duo, often following them around the forest as they browse. Since Esoit’s arrival, Naleku and Olorien have become neighbours, which has brought them even closer.

Before Maisha and Nabulu moved, Kinyei, Kindani, Bondeni, and Olorien occasionally broke away from the others to have private adventures in the forest. Kinyei is the leader of this little herd, but now that Maisha is gone, she seems less preoccupied with establishing her own group. However, these youngsters still like to take naps during the day, under the watchful eye of their Keepers.

On a whole, the orphans stuck together a bit more after Maisha and Nabulu graduated. They are very interested in Shukuru — who, at 12 years old, must seem a very impressive elephant! Everyone is persistently vying for her attention, especially Esoit, Roho, Kindani, Kinyei, and Naleku. Sometimes, Shukuru responds positively, but other times she just walks away or chases them off. This has become a fun little game for the orphans, especially for Naleku, who keeps edging over to her time and again.

We are very glad that Mukkoka remained behind at the Nursery, because Naboishu is in sore need of a positive influence! Naboishu has always been rebellious. When he is being particularly bad mannered, the Keepers shepherd him away from the herd for a timeout — but oftentimes, he simply dodges them and comes dashing back to cause more mischief. However, Naboishu has really taken a shine to little Esoit. Witnessing how he gently plays with the younger bull leaves us hopeful that his insolence is just a stage.

Nairobi experienced a few surprising rainy days this month. While the elephants would prefer to remain in their warm stockades on such mornings, Maxwell is delighted to wake up to rain! Our resident rhino has such a presence. Everyone is clued into his morning ritual of sorting greens: After the Keepers stock his room with fresh branches, he sets about dividing them up. We can hear him tossing the greens about as he searches for his favourite thorny acacia branches. Sometimes, the branches get hooked on his horn and drama ensues while he thrashes them free! With the sorting process complete, he happily spends the morning feasting, and the whole Nursery compound can hear him loudly chomping away.

May 2021 day to day

01 May

Nabulu, Maisha, Kiasa, Maktao and Kiombo’s and translocation training has been going well, but some of the orphans are still hesitant about entering the stockade cubicles of the lorry. Nabulu appears to be the happiest with getting on board the lorry, and Maisha and Kiombo are getting more and more comfortable day by day. Maktao and Kiasa, however, still remain rather wary of the translocation lorry and will often refuse the first couple of times before eventually agreeing to get on. As always, the Keepers try to train the orphans during most of their milk feeds, unless they are going down to the mud bath. Once all the orphans have gotten into the lorry, they are then led back to the forest where they will join the rest of the Nursery herd. 

As all the orphans were settling back in the forest this afternoon, most of them were happily browsing amongst each other and following Maisha deeper into the forest. Naleku, Ziwadi and Rama, however, decided to go off in their own direction, where they could browse peacefully away from the herd. Some of the Keepers remained with their small group, making sure that they didn’t wander off too far. 

Once it was time for the orphans to head back to the stockade compound for the evening, the Keepers ushered Naleku, Ziwadi, and Rama back to the rest of the Nursery herd. As they approached the herd, Maktao and Mukkoka were busy wrestling each other and pushing each other around the forest. Their game didn’t last long as they were eventually ushered home by their Keepers. Once all the orphans were back in their stables and stockades, they enjoyed their evening bottles of milk and then settled for the evening. 

Kiasa, Maktao and Kiombo during their training

Naleku and Ziwadi browsing together

Mukkoka posing for the camera