Keepers' Diaries, May 2023

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

Maxwell began the month in a playful mood. Rather than spending the early morning hours nibbling on lucerne pellets, as is his usual habit, he trundled around the perimeter of his spacious stockade. When it started to rain, the rhino cavorted in the mud, reclining in the goop and then trotting around before repeating the whole ritual. He kept this up for several hours, only retiring to his sleeping stockade when the rainfall grew heavier.

Loldaiga, who is one of our newer rescues, is still figuring out his character. As the orphans were gathering for their milk one afternoon, the normally obedient bull veered off the path and sprinted for the stockades. However, his excursion backfired: Upon finding himself all alone, he trumpeted in alarm until a Keeper came to fetch him. Perhaps feeling embarrassed about the drama he had caused, he then proceeded to vent his frustration on little Mageno and Weka, giving them both firm shoves. His push toppled Mageno on his side, but the easygoing young boy cheerfully climbed back to his feet and went on with his day. Weka, on the other hand, retaliated by giving Loldaiga a loud trumpet and a strong shove. If nothing else, Loldaiga is learning who not to mess with!

Muridjo is one of the more colourful characters in our Nursery herd. She is very young — but pity the fool who takes her for a blanket baby! She is determined to act beyond her years. Although she is good friends with Mzinga, Shujaa, Nyambeni, Mokogodo, and Taroha (the other orphans who currently make up the ‘blanket brigade’), she finds any excuse to assert her dominance over them, lest anyone mistake her for a youngster. 

Little Mokogodo loves the spotlight. She is growing in confidence — and she is eager to let everyone know! During the public visit, she’s taken to trotting along the rope cordon, greeting the visitors like she is the mayor of Nairobi. Sometimes, she even nips beneath the rope to mingle with the new faces. A Keeper always whisks her back to the herd where, undeterred, she frolics around in circles, waving her trunk with her tiny tail aloft.

Interestingly enough, some of the original blanket babies are growing into nannies. Mokogodo and Taroha have replaced Mzinga and Nyambeni as the babies of the herd. Far from begrudging the newcomers, both girls have emerged as excellent nannies. One afternoon, a troupe of monkeys verged towards the bush where Mzinga was browsing with Mokogodo and Taroha. The moment Mzinga noticed the monkeys, she charged towards them, trumpeting impressively — no one was getting close to her friends! Nyambeni shows the same commitment to Mokogodo and Taroha. She shadows them diligently, ensuring they don’t run into any bullies or drama.

Of course, both girls are still babies at heart. Kerrio, meanwhile, has emerged as an excellent mini matriarch and a grounding influence. One afternoon, Nyambeni was in a towering mood and gave her ‘big sister’ a series of small shoves. Lovely Kerrio ignored her surly little friend and continued to drink placidly rather than retaliate. She may only be a year older. but she is more than a year wiser! 

We witnessed another leadership moment in which Kerrio saved the day. It all began when Mzinga got stuck in the thick mud and seemed unable to stand up. Kerrio came to the rescue, cleverly turning her body to position her hind legs against Mzinga’s neck and shoulders. This gave the younger orphan the leverage to lean on her older friend and stand up. The Keepers were so impressed with Kerrio’s thoughtful reaction.

Kamili is another budding mini matriarch. She has a soft spot for Taroha and dotes upon the young girl. One afternoon, Kamili and tiny Taroha waddled off for a small wander on their own. They disappeared behind a bush for a few minutes before trumpeting in alarm and sprinting back to a Keeper, ears flared and tails aloft. The source of the commotion turned out to be two baboons who had jumped down from a tree, giving them a fright. 

Rafiki and Mukutan have emerged as evenly matched playmates. However, bulls frazzle easily, and a few encounters got a bit heated this month. One afternoon, Rafiki gave Mukutan a powerful shove, causing him to lose his balance. Kinyei dashed over to the rescue, banishing Rafiki from the scene. As Rafiki plodded off, he bumped into Tingai, another orphan who used to be reserved but has become confident and feisty. Tingai challenged him to a contest, but Rafiki was wise enough to realise he was out-matched and turned his back to browse.

Elerai and Ahmed, two gentle souls, have become good friends. However, they do have their differences. This was illustrated one afternoon, when a Keeper went to round up the wayward pair. While Elerai trotted over obediently, Ahmed scampered skittishly away into the bush. She has calmed down since her arrival at the Nursery, but she is not always at ease around human beings. We expect that this will change in time.

Ahmed, Kitiak, Elerai, and Loldaiga are our independent gang. They have started pulling twilight disappearing acts, paddling away from the others when it is time to come home for the evening. The Keepers always follow their tracks and bring them back to the stockades. They may think they are big and strong, but they are too young to spend the night out in the wild.

This month, sweet Bondeni finally seemed to realise he was the senior bull of the herd. One evening, three giraffes made the mistake of verging too close to the orphans. In response, Bondeni flared his ears and charged, trumpeting as loudly as he could. His overreaction attracted the attention of his mates, and soon, the poor giraffes were being chased by a whole posse of bulls.

The next day, Bondeni’s protectiveness was better placed. As the orphans were browsing, a lioness emerged from the bushes. The Keepers shepherded the group away, but Bondeni decided to take charge of the situation, facing the interloper, flapping his ears, trumpeting loudly, and charging. The lioness was so surprised that she sprinted back into the bush. Bondeni trotted back to the herd with his head held high.

While elephants like Bondeni relish the spotlight, others are more comfortable on the fringes. Such is the case with Muwingu. She always trundles at the back of her group, preferring not to lead. In contrast to several of her friends, Muwingu is a polite girl who never tries to grab extra milk bottles. However, she is starting to grow in confidence and become more playful, which is a lovely development.

Mageno and Kitich are great mates. They are close in age and close in size, which makes them perfect playmates. They can often be found tussling their way through the forest, but one day, Bondeni threw a wrench in their usual plans. Feeling left out of the action, he sprinted over to the younger boys and inserted himself into their wrestling match. Perhaps deterred by his size, Mageno and Kitich sprung apart and headed in opposite directions, leaving the big bull at a very loose end.

Sholumae, who is one of our newest rescues, is slowly settling in. She was formally introduced to the orphan herd last month. Although she has settled in well, she remains anxious around the Keepers, preferring to keep his distance. One day, however, we had a breakthrough: Sholumae finished her milk and then asked a Keeper for a second bottle, coming close and raising her trunk and trumpeting her demand. She checked that all the bottles in the wheelbarrow were empty before joining the others at the mud bath. She is becoming one of the gang!  

Every elephant has a unique personality, but boys and girls definitely have their broad differences. One day, Kinyei, Kindani, Rafiki, Kitiak, Ahmed, and Sileita, along with quiet boys Rafiki and Kitiak, were enjoying a lazy pool party. All the sudden, their peace was interrupted by a deluge of rowdy boys: Bondeni, Tingai, Taabu, Choka, and Elerai splashed into the water and clambered atop the group. Kindani did her indignant best to chase the boys out, with a degree of success.

But then, bulls do something to remind us they have a sensitive side, too. One afternoon, Choka was being such a good big brother to Nyambeni, Mzinga, Taroha, and Mokogodo. He was not exactly fussing over them, but he was being gentle and protective. At one point, he lay down on the ground and invited them to climb on top of his enormous body. Nyambeni and Mzinga bravely did their best to clamber up, but he was too big. 

Taabu and Tingai had such a funny feud one morning. It all began when Taabu strutted out of his stockade and over to Tingai’s door, which he closed with his trunk, effectively trapping his friend inside. Tingai pushed it open, Taabu pushed it shut again, Tingai pushed it open, and so the game continued until a Keeper intervened, ordering naughty Taabu to move away. A disgruntled Tingai marched out of his room and over to his captor, who he challenged to a wrestling match. Rather than react aggressively, Taabu turned his back to Tingai, showing him respect and contrition. The two boys made up and they browsed shoulder to shoulder in the forest.

25th May was a very big day. After weeks of training, Bondeni, Kindani, and Kinyei were ready to graduate to our Ithumba Reintegration Unit. All the Keepers gathered in the early morning hours to bid the Kaluku Trio farewell. Tempted by bottles of milk, Kindani and Kinyei walked into their compartments without any fuss. Predictably, it took lots of coaxing and a final shove to convince Bondeni into his area. With all three aboard, the Kaluku Trio set off for their new life in Tsavo. Read their full graduation story here.

The rest of the herd was a little unsettled by the trio’s departure, but their discontent didn’t last long. As always, the pecking order shifted almost immediately. Bulls Tingai, Rafiki, and Kitiak became more assertive over the course of the day, while Sileita and Kerrio stepped up with the departure of mini matriarchs Kindani and Kinyei. Meanwhile, Kerrio stuck close to Nyambeni, Mokogodo, and Taroha, protecting them from real and perceived threats.

The Keepers also noticed a shift in sweet Latika. Historically, she pottered around on the fringes of the herd, but she seems newly interested in taking the lead. At the end of the month, Latika led a small group of babies down to the mud bath. They took a few steps before Latika noticed that Nyambeni was not present. She turned around and sprinted over to her little friend — she would not go without her! Down at the mud bath, everyone marvelled at how Latika held her milk bottle all by herself, despite her short trunk.

Weka ended the month on a mischievous note. She saw the graduation of mini matriarchs Kindani and Kinyei as her personal invitation to start acting naughtier than ever. Much of this manifested in brazen attempts to steal extra milk bottles. Finally, the Keepers thwarted her efforts by holding her back to feed last. Weka drank her milk in a sulk and quietly joined the others, on her best behaviour for a change. But little did we know… she was just plotting her revenge!

At the mud bath a few hours later, Weka cantered over to little Shujaa, boisterously knocking him over from behind. He thought Muridjo was the offender, so he gave her a big shove, which escalated into a fight. Weka watched all this unfold, no doubt satisfied with the drama she had secretly created. However, the Keepers knew who the real culprit was, and sent Weka over to the naughty corner to reflect upon her actions. It must be said that she didn’t seem very contrite!

May 2023 day to day

01 May

As dawn broke on a cool cloudy day, the orphans stood in their stockades contently eating greens. The Keepers opened the doors of the older orphans’ rooms wide, but no one emerged for some time. Eventually they plodded out and hung around, in no apparent hurry to head out to the forest. The Keepers whistled at their young charges and led them out for a wander. The blanket babies – Nyambeni, Mzinga, Muridjo, Shujaa, Mokogodo and Taroha – remained behind in their stables.

Out in the muddy green forest, Bondeni, Ahmed and Rafiki lay down on the wet ground, rolling around with legs aloft and trunks waving. They rubbed up against each other and slid their round bodies down a riverbank before Bondeni stepped over a fallen branch for a vigorous scratch. Mukutan decided to imitate his friend, stepping over the same branch to itch his belly and backside. He then played a slippery pushing game with Sileita. Meanwhile, Kitiak and Elerai sensibly led the rest of the herd into some thick shrubs to feast on green browse.

Maxwell began the month in a playful mood. Rather than spending the early morning nibbling on lucerne pellets in his stockade, he trundled around the whole of his enclosure. When it started to rain, he rolled around in the mud and stood up and had a little walk and then lay down again. He kept this up for hours before eventually returning to his sleeping stockade when the rainfall grew heavier.

Bondeni having a scratch

Mukutan imitating his friend

Maxwell running around