Keepers' Diaries, November 2022

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Kaluku Neonate Unit

As with much of Tsavo, Kaluku felt the effects of the drought keenly. That all changed mid-November, when the heavens opened and some direly-needed rain fell. We hope that this is just the beginning of generous rainfall, which we will need if we are to truly emerge from the drought. 

With the rains came some exciting developments for our orphaned buffalos. Mkubwa, who we have raised since infancy, and Kidogo, the semi-wild female who ‘adopted’ us earlier this year, decided it was an opportune time to transition to a wild life. We still see them from time to time, looking healthy and very satisfied with their new chapter. 

For all its happy moments, this month also delivered a great tragedy for our Kaluku family. Scooter, our beloved orphaned warthog, had an accident and broke her right hind leg. Warthogs are notoriously tricky to sedate and treat, but we were determined to try. KWS vet Dr Poghon attended to Scooter and cast her injured leg in plaster of paris. However, he warned us that hers was a very tricky break and that her prognosis was guarded.

We hoped for the best, but it soon became clear that Scooter was in great discomfort. The vet came to check on her and confirmed our worst fears: Scooter’s break was not improving, and she was feeling its effects keenly. Following his advice, we made the heart-breaking decision to humanely end her suffering. 

Scooter was one of those little characters who sticks with you for a lifetime. In her time on earth, she fully commandeered an entire compound — a team of humans, a herd of elephants, even a rhino and a giraffe were under her control! It is hard to believe that we will no longer see Scooter trotting around Kaluku in her signature, sassy manner, tail held aloft and snorting with great importance. Scooter’s time on earth was cut short, but we believe she is in a better place now, taking charge with her singular panache.

Apollo the orphaned rhino:

The rains have blanketed Kaluku in green. Apollo is absolutely thrilled with this change in landscape. Now, he has a buffet of lush greenery and freshwater pools at every turn. With such a bounty out in the bush, it is difficult to lure the rhino to his usual midday mud bath. In small steps, Apollo is getting a taste for the wild!

Apollo has always been fascinated by wild elephants. When he catches their scent, he runs after them in hot pursuit. The Keepers have a real challenge on their hands to get him to abandon the chase. Rhinos are notoriously stubborn, and Apollo is no different. However, he does respect his Keepers, particularly Justus. 

Kwale the orphaned hartebeest remains Apollo’s stalwart buddy. While the rhino wallows at the mud bath, Kwale stands on the fringes, using his horns to coat his body in mud. Sometimes, he even engages Apollo in a light pushing match. Apollo doesn’t seem too upset by the absence of Mkubwa and Kidogo, who were his other best friends. In fact, they still meet up along the Athi River from time to time.

The orphaned elephants:

Little Doldol joined our foster programme this month. Our Keepers couldn’t believe their eyes when she arrived at Kaluku: She is the tiniest orphan we have ever rescued, almost certainly born premature, and even a year later, she remains markedly smaller than her peers! 

What Doldol lacks in size, she more than makes up for in personality. She is growing up in the stable block near Angela and Robert’s house, alongside another little friend who will be introduced in due course. Doldol is the queen of the castle — and she has a very colourful reign! This month was all about fun. She enjoyed energetic sprints along the sandy beaches of the Athi River, occasionally splashing in the shallow water. To relax, she browsed in the shade or planted herself in the squishiest parts of the mud bath. Doldol’s Keepers, Mishak and Peter, remark that she is a very determined, bossy young elephant.  

Over in the main Kaluku compound, Rokka runs the show. She is an exceedingly clever girl. At night, the Keepers have to ‘lock’ her bedroom in a special way, because she is quite the houdini and has figured out how to open the gate. She still loves to chase the non-elephant orphans, particularly Sprite the warthog, who easily outruns her every time. Visitors are often lulled into a false sense of security when Rokka comes over to say hello — in reality, our naughty girl is just looking to push the greeting a little too far!

Manda sleeps in the stockade next to Rokka. He does not like heavy rain storms, particularly when thunder and lightning are involved. Whenever the heavens open, he gets very agitated and it takes several Keepers to calm him down. They have found that a treat of sugar cane usually does the trick. It is ironic that Manda is so easily frightened at night, because he is a dominant young boy out in the field.

Bulls are typically quite dominant by nature, but Mayan bucks the stereotype. He is remarkably soft-natured and gentle. It makes sense that he gravitates towards Fred, a Keeper who has a similarly quiet personality. In fact, the only thing that really gets under Mayan skin — literally and figuratively — are insects! The recent rains have brought them back in droves, and Mayan hates them with a passion. His Keepers swat them away as best they can, but he has to be vigilant about mud bathing to keep them at bay. 

Vaarti is the other soft-natured bull of our Kaluku herd. He loves playing with his best friend, Mayan, but he is a bit more wary of the forceful Manda. Vaarti never leaves the compound without doing his morning rounds, saying hello to all the other orphans and greeting the Keepers one by one. He is often the last to head out into the bush, because he hangs back in the hopes that there is an extra sip of milk on offer.

Twiggy the orphaned giraffe:

During the dry season, Twiggy spent most of her days around the Kaluku Field Headquarters. Now that there have been some generous rain showers, she has been able to increase her patch. Twiggy is so fond of her expanded forays that she is often reluctant to return home at night. However, a bottle of her favourite milk never fails to entice her into her stockade.

While she is always happy to do her own thing, Twiggy also enjoys wandering off with Susu the orphaned eland and Kwale the hartebeest. For some reason, she is also very fond of the three duikers, Stoney, Jessie, and Rodney. Although she towers above them, the giraffe is endlessly amused by the antics of the little antelopes and loves to follow them around.

Visit the video section of your online SWT account to watch a special video featuring Kaluku's orphans this month.

Apollo at the dust bath
Doldol enjoying the sandy riverbank
Twiggy is shy by nature
Vaarti racing in for his milk
Rokka flanked by 'her gang'
Apollo still loves his milk!
Mayan loving the fresh greens
Vaarti, first to the milk feed
Manda and Apollo in a playful stare off
Rokka on the dust pile
Vaarti loves his milk so much
Apollo enjoying a dust bath pampering
Rokka making waves!
Rokka and Vaarti
Apollo, with Twiggy behind investigating Susu
Rokka well and truly dusted
Manda enjoying his milk
Mayan, Rokka, and Manda
Twiggy on the browse
Apollo taking a load off
Mayan at the mud bath
Mayan, Rokka, and Manda
Scooter, our beloved orphaned warthog