Keepers' Diaries, November 2022

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

In Nairobi, the month began with rain. The orphan herd was quietly browsing when the showers began. The ‘blanket babies’ — Mzinga, Nyambeni, Shujaa and Muridjo — sprinted home in a little pack, tails aloft in indignation. The bigger boys and girls remained in the forest, contentedly feeding and occasionally trunk hugging each other.

The showers continued later in the afternoon. It was too cold to wallow — but certainly not too cold to enjoy the mud! Suguroi, Naleku, Sagateisa, Bondeni, Esoit, Roho, Oldepe, Olorien, Kinyei, Kerrio, Choka, and Neshashi had a great time rolling around in the soil, as the blanket babies pottered around on the fringes. Bondeni and Esoit got a bit too enthusiastic and tried to mount Kinyei and Olorien, much to the annoyance of the girls.

Rescued a day apart, Weka and Muwingu have become great friends. During her early days at the Nursery, Weka used to sneak back to the stockades. This really upset Muwingu, who would fall back and trumpet when she noticed her absence. Weka has since stopped this disappearing act, but Muwingu still fears the worst whenever her friend is out of sight. One afternoon, Muwingu suddenly started trumpeting loudly and sprinted back to the compound, making a beeline for Weka’s stockade. Finding it empty, she returned to the orphans, upset and restless. Weka, who had been with the herd all along, ran towards her, and the girls greeted each other with lots of rumbling and trunk hugging. Drama over!

Kitich is the third member of Weka and Muwingu’s merry trio. He is somewhat of an absentminded professor and often wanders away from the herd. Unlike Weka, he is not diverting anywhere special; he simply loses track of time! Luckily, Weka and Muwingu are hypervigilant about their little friend and always keep an eye on him. 

Bondeni and Esoit are our playful boys. One wet morning, they set their sights on a group of impalas, who were just trying to shelter from the rain. Trumpeting and flapping their ears, they chased and charged after the impalas, with naughty Bondeni in the lead and Esoit in hot pursuit. Predictably, Bondeni slipped in the mud, but he quickly recovered and trundled on, trumpeting in excitement. The nimble impalas darted off in another direction and down he fell again. This time, Esoit stood protectively next to Bondeni as he lumbered to his feet. Their quest may have been hopeless, but the boys didn’t give up!

By contrast, Tingai and Lodo prefer a quiet life. They often hang out together and keep their distance from the others. These youngsters are developing the confidence to do what they want, rather than always remain with the herd. Slowly but surely, they are emerging from the shadows of the dominant big boys.

Although Tingai is a boy and Sileita a girl, they were both rescued from Laikipia and have lots in common. Both were orphaned through human-wildlife conflict, so they are understandably nervy. They like to browse together in the bush and are quite shy, with a habit of trumpeting when surprised. Out in the forest, they move slowly and suspiciously, like two large chameleons. We have noticed that when they are surprised, both roll up their trunks and put them in their mouths, almost like babies sucking their thumbs. The Keepers have learned to give these two orphans the space they need to feel comfortable.

Choka may be small, but he is trying to be brave! One morning, a troop of baboons disturbed the Nursery herd. Naleku, Muwingu, Sileita, Olorien, Taabu, Choka, Mukutan, and Kerrio promptly ran after them with great gusto. Choka was being very courageous, until a large male baboon climbed down a tree and chattered in his face. The little boy ran for cover, trumpeting in alarm, but he was rescued from his scary predicament by his older friends.

Sagateisa’s steely character is what helped her survive nearly insurmountable odds — but now, she is applying that same grit to everyday life! She is currently going through a phase of being more assertive than caring. The newcomers know that Sagateisa can be a grumpy young lady and sensibly keep their distance.

Kerrio, meanwhile, is emerging as a wonderfully nurturing young girl. She realises that Nyambeni and Mzinga have usurped her as the babies of the Nursery herd. Far from begrudging them, she has embraced the opportunity to be a ‘big sister.’ Kerrio’s behaviour indicates that she has the potential to become a great matriarch.

Mageno may be a boy, but he is also very nurturing. He dotes upon the three smallest orphans, Nyambeni, Mzinga, and Shujaa. Shujaa is a fiery youngster and sometimes picks fights with him, but Mageno reacts like a kind elder brother, refusing to engage in a confrontation which he would easily win. We have also seen him mediate disputes between Nyambeni and Muridjo, who have developed something of a sibling rivalry.

Rafiki has forged friendships within the Nursery herd, but he seems to enjoy his own company best. He is an interesting individual — reserved, calm, and content, although he is not immune to the occasional bursts of drama. Late one afternoon, Rafiki got frightened by a giraffe in the forest and charged off in the opposite direction.The Keepers spent an hour searching for the runaway, and finally found him standing quietly behind a large tree.

Our newbie Ahmed, meanwhile, is growing in confidence with each passing day. This month, she decided to push the envelope and flout the Keepers’ wishes. One afternoon, she snuck away from the second group of orphans in order to join the first feeding group. The Keepers couldn’t help but laugh at her bravado.

Kamili is a reserved little girl. We often group her with Sileita, Tingai, Lodo, Choka, and of course, her best friend, Latika. These quieter orphans feel comfortable hanging out and feeding together. Kamili and Latika always partner up at the mud bath. They are happy for the Keepers to come close — but not too close. If they feel their space is being invaded, the girls give a little warning push.

Sometimes, the biggest characters come in the smallest packages. Mzinga is a reminder of this! She is cheeky, affectionate, and clever, responding to her name and fully aware when she is misbehaving. When she doesn’t want to do as she is told, she flaps her ears expressively. At lunchtime, Mzinga likes to lay down next to a Keeper and rest her trunk on his leg.

With the rains came a change in weather, much to Maxwell’s delight. Enjoying the newfound chill in the air, the black rhino woke up in a particularly jovial mood one morning. As has become tradition, his warthog friends popped in to share his breakfast. This morning, however, they were out of luck: Full of energy, Maxwell charged around and eventually banished them from his stockade.

The arrival of the first rains in Tsavo also signalled that it was time to resume training for our next class of Nursery graduates. Neshashi, Oldepe, and Roho made up the first group. Their graduation had been long-delayed due to the drought, so they were very well-practised by the time training recommenced. In the past, they had been allowed to hang out in the moving truck for as long as they wanted. They were quite put out when they realised that they had to leave after their session, in order to give the second group a practice.  

The second group — Sagateisa, Suguroi and Naleku – was markedly less enthusiastic about the new experience. The first day, Naleku and Sagateisa obediently walked onboard and drank their milk, but Suguroi was ill at ease. The next day, Naleku and Suguroi knew what was on the docket and obstinately refused to enter the truck. This is why we give plenty of time for training sessions!

She is not quite ready to graduate, but clever Ziwadi saw an opportunity in the training sessions. One morning, she sneakily nipped away from the Nursery herd and followed the trainees to the moving truck. Our stubborn little girl wove through the six orphans and pushed her way onboard, searching for milk. Realising that compromise was inevitable, a Keeper brought Ziwadi’s milk over to the truck.

Two of our newest arrivals, Iletilal and Elerai, have become great friends since joining the orphan herd. They were rescued at an older age than many of their peers and thus remember their wild lives well. A cautious pair, they like to browse together and gravitate towards the blanket babies, knowing that the boisterous boys won’t bother them there. 

The 28th was a momentous day for our Nursery herd: After months and months of training, Neshashi, Roho, and Oldepe were finally ready to graduate to our Ithumba Reintegration Unit! The Keepers were up at 2am, preparing to escort the trio onto the moving truck. Kinyei and Kindani, who are two of our most vigilant girls, were also awake. They didn’t seem overly concerned, but they certainly clocked the unusual movements and noises at such an untimely hour. The Keepers were sad to say goodbye to Neshashi, Roho, and Oldepe, but proud that their charges had and embarked upon their paths to wild lives.

That day, the orphan herd was somewhat subdued. They didn’t seem distressed, but they stood close together and browsed quietly. Esoit, Suguroi, Naleku, Sagateisa, Kinyei, Kindani and Taabu were particularly pensive, seeming to understand what had happened. The following day, however, they were back to their usual hijinks and high-energy activities.

November began with heavy showers and has ended with even heavier rain. The trees are no longer grey and drooping, but are standing tall and covered in bright green leaves. The ground is no longer yellow and dusty, but carpeted with fresh grass. At last, conditions are changing! 

November 2022 day to day

01 Nov

The new month began with promising signs of the onset of the rainy season in the early morning. This year, the rains are desperately needed following the prolonged drought. 

The orphan herd had settled out in the forest and were quietly browsing on bushes in small groups when the showers began. As soon as the rain started falling, the blanket babies – Mzinga, Nyambeni, Shujaa and Muridjo – sprinted, tails aloft in a little pack, for home and the shelter of their stables. The Keepers smiled at their reaction to the downpour. The bigger boys and girls stayed out in the forest, contentedly feeding while occasionally trunk touching and hugging each other.

Later at milk feeding time at the mud bath, the refreshing showers returned. It was too cold for wallowing but not for enjoying the mud! Suguroi, Naleku, Sagateisa, Bondeni, Esoit, Roho, Oldepe, Olorien, Kinyei, Kerrio, Choka and Neshashi rolled around on the ground, having a fabulous rub, dub and a scrub in the muddy soil. Roho and Naleku locked trunks as they enjoyed a boisterous push around on the ground. Meanwhile, Bondeni and Esoit attempted to mount Kinyei and Olorien, much to their annoyance. The blanket babies pottered around on the fringes of this activity, watching their older friends.

Even dour old Maxwell got stuck in, rolling in his soil pile and having a great time in the mud, as the warthogs raced around him in excited circles. Everyone was celebrating the showers.

Nyambeni and Mzinga in the forest

Shujaa in his blanket

Bondeni and Esoit playful in the forest