Keepers' Diaries, November 2023

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

In Nairobi, the month began with a funny study in contrasts brought about by the rain. Following another downpour in the night, the stockade compound was particularly muddy. Many orphans were reluctant to leave their dry stables, but not plucky Taroha! He wanted to see his friends. As soon as a Keeper opened his door, he darted outside, wheeled around the corner, and planted himself outside Mokogodo’s stable. Hearing Taroha outside, Mokogodo shouted insistently until she too was let out. Reunited, the pair happily plodded into the soggy forest. 

By contrast, Mukutan and Mageno stood stubbornly inside their stockades, refusing to come out. They stood with their backs to the doors, pretending to browse on leftover branches of lucerne. Eventually, the Keepers cajoled them outside, and with the greatest reluctance, they jogged across the muddy ground to catch up with the rest of the herd.

But Shujaa takes the cake when it comes to rain evasion tactics. As the Keepers let the orphans out of their bedrooms, the crafty boy used his trunk to close the lower half of his stable door. He hid inside, hoping that he had outwitted everyone. While it bought him some time, Shujaa’s reprieve was short-lived, as a Keeper discovered him when he came to clean out the stables. Shujaa must learn to accept rain and muddy conditions, as it’s all part of life for wild elephants!

Every day, we are treated to lovely reminders of how kind and supportive our orphan herd is. One morning, Kerrio, Kamili, Latika, Mageno, Kitich, Nyambeni, Mzinga, Shujaa, Talek, Pardamat, Taroha, and Mokogodo were enjoying a leisurely mud bath. Kerrio is a keen water baby, but her nannying responsibilities take priority and she puts her own fun on hold to look after everyone. 

When it was time to get out, Mageno kindly helped a tired Taroha stand up, giving him a useful shove while he struggled through the thick mud. When Taroha reached the edge, Nyambeni took over, supporting the little boy as he clambered out. She is becoming such an adept mini matriarch.

Maxwell, our resident black rhino, enjoys his daily meetings with the orphans. One morning, it was Shujaa and Muridjo in attendance. They extended their little trunks through the gaps in his gate and rumbled their greeting. In response, the blind black rhino trundled over to say good morning before returning to his tasty pile of pellets. The wild warthogs — who now have several newborn piglets in tow — contine to make themselves at home in Maxwell’s stockade, whether he wants them there or not.

Sileita is not only an excellent nanny, but also a fabulous playmate. Her classic move is to lay quietly on the ground and wiggle around, inviting the little ones to climb onto her. Shujaa, Taroha, and Mokogodo never need any encouragement! 

Kamili, who always marches to the beat of her own drum, is not quite as accommodating. One morning, she was rolling in a large puddle when Nyambeni and Mzinga wandered over to join her. The girls tried to clamber atop her, but Kamili stood up and pushed them away. In contrast to Sileita and Kerrio, Kamili is not strong enough to be used as an enormous toy. She also doesn’t have much interest in being a nanny. 

Sholumai remains very introverted, but she has a whole team supporting her. We were reminded of this when a group of impalas startled her en route to the mud bath. The shy girl trumpeted in alarm and veered off in another direction. In response to her call, Mukutan, Mushuru, Choka, and Loldaiga chased after her, also shouting out in solidarity. 

This month, Taabu was testing the Keepers’ patience. He is such a kind, friendly boy — but as is typical of growing bulls, he has also gotten big for his britches. The mud bath has become his favourite venue to wreak havoc, be it attempting to steal extra milk bottles or sneaking beneath the rope cordon during the visiting hour. 

Tingai, another Nursery elder and a no-nonsense chap, is quite a baby when it comes to rain. When the orphans discovered that their forest dust bath had transformed into a pool, Tingai flirted with a swim but ultimately decided against it, despite urging from Choka. It was funny to see Mzinga boldly splash into the pool’s centre, while Tingai reluctantly stretched his toes towards the water’s edge!

Raha, our baby black rhino, is even less enthusiastic about the rain. One particularly wet morning, she needed no encouragement to remain inside her stable until conditions warmed up. She does not like the cold and had to be persuaded to go for a walk later in the morning. She waddled along in her blanket, occasionally turning around and making small squeaks in an attempt to return home. After a brief wander, her Keeper shepherded Raha back to her stable, into which she trotted happily.

Our current blanket babies are turning into quite a gang. One morning, Mokogodo, Taroha, Pardamat, and Talek were so full of confidence and energy that they ambled out towards the forest without waiting for their nannies. Their jaunt was short-lived, as the Keepers weren’t ready for everyone to leave just yet. Hearing their whistles, the little quartet duly turned around and headed back to base. 

Despite his aversion to mud and rain, Tingai’s love of play takes precedence. During a downpour later in the month, Rafiki and Tingai could barely wait to reach the forest before their games began. Trumpeting in excitement, they pushed heads and clinked tusks in a lengthy wrestling match. Nearby, Choka and Loldaiga enjoyed a more subdued version of the same game. Choka had the upper hand, but he is a kind bull who is careful not to hurt his opponents.

Weka, our semi-reformed rascal, is very eager to establish herself as a nanny. She is still young herself, but through sheer persistence, she has started to get more and more chances to look after the babies. One afternoon, Weka was walking behind Pardamat, touching him at every opportunity. An independent boy, Pardamat tolerated her adoration but also wanted to do his own thing. He determinedly forged ahead, while Weka continued to shadow his every step.

Every elephant is unique, as Weka and Muwingu remind us. These girls are mirrors of each other — they are about the same age and were rescued a day apart. Unlike Weka, however, Muwingu shows very little interest in mothering the babies. Instead, she prefers to go on solo adventures or hang out with her best friends, Weka and Kitich.

Shy Latika is another keen nanny, but she lacks Weka’s tenacity. While she would never muscle her way into babysitting opportunities, her gentle personality has made her a great favourite amongst the youngsters. We witnessed many-a special moment between her and Talek this month — Latika followed the younger girl as she browsed, expertly uprooting shrubs with her distinctively tiny trunk. 

Mzinga is our little rhino whisperer. Raha is generally suspicious of the orphaned elephants, but she makes a notable exception for the gentle girl. One afternoon, Mzinga padded over to Raha, with Mokogodo trundling along behind her. The rhino welcomed Mzinga, but mock charged Mokogodo. Rather than go after the younger elephant, Mzinga chose to remain with Raha, extending her trunk in a friendly gesture. 

Muridjo is a constant source of entertainment. We suspect she would agree with this assessment, as she is always making her own fun! One particularly placid afternoon, while the rest of the Nursery herd browsed or relaxed, Muridjo created her own agenda. The first activity was trunk acrobatics, followed by a game of sticks-and-stones football, and finally, an elephant yoga session. Her self-sufficiency is in keeping with her character. Although Muridjo is one of the youngest orphans at the Nursery, she hates being babied and has always wanted to be treated as one of the big kids.

Elephants really do embody kindness. One morning, little Talek let out a big shout as the herd headed into the forest. Ahmed and Mushuru, who were several metres ahead, about turned and whirled back to their small friend. They proceeded to check on her with a flurry of rumbles and trunk touches until they were satisfied that nothing was wrong. It was much ado about nothing, as she was just complaining to a Keeper that the ground was muddy!

Kitich is a small boy with big aspirations. His favourite playmate is Mageno, who is a perfectly paired sparring partner, but he also challenges Choka and Mukutan — who are much larger — to wrestling matches. As he is one of the younger orphans, Kitich is part of the first feeding group. One morning, however, our chubby chap rebelled. He dug his feet into the ground and attempted to dart back to the second group of older orphans, shaking his head indignantly. 

Loldaiga has settled in well, but remains a background player in the herd. Although he is growing more confident, he rarely asserts himself, preferring to spend time with friends like Kitich and Mageno. This month, however, he debuted a special new skill: holding his own milk bottle. He likes the Keeper to hold it for a while and then, once he feels sure that he has a secure grip, he toddles off with his trunk twisted around the bottle.

We witnessed some encouraging behaviour from Raha this month. During her daily walks with the Keepers, she came across a pile of dung produced by an adult wild black rhino. Carefully, she sniffed around and then defecated atop the mound. Indirectly, she is introducing herself to the wild rhino by leaving her scent on his territory.

Pardamat and Talek are neighbours, friends, and occasional enemies. In short, they behave like squabbling siblings! One morning, as usual, the Keepers opened the doors of the blanket babies’ stables. Talek, in a naughty mood, darted round to Pardamat’s room and nudged his door closed. Pardamat pushed and Talek pushed back. Then she went up on her hind legs and put all her body weight on the door, making it impossible for Pardamat to open it. The standoff continued until a Keeper intervened. A very disgruntled Pardamat waddled out and made a beeline for Talek, headbutting her to the ground and trumpeting his displeasure.

This month, we ramped up graduation training for Kitiak, Rafiki, Elerai, Ahmed, Taabu and Tingai. The five boys and one girl are fast outgrowing the Nursery. Thanks to lots of wonderful rain, Tsavo has transformed into a lush paradise and their graduation date is fast approaching. Kitiak emerged as a star student, striding onto the truck confidently during each training session — no doubt spurred on by his love of pellets, which wait within. The others are less consistent, but by the end of November, everyone had made excellent progress.

The month ended as it began, with another storm. It poured all night, with interludes of thunder and lightning. Talek was quite upset by all the noise — she would not settle and even tried to climb into her Keeper’s bed. He comforted her and kept her calm until the morning. The young elephant was very tired the next day, but she cheered up as soon as the sun came out.

November 2023 day to day

01 Nov

At first light, the Keepers prepared bottles of milk and fed the 27 orphans under their care. Emerging from their stockades happily, the orphans greeted their friends and drank from the water troughs as they waited to head out to the forest. Talek and Pardamat were in especially playful moods, rumbling and chasing each other around the stockades.

Sileita led the herd out in a straggly line to browse in the forest. Shujaa and Muridjo stayed back, standing by Maxwell's gate. They extended their little trunks through the gaps in his gate and rumbled their greeting. In response, the blind black rhino trundled over to say good morning before returning to his tasty pile of pellets. Shujaa and Muridjo jogged off to catch up with the herd. Out in the forest, Kamili was feeling hungry. When Shujaa stood on top of a tasty shrub, she firmly pushed him away. Remembering how frail she used to be, the Keepers were happy to see her assertive behaviour.

Later in the morning, the orphans headed back to the mud bath for a milk feed. They padded down the path in small groups, downed their bottles and spread out around the wallow. Nyambeni and Mzinga had a brief paddle but no one else got wet on a cloudy day.