Keepers' Diaries, October 2022

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Kaluku Neonate Unit

It’s so dry at the moment that there is barely a green leaf in sight. Supplied with plenty of nutritious food and water, the orphans are shielded from the worst of the drought, but they still innately know that this is a time to be diligent. Instead of their usual fun and games, they have been focusing on browsing and conserving their energy in the heat.

In fact, Kaluku has become a refuge for all manner of wildlife. Come sunset, waterbucks, impala, zebras, guineafowl, and more converge on the compound, knowing it is a safe place to drink and rest. One waterbuck mother comes with a rare set of twins — an auspicious sign in this challenging time!

Oka, our wild-living orphaned oryx, has ventured off with a new suitor. However, her daughter remains in the area, accompanied by her father. It is wonderful to see Oka’s firstborn looking so healthy and thriving as a wild oryx. 

Meanwhile, Sala the orphaned kudu still calls Kaluku home. We rescued her in 2017, when she was just days old. Although she fully transitioned to the wild years ago, she still chooses to share her life with us. Sala is a mother several times over, but she has also become a surrogate mum to several of our orphaned kudus, notably Asha and Lali, innately knowing that they need love and guidance. She reminds us that it is not only elephants who have remarkable generosity and empathy. 

Apollo the orphaned rhino:

Although rhinos are a solitary species, Apollo attracts quite a following. Last month, a burgeoning feud with Kidogo dominated his social calendar: The semi-wild buffalo, who ‘adopted’ Kaluku as her home earlier this year, had taken to following Apollo around throughout the day. They had a lovely friendship for a while, until Kidogo started helping herself to the rhino’s lucerne stash. This was a step too far for Apollo, who banished her from his activities. Rhinos can certainly hold a grudge!

However, Apollo has no shortage of friends. Kwale the hartebeest and Twiggy the giraffe very much have their own routine, but they have a standing date for the 11 o’clock mud bath. By the time Apollo makes his way over, his leggy friends are already there, waiting expectantly. Unlike Apollo and the elephants, Kwale and Twiggy don’t get their milk bottles at the mud bath, so they are truly just there because they enjoy his companionship.

Now that it’s getting hot, naps feature large in Apollo’s afternoon. He loves to rest beneath the big baobab tree, lounging in the shade with Keepers. In fact, only one thing can rouse Apollo from his reverie — and that is the scent of wild elephants. If he catches the trail of a passing herd, he is off like the wind. He is very curious and cannot resist following up on an intriguing scent!

The orphaned elephants:

Rokka is the only female in the main Kaluku elephant herd, so she’s grown up a tomboy. However, we are seeing glimmers of an as-yet-unseen maternal side. Recently, a few very young orphans have come into the Kaluku fold. We wondered how Rokka would react to these babies, given that she’s such a tough girl. Imagine our surprise when we realised that she is actually quite nurturing! The little ones spend the cool morning hours with the herd, and this is indisputably Rokka’s favourite part of the day. She loves to look after them and fuss over them. However, she is still a no-nonsense girl, as the big boys are constantly reminded. If they edge in too close to the babies, Rokka quickly banishes them — partially out of jealousy, partially out of protectiveness.

Vaarti has appointed himself the advance guard of every milk feeding. He innately knows when it’s time for bottles — elephants are excellent timekeepers — and whizzes off to the feeding area ahead of the others. By the time Rokka, Manda, and Mayan have arrived for their milk, Vaarti has already savoured his last drops. 

Perhaps this is all part of Vaarti’s masterplan to win the latest round of ‘hose wars.’ Although there is plenty of drinking water to be had, the Kaluku orphans covet sparkling water fresh from the hose. Because he finishes his milk before the others, Vaarti has first dibs on the hose while everyone else is busy with their bottles. Sometimes, he drinks from the hose and the trough at the same time, as if to gloat about his brilliant tactical manoeuvres!

To no one’s surprise, Mayan has maternal instincts that rival those of any female elephant. He has always been such a sweet, gentle elephant. Now, he is shaping up to be an excellent ‘big brother’ to the new babies. The little ones really gravitate towards him — much to Rokka’s chagrin! We think she gets jealous that Mayan is such a natural with the babies.

However, Mayan does have a mischievous side. He is very nosy and loves getting into tangles with the non-elephant orphans. Kwale the hartebeest and Mkubwa the buffalo are two of his favourite targets. Everyone will be peacefully browsing together, then all of the sudden, Mayan will go tearing through the bush, ears spread wide and trumpet blaring. Luckily, Kwale and Mkubwa seem to see the humour in it and never get flustered by the barging elephant. But most of all, Mayan is obsessed with Apollo. He is constantly trying to sneak off to spy on the rhino as he naps beneath the baobab tree.

Manda has really blossomed over the past ten months. We have come to realise that the shy calf we rescued is actually an interesting combination of an introvert and a leader. He has a very domineering personality and the other boys follow his lead. However, he has a more contentious relationship with Rokka. Perhaps sensing a leadership rival, Manda often tries to push the younger girl around. Rokka doesn’t suffer fools gladly and gives it right back to him. Out of this constant push-and-pull, a begrudging friendship has formed between the two. Their little spats provide endless entertainment for the Keepers!

Twiggy the orphaned giraffe:

Twiggy stands head and shoulders above the rest of the Kaluku herd, but she slots in seamlessly. She has a particular affinity for Stoney, Jessie, and Rodney, three orphaned duikers who are being raised near our Field Manager’s house. One might think that the little antelope would be scared of the towering creature, but they can read her gentle spirit. Most mornings, Twiggy loops by the house to visit her little friends. 

Despite the dry conditions, Twiggy has made do with the available browse and is in marvellous condition. One of her favourite spots is the mud bath. She times her arrival to coincide with Apollo’s milk feed, then hangs around until the orphaned elephants are done wallowing. While Mayan likes to antagonise most of the non-elephant orphans, he never bothers Twiggy; it’s almost as if he knows she is a gentle soul and respects her presence. 

Given her significant height advantage, it is little surprise that Twiggy likes to poke her nose into all the goings-on at Kaluku. She is still a fixture at the staff canteen, especially when chapatis are being served up — she knows that the team is generous with their handouts!

Apollo enjoys water on tap!
Mayan, Manda, and Rokka with the hose
Apollo watching as elephants arrive for milk
Hose wars!
Apollo and his baobab
Manda and Mayan
Rokka the resident water baby
Manda, Mayan, and Rokka
Twiggy at mud bath with Apollo
Rokka, Varrti and Mayan behind
Rokka front, Vaarti and Manda behind
Apollo watching his lanky acquaintance , Twiggy