Keepers' Diaries, October 2022

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

For our Nursery herd, the month began with fun and games. Predictably, it was feisty Bondeni who led the charge. He is a young bull with the confidence of a much older one. He engaged Roho in a friendly tussle, but they were soon interrupted by Oldepe, who wanted to play a hugging game with Roho. Three is not the best number for either elephants or children! Ignored by the newcomer, Bondeni wandered off on his own, leaving Oldepe to hang out with his great mate Roho.

Blanket babies Mzinga, Nyambeni, Shujaa, Mageno, and Muridjo are now fully integrated members of the Nursery herd. Predictably, mini matriarch Naleku honed in on them — although even the smallest babies cannot tempt her to fully transfer affection from her beloved Kerrio. While Kerrio was initially a bit jealous of the divided attention, she changed tack and has become a great ‘big sister’ to the blanket babies. 

Suguroi is also becoming very maternal. She loves to trail after the little girls, Mzinga and Nyambeni, lavishing them with trunk touches. Gentle Mageno can usually be found with Mzinga and Nyambeni; they are a package deal!

Neshashi may be the oldest member of the Nursery herd, but she does not show any maternal or matriarchal urges. In fact, she prefers to challenge her friends rather than look after them. While Naleku, Olorien, Suguroi, Kindani, and Kinyei are always affectionate towards the younger elephants, Neshashi shows little interest in them. One day, the free-spirited girl deliberately bumped into Bondeni, Esoit, Sileita and Sagateisa, first in the forest and then again during the mud bath!

Kamili is a quiet girl, but she can make her feelings known. She doesn't like to be crowded and gets angry when anyone invades her personal space. Choka and Taabu made the mistake of pretending to mount her one afternoon, but she quickly put them in their place. From then onwards, whenever Kamili spotted them walking towards her, she stood up tall, warning them to stay away from her patch! However, she does have a friend in her neighbour, Rafiki. Kamili seems a little suspicious of him, but the gentle boy continues to court her with only the best intentions. 

Ziwadi continues to be a creature of habit. She begins every day by toddling out of her stockade and taking a tour of the water troughs around the compound. While the other orphans greet each other and dash into the forest, she is singularly focused on her ritual. Ziwadi has not yet mastered using her trunk to drink, so instead she noisily slurps water into her mouth. The Keepers are always patient, allowing her the time to quench her thirst in her quirky way.

Latika also has her trademark behaviour. Once settled out in the forest, she sinks onto her knees to browse more easily. To compensate for her short trunk, this clever elephant adapted her eating habits soon after arriving at the Nursery. Because of her ingenuity, she is able to eat just as much as her friends.

One of our newest rescues, Weka, is shaping up to be quite a ringleader. She can usually be found paddling around with her best friend and neighbour, Muwingu, was rescued the afternoon after she arrived at the Nursery. Kitich makes up the third member of their trio. Weka and Kitich have developed a naughty habit of ambling away from the herd and sneaking back to the stockades, in order to feast on sugarcane. One day, she led Kitich, Muridjo, and Shujaa back to the stockades, outwitting the Keepers who were doing their best to keep the herd together. While the Keepers continued to search for them, wily Weka led the gang of four down to the mud bath, where Kitich even enjoyed a quick swim!

Young elephants scare easily, and when they are in a herd setting, one individual’s reaction can have a domino effect. One afternoon, the orphans encountered some buffalo in the forest. Naleku trumpeted loudly — which caused the whole herd to react immediately and as one. Without a backward glance, everyone ran for home. Nyambeni sprinted as fast as her little legs could go, beating even the larger and speedier orphans. Sagateisa, Lodo, Kinyei, Kindani, and Esoit took a more laid-back approach to the situation, but even they rushed home.

We think of Sileita as a shy girl, but she can be assertive when the need arises. One morning, naughty Mukutan pushed her as she drank her bottle of milk. Sileita was not going to stand for this behaviour! She chased after him and continued to confront him until the Keepers broke up their quarrel. As they walked back into the forest, Mukutan went on the offensive, delivering a mighty kick at Sileita. This time, the Keepers allowed the two elephants to sort out their issue, monitoring the situation and watching to see who gained the upper hand. In the end, Sileita was the victor! Mukutan may have started the fight, but he was pushed down by this feisty girl and forced to cry out for help.

Although he is one of the oldest bulls at the Nursery, Esoit sometimes sees himself as a baby and chooses to hang out with the little elephants. At feeding time, the blanket babies always have their bottles first — and Esoit often demands to be fed with them! It is an adorable sight to see one large youngster surrounded by several tiny infants.

Mid-month, we introduced a new friend to the Nursery herd. Ahmed was rescued late last month, after she was found standing guard over her mother’s body. Her mother died of natural causes, sadly also losing her unborn baby in the process. We often find that orphans rescued under traumatic circumstances suffer from severe emotional distress, and such was the case with Ahmed. She was very wary when she first arrived at the Nursery, treating the whole setup with suspicion. After weeks of incremental progress, we decided to take a leap of faith and let her out with the rest of the herd. 

A few of our friendliest orphans were chosen to escort Ahmed into the forest. Once there, she was welcomed in the most heart-warming way. Kinyei, Sileita, and Naleku gently surrounded her, making happy rumbling sounds. Later on, Bondeni, Kindani, and Naleku tried to include her in their pushing game. Ahmed was more interested in munching on her greens, but she certainly appreciated their hospitality.

As time goes on, our older orphans are outgrowing the sheltered world of the Nursery. Neshashi, Roho, Oldepe, Lodo, and Suguroi are more mature than their peers and are increasingly behaving like rebellious teenagers rather than docile children. They do not always do as they are told, following their Keepers sometimes and heading off on their own at other times. It may make the Keepers’ work more challenging, but the shift augurs well for their future lives in the wild.

Although Shujaa is one of the youngest members of our Nursery herd, he fancies himself a ‘rebellious teenager.’ One afternoon, the Keepers were preparing the orphans to come in for their afternoon milk feeds. Most were behaving obediently, but the five rebels charged off into the forest — with little Shujaa in hot pursuit! He loves to hang out with the big guys and he was determined not to be left behind. He ran after them as fast as his little legs would take him, leaving Mzinga and Nyambeni looking very bemused. 

The month ended on an exciting note. Out in the forest, the orphans again came across a pair of buffalo. Widespread panic ensued, with individuals running off in all directions and the herd splitting up into lots of splinter groups. Sensible Ziwadi quietly made her way back to the stockades as her friends charged off into the bush. Order was soon restored by the Keepers, who regrouped the elephants and restarted the day on a more positive note.

October 2022 day to day

01 Oct

The new month began with a hot, sunny day. Enjoying the balmy early morning, the orphan herd were reluctant to wander far into the forest, feeling less energetic than in the colder, cloudy months of July and August. Usually Neshashi, Oldepe, Roho, Bondeni, Kinyei, Naleku, Kerrio, Olorien and Suguroi love exploring - today, however, they were content to stay close to the stockades. Maxwell felt much the same on this sweltering day. In the early morning he rested in the shade and by mid-morning he was chilling in his mud bath.

During the public visit, the orphans gulped down their bottles of milk before also plunging into their mud bath. They were boiling hot too. On cooler days, the likes of Kindani, Tingai, Ziwadi and Rafiki will not dip a toe in the water – today, they were jostling for space in the mud! Esoit was having a lovely time rolling around in the wet dust on the edge of the pool. After her dip, Naleku covered herself with dust and then scratched her large rump against a rock.

Maxwell relaxing

Esoit having fun

Roho in the mud bath