Keepers' Diaries, October 2023

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

In Nairobi, October began with a downpour of rain at dawn, followed by persistent drizzle. As a result, the Keepers kept the ‘blanket babies’ — Taroha, Mokogodo, Talek, Pardamat, and Raha (the baby rhino) — inside their stables, with their blue and red blankets tied tightly around their tummies. The older orphans were shepherded out to the forest, but the mini matriarchs were unsettled without the babies in their midst. When they made their way into the forest a few hours later, Ahmed, Sileita, and Latika rumbled loudly in delight and ran towards them. Fussing over and trunk touching their little charges, they escorted them out to join the herd.

This was a very good month for lovely Latika. She is not known as a swimmer of note, but one day, she plunged into the mud bath after Mageno and then delighted in sitting on his belly every time he lay down. Mageno seemed to enjoy the attention, as he kept standing up and then sitting down again, inviting her to repeat the ritual.

Shujaa is developing an unsavoury reputation for play-mounting his friends, much to their annoyance. He cannot resist mounting a lying-down orphan! Only mini matriarch Sileita consistently tolerates his antics. Whenever Shujaa sees her lying on the ground, he strolls over and clambers atop her belly. She allows him to proceed, knowing it’s all in good fun. 

Loldaiga, Kitich, and Mageno, who are essentially age-mates, can be quite rowdy. One day, as Kitich clashed heads with Mageno, cheeky Loldaiga took hold of Kitich’s back leg, essentially trapping him. To add insult to injury, Mageno then attempted to mount Kitich. Older bull Taabu, who was watching from the sidelines, didn’t feel that two-against-one was a fair situation. He chased Loldaiga away, giving him a taste of his own medicine by pretending to mount the younger bull.

When Sholumai was rescued in April, she was skin-and-bones. Several months later, she has been transformed into a strong healthy elephant with flat ears and a rotund belly. With strength has come confidence. She has even started to be pushy at the mud bath. Although the Keepers tell her off, they are also pleased to see the change in her behaviour, in stark contrast to the weak orphan who was unable to stand up for herself.

Most of the junior Nursery girls take any opportunity to nanny the blanket babies — but not Muridjo! One morning, self-assured Mokogodo toddled up to Muridjo as the feisty older girl was drinking her milk. While most would tolerate this interruption, Muridjo had little patience. She pushed Mokogodo away and also gave her shadow, Taroha, a shove for good measure. Sileita intervened, chasing Muridjo to the other side of the mud bath and fussing over the two babies. Muridjo’s personality may change as she continues to mature, but for now, she is firmly anti-baby. 

Kamili, who struggled with her health for so long, is doing extremely well. In fact, she’s become a bit of a ringleader. One day, the independent girl led Choka, Mukutan, Kerrio, and Talek on a private adventure, so they arrived at the compound before the rest of the herd. They trotted in early and made the most of having the stockades to themselves by nipping into their friends’ rooms to scoop up the pellets and lucerne that were waiting inside. 

Choka and Taabu are best friends, but as growing bulls, they sometimes get carried away. Such was the case one afternoon, when Choka unexpectedly pushed Taabu onto the ground. Kitiak, Rafiki, Elerai, and Mukutan came quickly over to Taabu, extending their trunks and standing around him as he stood up. Aware he was the culprit, Choka prudently made himself scarce. An hour later, spat forgotten, best friends Choka and Taabu were once again together.

All the orphans enjoy saying hello to Maxwell the rhino as they head into the forest each morning. Even little Taroha and Mokogodo have embraced the tradition! One morning, the two friends stood at his gate, playing with him by pushing their little trunks through the gaps and onto his head. Weka, who has been angling for the role of chief nanny to Taroha and Mokogodo, couldn’t help but interject. She pushed Taroha to one side and stretched her trunk through to Maxwell, rubbing and pulling at his ears and horn. The big rhino stood contentedly, enjoying all the attention. 

Ahmed is another girl whose character seems to be evolving. She never showed much interest in nannying the little ones, but Pardamat has changed her. Something about the young bull has completely captured her heart. The feeling is mutual; Pardamat doesn’t want to move even a metre away from her.

We wonder if Muwingu is following in Ahmed’s footsteps. One afternoon, as little Talek stood near the Keepers, Muwingu ambled over to spend time with her. She trunk touched the young girl before moving away to play with Weka and Kitich. It was a brief but telling moment, as it indicated that Muwingu is becoming more interested in taking on a nurturing role.

Talek loves her milk and does not like to see a drop going to waste. She drinks every gulp of her bottle and then hangs around, doing her best to look inconspicuous as she stands close to anyone with a bottle. Very surreptitiously, she collects up each and every drop that falls to the ground. Kerrio and Mzinga do not mind this behaviour, but Sholumai is not as charitable. One day, the older female lost patience with Talek. She dropped the bottle and pushed the annoying baby away. Hearing Talek shout, Ahmed and Sileita sprinted to the rescue. Sholumai vanished into the bush, while Talek sought refuge with her nannies and abandoned her milk quest.

Mageno and Loldaiga are becoming little leaders. In a notable display of their growing confidence, the two junior bulls led the entire Nursery herd deep into the forest on several occasions throughout the month. 

Mageno and Loldaiga may be leading the pack, but Mukutan is getting left behind! One afternoon, the funny bull got distracted in the forest and forgot it was ‘home time.’ The Keepers in the compound thought everyone was tucked in, only for Mukutan to come swirling around the corner several minutes later! He was only a bit behind, but he immediately tucked into his food, as if making up for lost time.

Kitiak has the largest tusks in the Nursery herd, and he is also the most independent. He is fond of walkabouts, in which he wanders deep into the forest. When the Keepers locate him, he dashes back to the stockades on his own, usually taking a somewhat roundabout route.

We constantly marvel at Kerrio’s diplomacy. One morning, she was lying down as Mzinga and Nyambeni played around and on top of her. When the two younger orphans began to squabble over who should sit on Kerrio, the mini matriarch cleverly diffused the potential fight and gave them both space. Later in the month, Kerrio was browsing with her bevy of babies — Nyambeni, Mzinga, Taroha and Mokogodo. Then, showcasing wisdom and generosity, she allowed Nyambeni to bring little Mokogodo to a nearby clearing, giving the budding nanny the opportunity to feel in charge — but in a place where she could still keep an eye on the pair.

As the orphans gather outside their stockades in the early mornings, a few look for special browsing opportunities. Mushuru really likes the small area outside her stockade row, abutting Maxwell’s stockade. She clambers over the wooden fence in an ungainly manner and then enjoys her own private browsing session.

Tingai and Rafiki are usually friends, but they had a memorable confrontation at the mud bath this month. After drinking his milk, Tingai grabbed hold of Rafiki’s tail and chased his friend into the bushes. Reserved Rafiki was taken unawares by Tingai’s rough behaviour and stood quite far away from the herd for an hour or two. However, the fight was forgotten a few days later: Ahmed, Elerai, Rafiki and Tingai sprinted towards the stockades as a merry trio, trumpeting as if they were being chased rather than just returning home to another milk feed in their warm bedrooms.

Mzinga is an intriguing little elephant. In contrast to most members of the herd, she really seems to like rhinos. She has become good friends with Raha; in fact, she is one of the only elephants that the little black rhino tolerates. Upon exiting her stable in the morning, Mzinga usually loiters by Maxwell’s stockade. She waits for the big rhino to walk over, then wraps her small trunk around his horn. Maxwell clearly loves these morning moments, as he stands completely still as she greets him.

Mzinga isn’t the only one who is besotted with Raha — the baby rhino is capturing the heart of every Keeper in the Nursery! She is funny, stubborn, and very sedate. One evening, she was pacing around her stable and squeaking away. Her Keeper brought her a bottle of freshly mixed milk, but she turned her nose up at it, showcasing the famously ornery side of rhinos. During the days, she is more and more active, plodding along sedately much of the time, but occasionally doing little sprints and jumps. 

Our Nursery herd had a very cute end to the month: Come home time, everyone lined up to circle round the perimeter of the mud bath. Nyambeni and Mzinga were in the lead, followed by the big ones, with Pardamat in the middle, and finally Talek, Mokogodo, and Taroha. As they passed through, everyone picked up a branch from the mud bath and walked with it, chomping away. Minutes later, a herd of happy elephants padded into the stockade area with branches still hanging from their mouths!

October 2023 day to day

01 Oct

There was a downpour of rain at dawn followed by persistent drizzle. As a result, the Keepers kept the ‘blanket babies’ — Taroha, Mokogodo, Talek, Pardamat, and Raha (the baby rhino) — inside their stables, with their blue and red blankets tied tightly around their tummies, so they could stay warm and dry. They opened the gates of the older orphans’ bedrooms and shepherded them out to the forest. As they stood in a cluster in a clearing, Ahmed, Sileita, Latika and Weka wiggled between the other elephants, looking for the babies rather than settling down to browse. A few hours later, the little ones emerged from their stables and toddled out to join the herd, accompanied by a Keeper. Ahmed, Sileita and Latika spotted the four orphans when they were still a distance away. They rumbled loudly in delight and ran towards them. Fussing over and trunk touching their little charges, they escorted them out to join the herd.

Later in the morning, the first group of younger orphans padded down the path for their bottles of milk at the mud bath. The sun was shining as Mzinga, Nyambeni and Shujaa paddled into the pool for a splash and a swim followed by Taroha, Mokogodo, Talek, Mageno, Kitich and Kerrio. They rolled around with trunks waving happily until Shujaa began play-mounting his friends, much to their annoyance. It was time-out time for the naughty boy! The Keepers whisked him off and sent him to stand under a tree so that Nyambeni, Taroha, Mokogodo, Mzinga and Talek could wallow in peace.

In the forest in the afternoon, the orphans wandered far afield, browsing and playing and browsing some more. Shujaa, Sileita and Taabu rolled around together, bumping into each other as they covered their bodies with soothing soil. While Sileita was lying on the ground, Shujaa knelt on her and then clambered onto her belly. He cannot resist mounting a lying-down orphan! Luckily, sweet Sileita was happy to tolerate his antics.

Mokogodo and Nyambeni

Shujaa, Talek and friends