Keepers' Diaries, September 2023

Select your unit:

Kaluku Neonate Unit

September was an eventful month for our Kaluku family, for reasons both exciting and heartbreaking. While one member of our orphan herd took a big step towards his life back in the wild, we lost another under sudden, inexplicable circumstances.

The orphaned elephants:

The month was marred by tragedy, as Doldol died very unexpectedly on 13th September. Nothing could have prepared us for this loss; in fact, up until that morning, she had been thriving. After a normal start to the day, Doldol and her Keepers met the larger orphan herd from the ‘big side’ of Kaluku. By mid-morning, however, it became evident she was off-colour. Her Keepers escorted her back to her stable, so she could rest quietly. As the day progressed, Doldol’s condition continued to deteriorate. Despite acting decisively and working with our trusted veterinarians to determine the best course of action, nothing worked. At 7:30 that night, mere hours from the first onset of symptoms, Doldol passed away, leaving us all shocked and shattered.

So much of the wild world remains a mystery, and unfortunately, we are often unable to find a definitive cause behind an animal’s decline. While we have not been able to determine Doldol’s cause of death, it seems possible that she ingested something poisonous in the bush. However, we will never truly know

Doldol’s very survival was a miracle. Born premature and abandoned shortly thereafter, she was the smallest orphan to ever come into our care. However, for nearly two years, her Keepers dedicated their hearts, souls, and countless hours to her upbringing. It will take time for all of us, but particularly Mishak, Peter, and Jonas, to recover from this devastating loss. We have written a full tribute to Doldol, which can be found here.

Happily, our orphan herd over at the ‘big side’ had a positive month. Rokka is such a clever, innovative young elephant. She is constantly astonishing us. She recently figured out how to undo and open the gate bolt of her nighttime stockade. This resulted in her taking nocturnal excursions to visit the other orphans, usually in the quiet hours when everyone else is asleep. The Kaluku welder had to be called in to fabricate a Rokka-proof ‘lock’ that keeps our crafty girl safely in her bedroom!!

Mwinzi, our independent young chap, always marches to the beat of his own drum. Like the rest of the orphan herd, he is obsessed with freshwater hose pipe. However, rather than engage in ‘hose wars,’ as the other orphans do, he gets his fix with no fuss or drama. After drinking his milk bottle, Mwinzi toddles over to the hose, picks it up, and pops it in his mouth. Rokka always joins him, as she dotes on the young bull — and she has ulterior motives, because she also enjoys the cool, clean water.

We have noticed that Mayan joins the mud bath after the others have already been in the water up to their ears. He loves to interact with Vaarti, who is approximately the same size as him, and the two boys can put on quite a show. Mayan is still as gentle as ever. He is getting big, but he has no interest in throwing his weight around or misbehaving.

Vaarti is an elephant who treasures tradition. First thing in the morning, he exits his stockade and looks for Fred, his favourite Keeper. Fred loves Vaarti and always keeps a handful of lucerne or an extra bottle of water available, just for his special friend. While Fred has a special place in Vaarti’s heart, the young bull adores everyone. He happily snuggles up to any member of the Kaluku team, waiting to be stroked and scratched. He is a very affectionate and inquisitive young elephant.

Manda is a big, strong boy. Although he is very much part of the Kaluku herd, he often wanders off on his own. This is a telltale sign that he is growing up and starting to embrace his independence a bit more. While Manda is far more dominating than Vaarti and Mayan, the three bulls like to playfully push each other around, testing their strength and dominance.

Natibu has not yet been introduced to our foster program, but he is one of the gang. This month, he revealed himself to be quite a noisy little elephant — especially at night. He has clocked all the feeding times and becomes impatient when he knows milk is on the way, pacing around his stable and banging on the door with every pass. In case that doesn’t send the message loud and clear, he often adds a loud trumpet into the mix, just to make sure the Keepers are paying attention!

Apollo, the orphaned rhino:

This was a very exciting month for Apollo. Just shy of his fourth 'rescueversary', he took the next step in his reintegration journey and moved to Rhino Base, a secure site in Tsavo East National Park. From this new home, he will continue to gain his independence and ultimately reclaim his place in the wild.  

This graduation has been a long time in the making. In fact, we built stockades and rehabilitated KWS ranger accommodation at Rhino Base specifically with Apollo in mind. It was ready and waiting for its new resident — and this year, Apollo made it abundantly clear that he was ready to make the move. In recent months, he has been showing signs of outgrowing Kaluku, becoming increasingly frisky and flighty. 

With all the permissions from KWS in place, we started training Apollo for the move. Surprisingly, he was a model student. Enticed by sugarcane treats, he eagerly walked aboard his moving crate and became very comfortable in the space.

The move began at first light on the morning of 13th September. Apollo walked into his crate without hesitation. His mind was only on the sugarcane waiting inside! From there, everything unfolded like clockwork. We rigged up the crane truck, which carefully hoisted the crate — with its precious cargo inside — onto the flatbed. Then, Apollo and his entourage made their way to his new home.

Upon arriving at Rhino Base, Dr Limo, of the SWT/KWS Tsavo Veterinary Unit, anaesthetised Apollo so that a radio transmitter could be fitted inside his horn. Then, our boy woke up in his new home. Rhino Base must be Apollo’s idea of paradise: It is a double-sided, open air compound, with one spacious area for sleeping and resting, and another area for mud bathing and playing. We brought masses of his dung over from Kaluku, which we spread around his boma and created piles. Rhinos are very scent-oriented, so this helps to establish Apollo’s new territory and makes him feel right at home.

Apollo has a whole team supporting him in Rhino Base, including KWS rangers and some of his favourite Keepers from Kaluku. Justus, who has been with Apollo since he was a tiny new rescue, joined him on the move and will remain with him there. The quieter environment seems to suit Apollo and he is enjoying the relaxed pace of life. 

While he acclimatises to his new home, Apollo is remaining in the large, fenced boma area. The next step is to bring him out into the 50-acre ‘wandering grounds', which is protected by a lion-proof fence. From there, once he has settled, he will start to explore the wider area and the lugga (seasonal watercourse) around his base, forming his own territory so that he can eventually embrace a wild life accepted by the wild rhinos living in Tsavo East. This process will take several years until he is ready to be fully independent.

Twiggy the orphaned giraffe:

Twiggy, our graceful, gentle girl, was our port of calm in a very eventful month. She loves to get a head start on the day and is usually the first one to leave the stockade compound. This is a strategic tactic on her part, as she knows she must take advantage of browsing hours while it is still cool. While she masterfully plucks the few remaining greens to be found around Kaluku, her diet is also bolstered by bottles of camel milk. She enjoys this delicious treat and strides over to her Keepers when it is feeding time. 

Tsavo is very hot at the moment. Giraffes are honed to thrive in the heat, but even Twiggy finds this weather a bit tiresome. Some days, we find her lying down in the shade of a big Acacia tree, her long legs elegantly tucked beneath her! Twiggy is always flanked by her pint-sized entourage, particularly Lana the Grant’s gazelle and Nini the Thompson’s gazelle. The two little two antelope follow their tall friend around wherever she goes.

Twiggy comes in for her close up
Mwinzi luxuriating
Kaluku Quartet
Natibu, Mwinzi, Manda and Mayan
Mwinzi and Rokka
Majestic Mayan
Mwinzi finishes his bottle
Relaxed Rokka
Twiggy comes in for her close up
Manda enjoying milk
Manda post mud-bath
Mayan posing
Rokka enjoying milk
Vaarti out browsing