Keepers' Diaries, September 2023

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

The new month began just as every day does, with a joyous reunion of the blanket babies. Illuminated by the rising sun, the youngest orphans padded quietly out of their stables. As usual, they had the area all to themselves for a few minutes, before the big boys and girls joined them. Shujaa toddled around as Nyambeni and Mzinga trunk hugged Pardamat and Talek. Taroha and Mokogodo greeted each other as if they had been separated for several days, rather than mere hours.

The 4th September was a big day for darling little Taroha. For the first time since his rescue, he paddled in the mud bath. This was a telling indication of his growing strength and confidence. He clearly liked the experience, because a few days later, he was back at it! He bravely paddled to the middle of the pool, lay down for a short time, and then climbed out before the water filled up with older orphans.

Sileita is the current mini matriarch of the Nursery herd. This role has really been the making of her, giving her a quiet self-assurance. She is ably assisted by several budding nannies who also care for the little ones, notably Ahmed, Kerrio, Latika, Weka, and Nyambeni. Unlike the other girls, who can be quite selective in their affections, Sileita loves everyone equally. We were reminded of this one morning, when she was making a beeline for Mokogodo’s stable. Along the way, she ran into little Pardamat. Rather than rush ahead, she stopped and entwined trunks with the young bull, allowing him to stand between her forelegs. Most of the other girls would have hurried on to Mokogodo’s stable, determined to be there first, but Sileita has time for everyone. 

Ahmed’s interest in nannying has come as a welcome surprise. She used to be too shy to show love and affection to the babies, but no more. She is particularly fond of Pardamat and Talek. We can usually find her sandwiched between her adopted babies, capably leading them through the forest. 

Young bulls Taabu, Choka, and Tingai are blossoming into ‘gentle uncles,’ the bull equivalent of a nanny. They are very protective of the blanket babies and chase away anyone whom they consider to be overly rowdy. Quiet Rafiki also shows signs of becoming a gentle uncle. He is good friends with Ahmed and often helps her babysit. One day, the Keepers were pleased to see Rafiki and Ahmed looking after Talek, gently bestowing her with trunk hugs. 

Latika sometimes takes her nannying role a bit too seriously. One afternoon, she stood surrounded by the babies. When Sholumai made the mistake of getting close to her mini herd, Latika overreacted, giving the innocent female a giant shove and toppling her over. Sileita immediately intervened to protect Sholumai and reprimand Latika. 

Talek, who is a fairly recent addition to the Nursery herd, is very focused on nutrition. Her priority is filling her tummy, rather than playing. She often plants herself next to the milk wheelbarrow, opening her mouth wide to make her request clear.

Loldaiga has always been one of the quieter members of our Nursery herd, but that is starting to change. One afternoon, he was feeling particularly playful! He darted around after Kamili and Mageno, trumpeting as he chased them between trees and around bushes. Gentle Kamili played the game happily, waving her trunk as she wiggled between the shrubs. It was lovely to see Loldaiga getting so involved. 

Raha the rhino doesn’t mingle much with the orphaned elephants — with the notable exception of Mzinga, who has become a good friend and protector. One day, Shujaa made the mistake of curiously approaching the small rhino. In a flash, Mzinga darted over and blocked his path, making high-pitched trumpets and flaring her ears. She was defending her little friend! Raha accepts Mzinga’s presence but, if any of the other orphans approach her, she kicks up soil with her stout legs, makes an urgent squeaking sound, and charges at them.

In fact, Mzinga likes rhinos big and small. In the mornings, she and Nyambeni often stop by Maxwell stockade as they head into the forest. When he hears the small elephants at his gate, the big rhino slowly ambles over to greet them. He may be blind, but Maxwell is always hyper aware of the comings and goings at the Nursery.

With his big tusks, Kitiak looks quite imposing. One morning, he was in a towering mood. If any of the younger orphans came close, he pushed them away. Kitiak’s message was clear: Leave me alone! When sweet Kerrio ambled up to him, the grumpy boy pushed her completely over. Although Kerrio was unhurt, Tingai and Taabu couldn’t let their friend’s behaviour go unchecked. They sprinted at Kitiak and banished him to the fringes of the herd. 

We can always rely upon Tingai to keep the peace. One day, Taabu and Mukutan were giving the Keepers a hard time, roaming around the milk wheelbarrow and refusing to move away — that is, until Tingai got involved. As the dominant bull of the herd, he knows he has the authority to discipline the boys. Tingai is gentle with the little ones but stern with his age-mates.

Muridjo and Shujaa have similar temperaments — they are naughty toddlers who do not always do as they are told. Predictably, this means they often clash heads. One day, the squabbling siblings began fighting over who would be the leader, pushing each other out of the coveted first place. When Shujaa lost the contest and was forced to stand behind Muridjo, he craftily grabbed hold of her tail and bit it hard. Taken off guard, she screamed and ran away, squeezing herself between the big bodies of Sileita, Muwingu, and Kerrio for safety. Naughty Shujaa padded in first with his head held high.

Taabu and Mukutan are great friends and growing up fast. When they’re not playing noisy, rough wrestling games, they do their best to pinch extra milk bottles. One day, Taabu was especially smart. He pretended to walk into the bush, only to quietly circle back to the wheelbarrow where all the bottles were waiting. He picked up a bottle, ignoring the shouts of a Keeper, and darted back into the bush with his trunk wrapped around it. Mission accomplished, he victoriously drank every drop!

Muwingu has a flair for drama. One afternoon, she and Mageno tried (unsuccessfully) to share a water trough. Muwingu was drinking from the bucket when Mageno strolled up and gave her a little push, indicating that she should make room for him. Rather than budging along, Muwingu overreacted and a squabble ensued. Mageno, who is as easy going as Muwingu is over-the–top, abandoned his quest and toddled off to play with Kerrio. Before long, he had joined forces with Kitich, who is his age-mate, playmate, and best friend. 

As with any family, there are introverts and extroverts in our Nursery herd. Loldaiga, Sholumai, Mushuru, and Elerai fall firmly in the former category. They prefer to browse quietly as a group, rather than getting involved in the others’ rowdy antics. Elerai is still somewhat of a loner, but we have seen him playing more and more with Taabu. As the Keepers remark, Taabu is a ‘friend to everyone’ and has a knack for helping elephants come out of their shells.  

Sholumai has settled in well with her new family but, as is typical with older rescues, she remains quite shy. She doesn’t like crowds and usually avoids the mud bath until the other orphans have vacated it. But one day, her behaviour was different. It was a very hot afternoon, and she decided that she could not wait to swim. She slowly padded into the water and lay down to wallow near the edge. The reverie was broken when Taabu clumsily tried to climb onto her back, which caused Sholumai to to trumpet her annoyance and vacate the wallow.

Nyambeni is small but mighty — and very, very stubborn. We received some rain towards the end of the month, which left the forest wet and muddy. Because of the weather, the Keepers decided to leave Talek, Pardamat, Mokogodo, and Taroha in their stables until it warmed up. Nyambeni was outraged by this decision and stood vigil outside the babies’ stockades, trumpeting and refusing to leave. It took lots of patient coaxing before the Keepers were able to persuade her to go out into the forest. 

By month’s end, brave little Taroha had become a swimmer of note! In fact, he has even started leading the others into the water. One day, he got a bit over-confident and found himself in the middle of the water. When Weka and Sileita realised he was in the deep end, they paddled over and stood on either side of him, so Taroha would not get stuck in the mud. The little boy is melting their hearts.

September ended with big laughs, courtesy of Tingai. As the orphans ambled out of their bedrooms in the morning, he nipped over to Taabu’s stockade and closed his gate, just after a Keeper had opened it. Despite Taabu’s protestations, Tingai stood firm, effectively trapping his friend inside his room. The standoff only ended when a Keeper came over and freed Taabu!

September 2023 day to day

01 Sep

As the sky lightened, the orphans padded quietly out of their stables. As usual, the ‘blanket babies’ emerged first and had the area outside the stockades all to themselves for a few minutes before they were joined by the big boys and girls. Shujaa toddled around looking for browse as Nyambeni and Mzinga trunk hugged Talek and Pardamat. Taroha and Mokogodo greeted each other as if they had been separated for several days rather than hours. Once the older orphans had joined them, the herd set out to the forest led by Sileita and Latika.

After a wander in the bush, the orphans returned to the mud bath for their mid-morning milk feed. They downed their bottles and spread out around the wallow, picking up pieces of lucerne and hanging out in small groups. No one was keen on swimming as it was a cloudy morning, although Mukutan had a brief paddle. When the Keepers whistled, they obediently ambled back out to the forest.

By the afternoon, the sun had come out. Although many were still reluctant to get wet, some members of the herd paddled into the wallow. Kerrio was the first to stroll in, lie down and roll around in the muddy water. She was soon followed by her little friend Mokogodo who stood next to Kerrio with the water up to her tummy. After some deliberation, Nyambeni and Mzinga also paddled in and hosed themselves with water. Meanwhile, Kitich stood on the edge and made enormous splashes with his big pads. Taabu did not swim, preferring to play the pushing game with best friend Choka. The two bulls were clashing heads and twisting around quite close to the wallow. Nearby, Tingai and Rafiki were having a wrestling match. Soon, the herd walked back to the safety of the stockades for the night.

Shujaa and Talek on their way to the forest

Kerrio in the wallow

Kitich paddling