N E W S L E T T E R F O R 1 9 9 7
Time again, to wish all our Supporters a very happy, healthy and prosperous 1998, and to thank you all for your continued support, both financial and moral. Special thanks are due to Care for the Wild International, who are always there for us when needed and whose assistance in organising the International Adoption Scheme on our orphans has proved a lifeline, bringing in the funding needed to steer our 14 growing elephants and 2 baby rhinos into adulthood and proving a powerful tool in promoting a better understanding and awareness of animals worldwide. It has also enabled us to make a very significant contribution in terms of water in Tsavo to alleviate the suffering of the dry seasons, something that was painfully evident at the beginning of 1997, when water was absent in the entire Southern Section of Tsavo East now that the Aruba Dam is no longer dependable. Even the main Mombasa/Nairobi pipeline supply, which serves the needs of the Headquarters and also our younger Orphans, was often cut.
Similar Adoption Schemes organised by Hans and Barbara Rohring in Germany, and Esther and Philipp Wolf in Switzerland have likewise made very substantial financial contributions towards the Trust's conservation work, particularly the Borehole Project, and for this, we are eternally appreciative. Most sincerely then do, we thank Care for the Wild International, and their overseas branches, the German Rettet die Elefanten Afrikas e.V., and Swiss Elefanten und Artenschutzverein for their help and we must also thank the Eden Wildlife Trust who continue to cover most of the Trust's overheads in accordance with the wishes of their founders, the late Brian and Ruth Eden. This, in turn, enables us to uphold our undertaking that a donation given for wild animals, however humble, reaches that for which it was intended.
We are also deeply indebted to many people who have so willingly given us whatever assistance we have needed in times of emergency, notably Mike Seton of East African Air Charters, who places a plane at our disposal free of charge whenever an orphan needs airlifting to Nairobi. Many other kind folk rally around when needed, too numerous to mention, particularly our stalwart volunteers, each and every one of whom has eased our workload and made a significant contribution to the conservation cause so close to their hearts. We thank them all most sincerely and appreciate just how valuable their input has been.
On a personal level 1997 was a year filled with joy; joy at
being whole again and fully functional, joy at having Angela back home and seeing her settled happily where she rightly belongs; endless entertainment and joy provided by two little grand daughters, living nearby, and of course, Jill, Daphne's elder daughter who is the Trust's right arm. Being a grandmother and living within easy reach of one's children and their children must surely be life's ultimate blessing and in this Daphne has been richly rewarded, with another grandchild on the way. May 1998 will see the arrival of Angela's first child.
As most of our Readers know, the Tsavo National Park is Kenya's largest and most important wildlife refuge, and the Trust's main area of focus. Not only does it harbour the single largest population of elephants in the country and provide a home, hope and a quality of life in terms of space for most species, including elephants and our orphans, but it stores for prosperity a greater biodiversity of indigenous species than any other Park in Africa. It is also the living legacy of David's life work and since our Trust was established in memory of him and to perpetuate his commitment, it is therefore in Tsavo that most of our concerns centre and events in Tsavo about which we feel most passionately and are most outspoken. There are times when it becomes necessary to speak out about things we perceive as going wrong, and this we will always do, since David himself would have expected nothing less.
At an official level, therefore, the longed for peace of mind to enable Daphne to pick up the threads of her book again, proved as elusive as ever, for in the wake of the 1996 Newsletter, the Trust found itself on a roller-coaster with the Kenya Wildlife Service Director, struggling to come to terms with an agenda that was not always obvious. Reports from the field, and what we ourselves experienced, did not reflect the good news publicised by the Service's very energetic public relations machine. As a result the Trust fell from grace, and has long been sidelined from both the Rhino and Elephant Advisory Committees, a step viewed by many as counter-productive to the conservation cause, since our experience in both fields could be utilized positively. Nevertheless, the ramifications at the field level of the new regionalisation megashuffle were disquieting and we felt the need to speak out.
Underlying all this was the ever present sense of unease over prospects for the continued stability of the country in what was proving a volatile Election Year; then outright alarm when orchestrated violence suddenly hit the Coast with serious re
percussions for the country's Tourist Industry and for Tsavo's gate revenues.
When the I.M.F. and World Bank funding was scaled down, costs escalated and the Kenya Shilling fluctuated radically, resulting in rising costs. Soon the fact that the Kenya Wildlife Service was in dire financial straits emerged as public knowledge and took a lot of people by surprise. Unable to support its sizeable bureaucracy, the top echelon of which now enjoyed highly inflated salaries, the Service was finding it impossible to be self-funding and cover the needs of the Parks adequately as well as placate the demands of the surrounding communities. We were informed that the field budget of Tsavo had been slashed to the point of paralysis; vehicles went up on blocks, and the Trust was asked to step in and provide fuel by the Tanker load to at least keep the anti-poaching forces mobile. The likelihood of an upsurge in poaching following the disastrous decision taken at C.I.T.E.S. in June was now very real with heavily armed bandits active on Tsavo's doorstep.
The lengths taken, and machinations employed, at this C.I.T.E.S. meeting to appease those Southern African States seeking to sell their ivory stockpiles to Japan left most conservationists with a feeling of outright despair and a sense that the forces of evil were stacked against the elephants. For those of us who had witnessed firsthand the appalling slaughter of the seventies and eighties, there was an immense sense of weariness knowing that the struggle was set to continue. Would the selfishness and greed of humans never end, we wondered? Would we ever live in harmony with the wild communities that shared the planet with us and cease to view them as commodities existing simply for the benefit of mankind? it seemed not.
There was, however, one small ray of hope; a clause negotiated not without difficulty, that if poaching escalated anywhere as a result of the CITES easement, the elephants could be returned to the fully protected Appendix I listing immediately. Proving this to the satisfaction of those who dominate such forums is, however, not easy.
Dismay followed when persistent reports of poaching began gathering momentum, particularly when the lips of field per
sonnel appeared sealed against even a hint of "bad news". Confusion ensued over the number of poached elephant casualties since the C.I.T.E.S. decision, for figures within the private sector did not tally with those of the K.W.S. database and, it transpired, nor did their own, two sets of figures being in existence within K.W.S. Rumours, allegations, and official denials finally prompted a Security Meeting called by the Director to reconcile numbers. Poaching figures were down, not up, we were assured, though it was difficult to share this optimism knowing that even Tsavo could not be adequately covered without help. What hope therefore of monitoring the entire country, let alone the bandit infested remote reaches of the North? The behaviour of the elephants themselves in many areas also seemed to contradict any such complacency and we felt that given prevailing constraints, the benefit of the doubt should favour the elephants. After all, poaching was known to have escalated in Central and West Africa, in Tanzania and even Southern Africa, and certainly radically so it India, where records were known to be accurate. But, K.W.S was at pains to reassure all in doubt that Kenya's elephant were increasing by 1,500 a year and were comfortable enough to venture well beyond Park boundaries, even in Tsavo recolonising territory they had long abandoned. However, the Trust still remains skeptical on this score and will need a great deal more convincing than just a blanket statement that this is, in fact really so. Nevertheless, everyone present was assured of unbridled transparency and even access to the Wildlife Service database with a "hotline" established to facilitate the reporting of poaching incidents. People left the meeting feeling a little easier.
The motive behind what appeared to be reluctance to see the elephants returned to the protected Appendix I CITES Listing was puzzling. Could it be that this time round Kenya, too sought to sell, instead of burn, its ivory stockpile? People wondered.
It has not been easy for the Trust to accept the merits of the new and now fashionable concept of wildlife conservation based more on an "if it pays it stays" attitude, hitherto associated with the commercial thrust of Southern Africa. In out opinion far too much emphasis is centered on "consumptive utilisation" and commercial gain at a time when the illegal take-off of smaller animals through snaring is rife with no prospect of control. After all, it was the Bush Meat Trade that brought about the demise of wildlife throughout most of West Africa and it is disturbing to see it taking hold here.
In the past, Kenya has always been known for a more compassionate and holistic approach to conservation, where every individual counts in its own right, preferring the non-consumptive option that does not erode wildlife stocks already subjected to Nature's rigorous controls. Quite apart from encountering endless lines of snares every time an animal steps beyond the boundary of a Park, which takes a devastating and unsustainable toll, it is disconcerting to see zebra and wildebeest on offer as cheap dog meat. Game meat is on offer in hotels and tourist destinations countrywide and tribes that had long shunned game meat, have joined the bandwagon of this new trend. Suddenly game meat has become a sought after commodity, particularly when it comes free, and is there for the taking; so saleable in fact that some Rift Valley farmers were having difficulty in selling their beef.
The Trust has always been against the commercialisation of game meat, knowing that money talks and when greed and corruption creep in, rules become bent. It seems contradictory to equate the slaughter of wild free ranging populations, already known to be in decline, with good conservation, especially as culling quotas are often based on numbers submitted by those with vested interests, some of whom were known to tailor figures to suit financial aspirations.
However, there exists a powerful lobby with influence that believes that "user rights" are essential to the survival of wildlife beyond the boundaries of the protected areas, whether in the form of commercial culling or sport hunting, banned in Kenya since the mid seventies and viewed by most Africans with abhorrence as an archaic "Colonial" rich man's prerogative. Again, time will tell whether or not such conviction proves well founded.
There is, however, an encouraging growing awareness and a better understanding and appreciation of the value of Nature for its own sake evident amongst the younger generation of Kenyans, many of whom have passed through Wildlife Clubs at school, so it is they who will largely determine whether or not the "Parks beyond Parks" concept ever translates into reality. Our concern is that what goes on outside the National Parks must not be at the expense of the protection and administration of the National Parks themselves, for it is they that are the genetic bank and hope for all the indigenous species of the country for the future.
Then came "El Nino" in mid September, bringing with it torrential downpours and unprecedented flooding countrywide', wrecking havoc to the country's infrastructure, and bringing death and destruction in its wake. Outbreaks of disease decimated both wild and domestic ungulates, particularly in the North. Days on end of dismal cold wet weather took a heavy toll of newborn young; rivers burst their banks sweeping away riverine vegetation housing millions of nestlings, even giant Baobabs hundreds of years old were swept away while landslides blocked arterial routes, even burying elephants on Mount Kenya. The entire country was brought virtually to a standstill. Animals and even people drowned, houses and tented camps were washed away and everywhere floodwaters ran in raging red torrents. At the time, the prediction of a drought to follow almost sounded like good news, especially when a veritable river began seeping up from below into Jill's rustic shack and flowing under as a lively stream!
Peace of mind was, indeed, an elusive element in 1997.
It was Rhinos that dominated the Home Front at the beginning of the year, with "Scud" back in the fold with the paralysed right foreleg, having damaged the radial nerve in a fall. As it turned out, she was already 9 months pregnant when she brought herself back home during the wet season of early 1996.
Safely ensconced within the Stockade she had occupied at night when younger, and with her former Nursery Attendants back to look after her, we nursed her diligently and fed her well for the next 10 months, praying that time would heal the damaged nerve. Sadly, this was not to be. Huge pressure sores developed on the paralysed leg, and no matter how we tried, we were unable to disperse the dead weight on the injured limb whenever she lay down. Shoulder muscles wasted, the joint seized in a bent position, but in every other respect, Scud had never looked in better condition. After 3 months "bed rest", however, she decided enough was enough, and set about systematically demolishing the Stockade. In no time at all, she was out and about again, getting on with life notwithstanding, keeping in touch with her wild friends through the rounds of the communal dungpiles and urinals. Sometimes a wild rhino came to feed nearby, keeping a respectful distance due to the presence of the Keepers, who had to accompany her at all times, and were the deterrent needed by night as well as by day. Scud was, of course, in no position to defend herself should another rhino prove aggressive. When she rested during the hours of darkness, the Keepers curled up close beside her, relying on her to protect them against predators. She now returned only briefly for water and her daily rations of bran, vitamins and fruit, where a mountain of browse cut from beyond the Park boundary awaited her. Servicing an adult Rhino proved a formidable task, but it paid dividends, something that is reflected in the health of her son, "Magnum", who was born at 4.30 p.m. on the after-noon of the 30th January 1997. The same Keeper who had been with Scud since she was brought in as an orphan when just 3 months old fielded him excitedly and emotionally, the moment he appeared.
We often wondered whether the proximity of humans would upset Scud once she had her calf, but she trusted her Keepers so implicitly that she was perfectly relaxed right from the start, happy to share the baby with those she loved, though wary of any strangers. So Magnum was truly a rhino of two worlds from the moment he opened his eyes and staggered around on wobbly legs, equally comfortable with the Keepers as with his own mother. In fact, it was probably the Keepers he saw first.
Every passing day saw him becoming stronger and more lively, growing as only a rhino can, until at 3 weeks, he had become quite a handful, tearing around playfully at a gallop, sometimes far afield, before spinning round to retrace his steps. Scud was an exemplary mother and the joy her baby gave her was heartwarming to see, but heartbreaking too, in the light of what we now had to accept - that she would be a cripple for life. The leg remained useless and the pressure sores became deeper. Progress for her was laborious and painful, necessitating long periods of rest in between hops, and when the bone became exposed, we had to accept that we had lost the struggle to save her. Furthermore, neither she nor the Keepers could keep up with Magnum during his nocturnal sorties, which were becoming more frequent and adventurous. At times he forgot the way back, and then he would squeal loudly for help, sending his mother frantic as she crashed through the bush after him, stumbling and falling and damaging herself still further in the process. The time had come to intervene in order to avoid losing Magnum to a predator but also to end the suffering of his crippled mother.
It was with immense sadness and grief that Scud was laid to rest on the 21st February, when Magnum was 3 weeks old. Now he became an orphan in the footsteps of his mother and the Keepers that had looked after her, became his immediate family. Protesting loudly, he was taken back to the Nursery stable his mother had occupied when she first came in.
When Scud brought herself back home with the injured limb and had to be immobilised in order to return her back to the Stockades where we could take care of her, the tarpaulin on which she lay, supposedly unconscious and oblivious to what was going on around her, was towed by a Range Rover. Thereafter, we observed that whenever she heard the engine of that particular vehicle, even long before it reached the house, she exhibited great distress. Likewise, the appearance of a White Landrover similar to that used by the Vets on that day upset her visibly. We realised then that although Scud had been, to all intents and purposes, unconscious, unable to move a muscle, she had, in fact, been fully aware of all that had happened. We are anxious, therefore, that when the time came to euthenase her and take over the care of her calf, her last memory should not be one of betrayal by those she trusted with her calf being taken forcibly from her, crying for help. We insisted therefore that she was shot through the brain once she had been drugged and also made sure that her remains were removed so that Magnum would not see her body once he had settled and was out and about again.
It so happened, just a day or two before Magnum was brought in, that another little female rhino calf of almost identical age arrived on our doorstep early in the morning, brought in by Rangers who had heard her cries during the night. The illegal incursion of cattle into the Park during that very dry period is most likely to have been responsible for separating her from her mother, a well known Nairobi Park female called "Edith", who was later traced unscathed at the other end of the Park. Sadly, by the time this had been established, too much time had elapsed to risk a reunion, particularly as the calf was now covered in human scent and the mother was in an agitated state having been displaced from her territory. We named the new baby "Magnet".
Within just an hour or two, Magnum had attached himself firmly to her, and the calves remain inseparable and have flourished ever since. However, Magnum grieved sorely for Scud for a very long time, crying pathetically and insisting every day on visiting the dungpiles and urinals they had shared whilst she was alive, still able to "find" her there through scent. Magnet accepted the loss of her mother more philosophically, probably because the scent was absent entirely.
Meanwhile, the Stockades demolished by Scud have been rebuilt and upgraded in preparation for the day when Magnum and Magnet graduate to more spacious quarters having outgrown their current adjoining Nursery stables. Rhinos grow at a phenomenal rate, from a tiny calf only 18 inches high weighing between 60 and 80 lbs., to a mighty animal of almost 2 tons in the space of just 7 short years.
The Trust has also been asked to oversee the husbandry of another little rhino orphan at Lewa Downs in the North, whose mother tragically died having got her head wedged beneath tree roots. Since the Ranch owners are eager that this orphan be reintegrated back into their small resident population, it is important that he is raised in situ in order to ensure a peaceful reintroduction. Unless a rhino is known by scent by the wild residents, it has no chance of survival within an already established community, as events in the fenced Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary have so unnecessarily demonstrated at a cost of three.
The first half of 1997 was a drier than usual period with a serious water crisis in Tsavo, which coincided with the con fusion caused by regionalisation. Elephants were becoming bogged in the deep mud of the drying Aruba dam, with not, drop of water left in the Voi River, or for that matter, in the entire region South of the Galana River. Huge herds of buffalo were standing disconsolately beside the only water avail able for them at the Voi Safari Lodge, namely kitchen an( bath waste. Even our own orphans were hard pressed, forced to drink from a polluted puddle on the Voi River that left little Zoe with a serious stomach upset.
With help from Trevor Jennings of nearby Satao Camp and Ashley Hayland, an Engineer who simply happened to be passing by, 8 elephants were successfully pulled clear of the mud at Aruba, one a pregnant female, two 15 year old females, a feisty little bull of 4 and four other youngsters slightly older all of whom managed to rejoin their frantic herds. Again thank, to Trevor Jennings and with assistance from the new Area Warden, a shallow waterhole was hurriedly dug on higher ground, and the old Aruba borehole brought back into service so that fresh water was soon available away from the treacherous mud of the lake. Likewise, the long defunct borehole on the Ndara plains, was renovated providing a source on that side of the dry Voi River in an attempt to keep the animals safely within the Park boundary.
With water so scarce within the Park, many animals were forced out in search of it, and many elephants were shot on "problem animal control" as a result, as they queued at the cattle troughs denying access to livestock, tore up water pipes and drank from the Break Pressure Tanks of the main Mombasa Pipeline. We worried about the safety of Eleanor, and about Mary and her calf as well as our other orphans some of whom often traveled with the wild herds, but there was Iittle we could do other than urgently seek authority from the Director to sink four more emergency boreholes, three of which would be funded by the Trust, and an additional one by Care for the Wild at Satao Camp.
The reality of Regionalisation astonished even the most inured of us Old Timers, with a plethora of Coordinators and Technocrats, hitherto an unknown species, popping up at a field level, seemingly a law unto themselves and insisting or complicated "impact assessment studies" and suchlike before even the simplest field decision could be implemented One casualty was an emergency borehole funded by the Trust at Kanderi swamp on the Voi river, where permanent water had existed in bygone days, but now for some reason apparently considered an unsuitable location. However, by the time the results of the Impact Assessment Study filtered through to us, the borehole was already in place with the potential of a very large yield, but has since had to be capped, leaving us with the distinct feeling that the right hand didn't know what the left was doing! There was consolation however, in knowing that a borehole at Kanderi will undoubtedly prove useful when the predicted drought begins to bite in the wake of "El Nino".
Two of the Trust's three boreholes proved successful, yielding good quantities of fresh water, but sadly the one we hoped for most on the Dika plains, turned out to be dry. All this, of course, took time, and just as we were all set to begin pumping water, "El Nino" stepped in and saved us the trouble - at least temporarily. Nevertheless, the Trust has prepared itself for this task by acquiring a second hand Landrover and a generator that can be mounted on the back. The boreholes have all been test-pumped and a suitable submersible pump that can serve them all, purchased. What we now need most, and what we are struggling to reclaim, is Tsavo East's large Earth Moving Scraper to desilt the natural pans so that they hold water longer into the dry seasons. This machine was a donation from a private individual specifically to Tsavo way back in the early seventies, but since David's departure, has been removed from Tsavo and sent elsewhere, currently apparently broken down in Amboseli, However, the Trust has been assured on numerous occasions by the Director that it will be returned to where it rightly belongs.
In practice, the New Order has dismantled the administrative efficacy of the National Parks. The new Area Warden has a brief to oversee not just the Park itself, which in itself is a full time job, as we well know, but community areas and needs beyond as well. The Regional Assistant Director was expected to oversee a territory that would be difficult to even visit, let alone administer. Many good men were overwhelmed and left the service, others found themselves in unpopular destinations, an example being a Marine Biologist doing an excellent job on turtles at the Coast turning up at Lake Nakuru, which at the time, had no water in it at all! Morale took a downturn.
As the year drew to a close financial constraints made redundancies not just desirable, but inevitable. It came as no surprise, however, that the first to fall was the outspoken Area Warden of Tsavo East, an Officer with some 20 years service under his belt, and this dented field morale even further, and left a Park the size of Michigan State without a Warden for the first time in its 50 year history. The Regional Assistant Director now had an even more impossible assignment. As before, the Trust felt impelled to voice its disquiet, but was assured by the Director that such concerns were unfounded. Again, time will tell.
Whilst embroiled in Boreholes and Drilling Rigs, and as the first Corporate Member of the newly created Friends of Nairobi National Park, the Trust funded the renovation of an
other old Borehole sunk way back in the forties near the Park's East Gate, which had long been used as a rubbish dump. Before this borehole can become functional, however, K.W.S. has to arrange for the power to be brought to the site, but once this comes about, the borehole will be able to serve the needs of the K.W.S. personnel at the East Gate, currently relying on a Tanker for water, as well as provide fresh. water for wildlife during the dry seasons when the Mbagathi river is often very polluted.
It was way back in 1996 that the 40 year old Orphan Matriarch, "Eleanor", was last seen, strangely minus her adopted family, who were left in the care of 12 year old "Lissa" and later appeared to have been taken over by the Matriarch Catherine, Eleanor's wild friend, who is still a frequent visitor to the Elephant Stockades. Why Eleanor abandoned her adopted family still remains a puzzle. What we have learnt, though, is that aspiring Matriarchs are very competitive when it comes to acquiring a "family" for themselves, and that the bonding between Matriarchs and unrelated adoptees is much looser than that existing within a normal related group. We know, for instance, that Eleanor tried to hijack Mary's calf soon after it was born and that Mary had difficulty in reclaiming it, choosing thereafter to leave Eleanor's unit and join a wild herd led by a more accommodating Matriarch. Similarly, Malaika has never trusted Eleanor since little "Mpenzi" was taken from her custody, and still jealously tries to limit the contact the younger orphans in her charge have with older wild cows.
Could it be that Catherine hijacked Eleanor's family, and that pique over this might explain Eleanor's long absence? Or has she perhaps been blessed at last with a calf of her own, which she prefers to keep to herself. There is also, of course, the terrible possibility that she might have perished beyond the boundaries of the Park along with many others during the time that water was so scarce in the Park. We will never know for sure, but our prayer, and I know the prayer of many who have followed her life over the past40 years, is that Eleanor is at last fulfilled - a wild elephant with a calf of her own, no longer in need of either an adopted family or human contact.
Meanwhile, her previous role of "Matriarch" to all the young has been very ably taken over by Malaika, now 9 years old, -who undertakes this role conscientiously, only occasionally opting to join "the Boys" for a break. Then "Emily" (now 5) takes charge, visibly swelling with pride whenever entrusted with this duty.
The saga of "Lominyek" is a heartwarming tale. Retrieved from Samburu in July 1996, when his mother died of gunshot wounds, he was in the Nairobi Nursery only a short time before being transferred to Tsavo along with Zoe. Lominyek was over a year old when he lost his mother, so he remembered his elephant family clearly and on arrival in Tsavo, was so overjoyed at being in amongst larger elephants again, that he glued himself to Malaika, something she found irritating since this was the prerogative of those smaller, namely Aitong and Zoe. Lominyek often fielded a prod from her tusks in her attempts to detach him.
The onset of the rains in April happened to coincide with the completion of his milk dependent second year, and he took himself off in search of a more tolerant mother figure. Soon, he found one, and what is more, one without any tusks, so he is now happily settled within this wild group, meeting up with the other orphans and their Keepers periodically out in the bush, but showing no inclination to. return back into the Orphan Fold.
Three of our hand-reared charges have now successfully joined the wild herds on a permanent basis, returning only occasionally to visit their orphan friends. Others are still with us, but visit their wild elephant friends, usually in pairs, whilst Ajok is sufficiently confident to spend a lot of time on his own without the support of a friend in between outings with the wild herds.
"Ajok" has long held the position of "naughtiest" elephant, a desert elephant from Lake Turkana, who is a real "character" and has been with us since just a day or two old. He is now a bumptious 8-year-old with a distinct sense of humour and a buoyant personality that endears him to all who meet him. Even the Keepers can't help laughing at just the mention of his name!
Ajok has many "party pieces", from systematically "shivering" his trunk right from the top to the very tip, wrapping it around peoples' necks and gradually exerting pressure, sitting down like a circus elephant, even lying with all four legs in the air - fact any antic that can extract laughter from his audience and guarantee being the centre of attention.
One place definitely out of bounds during the hours of daylight to the Orphans is Simon Trevor's open verandah, overlooking the small waterhole where they normally drink during the dry season. On the verandah is an old camp chair, which Ajok has decided better serves as his personal toy, in the same way that Olmeg has commandeered an old log which is jealously guarded whenever there is fun to be had in the Red Waterhole below the Headquarters.
Under cover of darkness, Ajok took to breaking the rules imposed during the day - walking onto Simon Trevor's verandah, and heaving the old Camp Chair over the wall with a satisfying clatter. Even more fun was the stir triggered within amongst the occupants of the house, when pressure was put on the front door and it creaked and groaned and threatened collapse.
Having established exactly who the culprit was, and when Jill and J.F. were guests at Simon's establishment, J.F. positioned himself behind the door armed with a Portoblast which, when activated, makes a sound that would awaken even the dead. Sure enough, once the trap was set, Ajok appeared on schedule; J.F. flung open the door with the Portoblast at full volume and Ajok fled, screaming in panic, becoming tangled in the wire of the peripheral Electric fence in the process, which seems to have been a successful deterrent.
"Taru", who is 6 months younger than our oldest hand-reared orphan, "Olmeg", has been a "wild" elephant for some years now, having fallen from grace when he switched allegiance to Chuma on arrival in Tsavo almost 11 years ago. Since then an ongoing Soap Opera has been played out between these young bulls, as readers of our previous Newsletters will recall, with Taru and Chuma in competition for rank with Olmeg who resorted to enlisting the support of Eleanor's older wild adoptee, the calf we name "Thomas".
There is always great rivalry for rank amongst young Bull
Elephants. To begin with, and, we think, later on in life, age determines rank to a large extent, but in the teenage years and early twenties, especially when young bulls are close in age, as are many of our young male orphans, other factors such as temperament and personality, strength and size, tusk size etc., come into play.
1997 saw Taru settle the question of rank once and for all, and this time in his own right without the support of Chuma. One day he returned alone, and trounced Olmeg soundly on home turf, thereby rightfully claiming the title of first in rank, but denting Olmeg's ego and confidence sorely in the process. Since then we have witnessed not altogether unexpected psychological repercussions from Olmeg. He has taken to being "difficult", throwing his weight around the Keepers, and even ambushing the K.W.S. plane on the airfield and chasing it down the runway ever since it showered him in grit. To complicate matters even further, "Dika", who is just a year younger and second in rank to Olmeg, but, if anything, larger and equally as strong, is showing signs of contesting the coveted "Boss" position.
The April rains, although never usually predictable or good in Tsavo, did bring much needed relief in terms of water, and, as, usual, the orphans enjoyed the green flush. However, on the 6th June, unexpected tragedy struck. We lost little "Zoe" - orphan that had seemed indestructible, who, along with Ajok, had never before needed the attentions of a Vet, suffering just the one stomach disorder mentioned before during her 18 months of life. News that she was unwell came to us via a phone call the previous evening, too late for us to take action. By the next morning, another phone call reported that she was dead.
We were stunned! Losing an orphaned elephant whom you have nurtured day and night since birth, truly can be likened to losing a child, beset by immense emotional pain and grief. However, having had to weather many such tragedies over the years, we have conditioned ourselves to turning the page, remembering that there are others in need of help and recalling that the agony in human terms that the death of a special little elephant brings simply epitomizes what the elephants themselves suffer endlessly to yield a tusk for a human trinket.
We never were able to establish exactly what had caused the sudden death of Zoe, and can only assume that she must have inadvertently eaten a toxic toadstool in amongst a trunkful of greens, or perhaps a poisonous insect or frog on a food plant, for elephants have an instinctive knowledge of what to eat and what to avoid.
The other orphans were as stunned as we at her sudden death, especially the females who are not as emotionally stoic as the young Bulls. Malaika, Emily and Aitong went into immediate decline, but happily their suffering was cut short by the unexpected arrival in Tsavo of another orphan from the North. Little "Uaso" from Colcheccio Ranch on the Laikipia Plateau was airlifted directly to Tsavo, since he was at least I year old, and as such too strong for us to be able to handle in the Nairobi Nursery without the input of other elephants to calm and reassure him.
He was spotted on his own with no other elephants nearby on the North Bank of the Uaso Nyiro river which traverses Colecheccio Ranch and which was in quite high spate at the time. There was a deep spear wound in his back, so we suspect that his mother must have been speared by tribesmen. As usual, Mike Seton most kindly donated his Caravan Aircraft for the rescue, which took off with a K.W.S. Vet and Angela's father-in-law, Roy CarrHartley, aboard armed with everything necessary to sedate the calf for the flight. Roy went along to assess the age and condition of the calf accurately, being very experienced in this field, because upon this hinged the destination to where the calf would be taken.
Meanwhile, Alistair Nicklin and Tom Silvester had the unenviable task of capturing "Uaso" and steering him across the flooded Uaso Nyiro river. Although he was somewhat weakened, having been deprived of milk, he was nevertheless sufficiently strong to put up a spirited struggle so it took at least half a dozen stalwarts to subdue and surround him. Crowding him tightly, they then had to ford the swift flowing and crocodile infested river, which fortunately they managed to do without mishap, arriving at the Ranch Airstrip just as the Rescue Plane was about to land. Thereafter, everything went like clockwork. The calf was at least a year old, we were told by radio, and not in too bad condition, so he could be flown, sedated, directly to Tsavo where he was met by the K.W.S. authorities and our Keepers and taken to the Elephant Stockades before being woken up.
Meanwhile, Malaika and her entourage were brought back to the Stockades, and instantly grief for Zoe was forgotten in the excitement and joy of welcoming another "baby" into the fold, and what is more, one smaller than Aitong. For Uaso this must all have seemed like a dream! Although extremely wary of the humans around him, and careful to keep Malaika in between, he drew comfort from the other elephants, as we knew he would, and was soon downing his first bottle of milk, taking his cue from Aitong who was only too happy to give a demonstration. Time soon healed the spear wound and in November, he achieved fame by being the star of the popular Programme, "Noel's Christmas Present" viewed by millions all over Europe and aired immediately after the Queen's speech on Christmas Day.
1997 has been a harrowing year, but has had its high notes as well, filled with interest at being able to be a part of the lives of both our elephant and rhino orphans and so much richer for this unique opportunity. To know and understand their different personalities and to be trusted implicitly and accepted as "Family" by members of the wild Kingdom is an enlightening and fascinating experience. Around our little Nairobi Park home, endless entertainment is provided on a daily basis by our animal friends - the warthogs, whose lives we have followed for some 15 generations; two wild bushbuck who feed from a hand and sleep beside the Watchman knowing they are safe from predators, the birds who come when called, and whose fortunes and misfortunes we also share and two old Buffalo bulls, descendants of our handreared buffalo orphans of the Tsavo days, who formed the nucleus of the very first herd in Nairobi National Park way back in the fifties. A sense of achievement has come in re-planting 191 -indigenous hardwood seedlings to replace those destroyed for charcoal on what is now the Trust Land, and in donating a further 331 to the local community; in protecting a very important river boundary of the Park by our presence and seeing signs of the hesitant return of wild animals onto land that has been heavily poached in the past. Rewarding too has been our Community work in the area and within the little Kamunyu School which has paid dividends and brought snaring to an all time low in that particular area. With satisfaction we have seen the birth in Tsavo of additional Hirola babies, boosting further the numbers of this highly endangered species in the Park that will save them for posterity. As Patron of the Moi University Wildlife Club, the Trust is playing a part in influencing the understanding and direction of future leaders, fuelling an appreciation of their unique heritage and injecting a reverence for life to counter the selfish hard-line "if it pays, it stays" concept born of greed. As someone so aptly said, "Biodiversity must stay so people must pay" and we feel the same.
Every Director of Wildlife leaves a conservation record stamped indelibly upon his reputation for life and for which he will be labeled and remembered as either good or bad. It is a sobering burden. The present Kenya Wildlife Service has been through very difficult times, some beyond their control, but we feel that there have been mistakes that must be addressed and rectified. On this note we end with a quote from Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865):
"What is conservation? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?"
in the wake of a spate of critical publicity, there does now appear to be signs of a healthier spirit of cooperation and greater willingness to "listen" and to "hear" what others have to say. Wildlife is a matter of immense public concern and the public, as stakeholders, have a right to be kept fully informed about both the bad news as well as the good, and to voice their opinions and offer advice whenever they feel the need to do so.
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The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust P.O. Box 15555 Nairobi Kenya