Keepers' Diaries, April 2003

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Nursery Elephants:- The 8th April 2003, we welcomed another orphan into the Nairobi Nursery, this time from Lewa Downs in Northern Kenya. He was about 18 months old, and had obviously been without a mother for some time, sometimes joining a herd, but then wandering alone.

Rescue arrangements were hurriedly scrambled, this time with a Vet aboard since such a large calf would have to be sedated for the air rescue. The orphan was about 15 minutes drive from the Airstrip at Lewa Downs, about l km. from a wild group of fifteen. The Vet managed to approach to within 15 metres using a bush as cover, before the elephant realized that dreaded humans were closing in on him. He charged, and the Vet was able to dart him, following which, he ran into hiding in another bush.

Soon the elephant was down and the Rescue Team were able to approach. It now became apparent that he had multiple gunshot wounds, two just below the spine, where the bullet had obviously gone right through, and another through a foreleg just grazing the chest. Blood was also oozing from one nostril, so he was very obviously not in good shape. His wounds were cleaned as much as possible and a long acting antibiotic injection administered before he was loaded, first into the waiting vehicle and then onto the plane.

During the flight, he was kept barely under, because anything more could have plunged him into eternal sleep. He arrived at our Nursery just after 2 p.m., and having been laid in one of the Rhino Stockades, (a Nursery table being too small), he was given the antidote and began to wake up.

It was distressing to watch him coming round, because he kept falling over, crashing against the walls, and staggering around as though drunk. But as he recovered more fully, and found himself amongst what he dreaded most, having obviously been a witness to the slaughter of his mother, and himself having been wounded by gunfire, he was bent on killing everyone in sight, and quite capable of doing so! Time and again he thundered against the metal doors, until one of the posts gave way, and he was out, running for life into the Nairobi Park forest!

There he happened to encounter the other Nursery elephants and their Keepers - tiny newborn newcomer "Selengai", 3 month old "Tomboi", 4 month old "Wendi", Mpala and the mini Matriarch, "Seraa", both of whom were his size. They and their Keepers encircled him, desperately trying to comfort him, and since the mini herd he had found were obviously comfortable with their human attendants, he took a cue from them, and visibly calmed down.

By this time the Vet had been recalled, and after a small dose of sedation, with everyone pushing, he was able to be guided back into his quarters. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief and whilst the calf was still groggy from the drug, we were able to syringe out the many holes in his mutilated body, using the magic homeopathic Calendular that succeeded in healing an enormous hole in the back of our little Ndara down in Voi. But, as he recovered, so his fear and anger returned, and time and again he hurled himself against the gate, bent on escape.

That first night, he slept for just two hours, and the two Keepers that were removed from him in the next door Stockade, for safety reasons, not at all! The next morning the other elephants came to greet him through the bars of the door, and again he became much calmer, even taking the hand of the Keeper into his mouth, and sucking it hungrily. Nevertheless, he soon spat it out, and with ears constantly out like dinner-plates, no-one was under the illusion that humans had been forgiven yet!

Quiet talking, gentle encouragement, friendly touching on the forehead every time he charged the door, and water offered from a bucket, all helped worked the miracle, and soon he accepted his first bottle of milk. Just 14 hours after capture, this latest orphan was friendly to the Keepers, and cried every time they left him. Blood still oozed from one nostril of the trunk, the bullet wounds were seriously infected, and he was thin and dehydrated. He had been through hell. The grief of losing that which is most important in a baby elephant’s life - his mother and elephant family, himself suffering from agonizing gunshot wounds probably inflicted as he tried to defend the body of his fallen mother, with starvation and dehydration adding to his misery.

Because he was such a warrior, and had been in the wars, we named him “Morani”, the Samburu word for “warrior”. Within two days, he was downing bottles of milk and feeding well on the greens placed in his stall, and within four days, he was out and about with the others, immediately forming a close bond of friendship with Mpala. For several days, he was too fearful to join the others at their daily mudbath, watching from a distance, but wary of all the visitors. However, within another two days he could resist no longer, and he was there, greeting all the visitors like a veteran.

We are all holding thumbs that pieces of broken bone will not have to be surgically removed, involving another anaesthetic, but Morani is now a great favourite with everyone, both four legged and two, a gentle, forgiving and very affectionate little elephant, despite such a traumatic interlude in his short life. His wounds are healing well, although there is still a small discharge from the bullet hole in his back, but the leg wound has completely healed, and his trunk has stopped bleeding.

Meanwhile, the rains have arrived at last, and plans are afoot to move Seraa, Mpala, and, hopefully, Morani, down to join the older elephants in Tsavo during the month of May, there to begin the reintegration back into the wild elephant community of Tsavo. They can be assured of a very warm reception from Solango, Burra, Sosian and Thoma, who will remember Seraa and Mpala, and Morani will be welcomed into the greater Orphan unit.

We could hardly believe it when, having just recovered from the trauma of Morani, in the late afternoon of the 25TH April, another phone call from Laikipia heralded yet another baby elephant in need of rescue, this time from the Francombes’ Ol Malo Lodge bordering Loisaba Ranch. This calf, like Selengai, was just found wandering alone, but we later heard that a young cow had been speared by Pokot tribesmen on Loisaba Ranch. Since it was too late to initiate a rescue, the calf was confined in a padded stable for the night, and was too “wild” for anyone to be able to be with it during the night. We felt for the Francombes, who faced a noisy night with this traumatized baby bellowing loudly throughout the night!

By 8 a.m. the next morning, the rescue plane was on its way. Aboard the plane was Roy Carr-Hartley (we always feel better when Roy is there, because he is a professional in terms of animal capture and rescue with a lifetime experience in this field), a K.W.S. Vet, David Ndeere, (who will shortly be seconded to the Trust to work with our 4 de-snaring teams and cover both Tsavo's, funded for a three year stint by the Austrian N.G.O. Vier Pfoten) and Edwin, an excellent Nursery Elephant Keeper with a gentle manner and a soft and understanding heart. They went armed with all the usual rescue kit - the large round tarpaulin with rope handles all round, beer bottles in a plastic bottle crate filled with a weak mixture of milk and others with rehydration salts, blanket, mattress, rubber under-protection for the floor of Mike Seton's plane and the Vet equipped with everything needed to sedate the calf for the journey.

They found the baby in fine fettle, a female calf estimated to be about 4 months old, who could not have been without her mother for long. Edwin proffered her a bottle of milk, which she hungrily downed, followed by rehydrants, and from that moment on, she was trusting and unafraid, following him around, begging for more. However, one has to be careful about too much, too soon.

She was lightly tranquilized for the plane journey, being an exuberant 4 month old, but was kept barely "under" for the flight, for baby elephants are extremely fragile and cannot tolerate more than the bare minimum. She arrived here at 11.30 a.m. on Saturday 26th April, much to the delight of all the usual "mudbath visitors" and at the request of the Francombe's, she has been named "Olmalo” which in the Samburu language means "The Place of the Greater Kudu".

Obviously associating a terrible experience of loss, fear and capture with being confined alone all night, this baby refused to settle at night, crying constantly and restlessly pacing. This kept Tomboi and Selengai awake, so the next day we moved her to between Seraa and Mpala, putting Mpala in another stable. That night, neither Mpala nor Olmalo slept a wink, so the third night, we returned Mpala to his own stable, and then at least he was happy! But, for 5 nights, Olmalo was uncomfortable in the stable, but finally, she calmed down, and is now happy and sleeping at night.

Four orphaned elephants have come in from Laikipia district within the last few months, an indication that things are not as they should be for the elephants in that part of the world. An escalation of poaching is very evident in the North following the decision taken by CITES last year to ease the Ivory Ban. As yet, history does not relate what happened to the mothers of Tomboi, Wendi, Selengai, or the latest Nursery inmate little "Ol Malo", but the fact that they are here is not good elephant news. However, for them, they are the fortunate few, who will ultimately lead a natural and normal elephant life against embraced by another loving orphaned elephant family with all the older females to protect and care for them as they grow up under the care of their human family, who will be there for them as long as needed, and there for them even beyond that, should they be needed.

Olmalo is one of the easiest orphans we have ever had, simply because she arrived in such good condition. The next morning she was out and about with the others, a hot favourite with Seraa, who has allowed Wendi to take control of little Sungelai. Whilst Seraa is resigned to allowing Wendi to be “mother”’to Sengelai, she is determined that Olmalo will be her “baby”, and wants her close at all times whilst Tomboi is happy to be everyone’s baby!

Wendi is not unlike Mweya in character, a very “pushy” and determined little elephant, who enjoys downing unsuspecting visitors, something that will now have to be energetically discouraged for she is nearly 6 months old. Having been newborn on arrival, the transfusion of plasma taken from Thoma’s blood has made her one of the fittest little elephants we have ever had, even cutting her first molars without the usual tummy upsets. Even Morani, who has benefited from being within a wild elephant herd for over a year, finds her rather badly behaved, and gives her a hard shove whenever she is rude to one of the others. However, he and Mpala prefer to keep to themselves, slightly apart from the juniors and Seraa.

Tsavo Orphans:- There have been plenty of encounters with wild elephant herds this month, and it is very interesting to find Solango, who is the youngest of the Tsavo contingent, fraternizing happily and confidently amongst wild elephants and even taking the liberty of climbing on a wild cow as she lay down to share the orphans’ mudbath. Tsavo, Sally, Solango and Mweya, have all played with wild calves “of their size” as dictated by elephant rules, whilst Ndara had a long game with a wild counterpart, with the wild mother perfectly relaxed but Emily and Aitong anxious, watching events very closely for fear of losing a member of their herd. Burra, Sosian and Thoma are not quite as outgoing as Solango, sometimes daunted by the wild elephants, but reassured by Aitong, who accompanies them at such times. Aitong herself is not always popular with the wild Matriarchs, paying too much interest in their young!

We now have 28 young elephants still dependent in Tsavo, under the leadership of Emily and Aitong. It is very interesting to see that both Emily and Aitong notice the absence of any member of the group. For instance, on 21st Emily suddenly noticed that Mulika was missing as their neared the Stockades in the evening. She had remained behind with a wild herd, so, immediately, Emily hurried back, trumpeting loudly to retrieve Mulika and return her to the fold. It is also interesting to see that each orphan knows exactly where it ought to be during the night and whenever one decides to join others in a different Stockade, he or she is removed and escorted back to where they should be!

Aitong’s affection for Sweet Sally is very marked in this Diary. She often entices Sally away from the others so that she has this calf all to herself. Likewise Sally is obviously extremely close to Aitong, allowed to suckle her ears lovingly, and happy to spend time “belonging” to her in a relationship that is special. Elephant “kisses” happen when one puts its trunk to the other’s mouth, and reassurance given by the laying of a trunk over the body, something that is emphasized again and again in each month’s Diary, as are sentiments such as jealousy.

Natumi had a narrow escape from a charging buffalo, which missed her by inches, and which could have ended in serious injury whilst Loisaba got bitten by Safari ants and inadvertently knocked down Solango in the melee. Other encounters include Sally being struck on the leg by a Monitor Lizard she almost trampled, which left her “trembling violently” and almost foregoing her milk!. Baboons, giraffe and the hissing sound made by a tortoise have all scared the babies, whose cries invariably bring either Emily or Aitong, or both, to the rescue, whilst hornbills and impala have been fair game to be chased as long as they run away.

Emily was very “put out” when expelled by a wild Matriarch, and once clear, put on a spirited display of aggression from a safe distance, with plenty of backing from her orphaned family members to register disapproval of such a slight!

Sosian is unpopular amongst the baby group, labelled by the Keepers as “a bully” because he uses his sharp little tusks freely. He should, in fact, graduate to the middle group, where he will have Laikipia, Lolokwe and Salama to keep him in order. Mweya tried to exact revenge by trying to grab his leg through the bars of the separating Stockade one evening, but got her head jammed instead, and needed help from the Keepers! Her yells unravelled Sosian, so he must have a tender heart, because he needed the company of a Keeper that night in order to calm him down. Poor Burra had a bad experience in the mudbath when he was “ducked” by some of the older orphans, and held under water long enough to alarm the Keepers, who had to plunge in and rescue him!

As usual, there are lots of incidences of competition between various individuals, acts of retribution and revenge for wrong-doing, needing the input of and Emily and Aitong and sometimes one of the other young females. In fact, we see in the elephant children the same sort of behaviour one would expect from human children of a like age!

Close friendships exist between Mweya and Sally, but Mweya’s obvious love of little Solango, brings out a jealous streak in Sally. Tsavo and Nyiro are great buddies, as are Mulika and Nasalot whilst Mukwaju is a very sociable little elephant, and the friend of everyone.

No sign of any of the Big Boys this month, which means that they are elsewhere with their wild friends. Poor Imenti, still lonely in his Northern banishment station, remains firmly glued to his Keepers at Ithumba, terrified to let them out of sight in case they abandon him again. He sees wild elephants on a daily basis when they come to drink at the waterhole close to his new Night Stockade, but so far has not plucked up enough courage to actually contact them by leaving his Keepers behind. Before moving any of the others to join him, the Trust must first address the problem of adequate water, that is not too saline, and this is something we are currently investigating. It will involve either another shallow borehole and Windmill, or a dam to catch water runoff from Ithumba massif, both of which will not come cheap. So, for the time being, Imenti must remain without elephant friends, but when they do join him, it will be an occasion much more special.

April 2003 day to day

01 Apr

There was a disagreement between Sally and Mweya over the noon bottle of milk today, when Sally tried to take Mweya’s share. The Keepers had to separate them. Meanwhile Mweiga was enjoying her mudbath when Salama came and pushed her down. She yelled, which brought both Emily and Aitong to the rescue, Aitong laying her trunk gently over Mweiga to reassure her. Back at the Stockades, Sosian now has his share of Copra cake alone, because he has proved to be a bit of a bully, pushing the others away.