Keepers' Diaries, April 2005

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

This month has been a very traumatic time for all in the Nairobi Nursery, the greatest tragedy being the death of our precious little Nalitu on the 8th April, which left us all, elephants and humans alike, in a state of shock and desperate grief. Her death was so unexpected and sudden, because she had been doing so well. The damaged shoulder was almost healed, she was gaining weight, and even playing on a daily basis, so her sudden death came as a tragedy we had not expected. We could hardly believe it, because it was like some bad dream. The post-mortem told us nothing, other than that she had “peritonitis” of the stomach itself, yet the stools were perfectly normal, with no signs of diarrheoa. As mentioned so often, baby elephants are essentially so very fragile that they can be fine one day and gone the next and the experience of Nalitu merely endorses this sad truth! At such times, one has to be strong enough to turn the page, and concentrate on the living, many of whom are yet to come, and when they do, will need all the help they can get, but that doesn’t lessen the grief.

This month has been a very traumatic time for all in the Nairobi Nursery, the greatest tragedy being the death of our precious little Nalitu on the 8th April, which left us all, elephants and humans alike, in a state of shock and desperate grief. Her death was so unexpected and sudden, because she had been doing so well. The damaged shoulder was almost healed, she was gaining weight, and even playing on a daily basis, so her sudden death came as a tragedy we had not expected. We could hardly believe it, because it was like some bad dream. The post-mortem told us nothing, other than that she had “peritonitis” of the stomach itself, yet the stools were perfectly normal, with no signs of diarrheoa. As mentioned so often, baby elephants are essentially so very fragile that they can be fine one day and gone the next and the experience of Nalitu merely endorses this sad truth! At such times, one has to be strong enough to turn the page, and concentrate on the living, many of whom are yet to come, and when they do, will need all the help they can get, but that doesn’t lessen the grief.

That said, we had no less than 3 rescues this month. The first was little “Kora, a 6 month old baby bull with a serious jaw wound, which would appear to be the result of a ricochet bullet – probably the one that killed his mother. This little calf was found wandering along a road in Kora National Reserve, 50 kms from the nearest water, so it is a miracle that he is even alive today. His condition has necessitated a great deal of attention both from the Vet and ourselves involving a long course of injectable antibiotic to try and halt septicaemia, which could prove fatal, daily syringing of his wound to try and get it to heal, and which inevitably involves a great deal of stress and pain, plus a course of Sulphadimidine to stabilize his starved gut, which reacted adversely to the sudden intake of milk. However, he is holding his own, and becoming stronger by the day, and having spat out an inch long piece of dislodged bone, plus other smaller bits and pieces, we cautiously feel that we may be winning this battle. We all pray that this very stalwart little bull from George Adamson’s stamping ground, Kora National Reserve, will have the reserves to cope, for he is an extremely gallant little fellow.

Within three days, (on the 24th) we were faced with another rescue – that of “Rapsu”, a young bull just under two years old found all alone with no other elephants in sight in Meru National Park. Mercifully, although very emaciated through being starved of his mother’s milk for at least l0 days, he is able to eat some greens, which have obviously kept him going, but he came in very traumatised, wild, and hating everything on two legs, no doubt having witnessed some horrible tragedy that deprived him of his elephant family. (We heard that a woman had been killed by an elephant outside the Park about l0 days ago, and that the events surrounding this calf being orphaned were probably as a result of human retaliation and revenge). “Rapsu” has been extremely difficult to tame down, and when we let him out, after being incarcerated in the Holding Pen for 5 days, hoping he would go with the others as a group, he peeled off and ran off into the Park. It was a very stout effort that all our Keepers managed to catch up with him, rope his front legs, and haul him back home to his Stockade, where he will have to spend another 4 or 5 days until he learns that these particular humans are his friends. Fortunately, he loves his milk, and apart from a heavy infestation of worms, and a very damaged left eye, seems to be doing well. In order to try and save the sight of that eye, he has had to be slightly sedated, and the eye will need treatment for many days yet if the sight is to be saved, but we are hopeful and will do our best. Currently, we, and the Vet, are working on that, and in order to be able to take a good look, Rapsu needed a mild sedation.

Four days break, and another rescue, this time in Amboseli National Park on the 27th where a baby’s mother had obviously been shot by Hunters when the family crossed into Tanzania, which they do habitually. Apparently she had beautiful long tusks, so the Researchers are pretty sure that this was her fate. The calf was still with family, so would have to be immobilized in order to be rescued. Since no Vet was available in Nairobi, the Rescue plane flew first to Voi to collect the Vet attached to the Trust’s mobile Veterinary Unit, before proceeding to Amboseli. Upon arrival in Amboseli, they discovered that the family, plus the orphan, were in one of the swamps, and since by
5.30 p.m. the elephants had not emerged, that day the plane had to return empty-handed. Early the next morning word came that the calf had been captured, so the plane set forth again, and by l0 a.m. the baby was safely with us. At the request of the Amboseli Researchers it was given the name “Purai” (the name of an area frequented by this particular elephant family). She was extremely emaciated, and had been feeding on mud, greens (which she could not digest) and swamp water, so we knew this presented a challenge – and it did. She was with us just one day, before the gut went into spasm and became twisted after a day of milk, which took her from us within one day. At least the other orphans were spared the grief and sorrow they suffered when little Nalitu died, since this calf was still a newcomer when she mysteriously vanished from their lives. But, for us humans, who had tried so desperately to save her, (not to mention the cost of two charters) it was another blow that dented our confidence and left us depressed, having lost two infant elephants in the course of just one month!

Galana and Naserian suffered extreme grief following Nalitu’s death, because both these young cows adored her. Nalitu used to suckle each, as though they were a mother, and they shared the mothering role. Naserian, especially, felt her loss most, searching for her for days afterwards, and sinking into a depression that has lasted a very long time. Galana’s grief manifested itself with a marked grudge against the Keepers, whom she obviously thought may have been responsible for the baby’s departure. Meanwhile, the little boys, who are much “tougher” emotionally, have been able to turn the page easier, and carry on with their “one-upmanship”. Pushy little Buchuma, (who is gentle and loving towards anything without a trunk) continues his on-going tussle for dominance with Ndomot and, to a lesser extent, Madiba. Makosa, the rhino has been a disruptive element this month, turning up when least wanted, and the orphans made the acquaintance of our other grown orphaned rhino, Magnum, who was resting under a tree where they went to feed. All were fearful of him, except brave little Sunyei, who approached him, and would have liked to climb on his back, but was deterred from doing so by the Keepers.

Rain towards the end of the month has brought relief, and a sense of wellbeing to the orphans, in a month that has been marked by tragedy. The addition of Kora and Rapsu brings the Nursery total to 9.

The Rhino Orphans:- Makosa has made his presence felt this month, not least during the retrieval of “Rapsu”, who ran down the hill on being let out of the Stockade and had to be forcibly brought back home. Makosa’s input was not welcome! Again, he often turns up at the elephants’ mudbath, thrilling the visitors, but disrupting the programme there as well! He continues to return in the evenings, when he lays claim to his erstwhile Stockade, and if visitors are around, has to be locked in until they depart!

Shida, too, has had an over-dose of Makosa this month, chased around out in the bush on a day when they happened to meet. Makosa knows Shida, and probably only wanted to play, but Shida was disinclined to oblige this big friend with a very long, sharp horn.

Magnum continues to avoid Makosa, and has not been back to his former Stockade for many weeks now, which is just as well, because it has been taken over by Shida, to make room for “Rapsu”. Galana now occupies his previous quarters. Much to everyone’s astonishment, Shida took the move in his stride, which was most unexpected, because usually any change in a rhino’s routine causes a tremendous psychological upheaval. Amazingly, not so with Shida, who settled down even on the first night, sleeping happily near his rather disapidated “Keepers’ Coat” under cover at the far end. He continues to grow apace, and promises to be a fine specimen, just like our other two rhino orphans.

April 2005 day to day

01 Apr

It was a beautiful morning today, all the elephants enjoying the sun. Being a Friday, it was the day for oiling their skin with Coconut oil, and they all began a game of running around the Keepers, some lying down, which attracted the attention of pushy Buchuma, who rushed to try and climb on them. Little Nalitu was trying to suckle Naserian and Galana.

Leluruk, a favourite with the orphans

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