Keepers' Diaries, April 2009

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

The month of April brought another 5 Elephant Rescues, and two more deaths, leaving us with l8 baby elephants in the Nairobi Nursery until the departure to the Voi Rehabilitation Unit of Lesanju, Lempaute and Sinya, which took place on the 29th.

The month of April brought another 5 Elephant Rescues, and two more deaths, leaving us with l8 baby elephants in the Nairobi Nursery until the departure to the Voi Rehabilitation Unit of Lesanju, Lempaute and Sinya, which took place on the 29th.

The first new arrival was another well victim from the area around the Northern Frontier rescued by the KWS Warden of Isiolo and taken on the 4th to the Lewa Downs airstrip to await the arrival of the rescue plane. This was a young bull of about 6 weeks who was in reasonable shape upon arrival and was named “Isiolo” to identify his origin. By month end he was doing well.

The next two arrivals never made it. The first came in on Good Friday 10th April; a very emaciated victim, probably a victim of poaching, found alone, and obviously suffering rejection from visiting herds who came to drink at the same watering point near Satao Camp in Tsavo East National Park. Obviously, they did not want to be encumbered by a weak and ailing calf whose presence would jeopardize the survival of their own hard-pressed families during the height of a very serious drought. The abandoned calf was a female aged about 3 months, rescued by the Manager of Satao Camp in Tsavo East National Park and handed over to our Voi Elephant Keepers before being flown to the Nairobi Nursery. She was already suffering from black watery stools upon arrival and died 4 days later on the 14th April. This baby had been named “Pasaka”, by our Keepers, the Swahili word for “Easter”, and despite being immediately placed on life support Saline and Dextrose drips, she was too far gone to save. We suspected the Rota virus yet again, since Tsavo East is over-run with domestic livestock who share the watering points established in the Park to serve wildlife. Pasaka was a great loss, for she was a beautiful and very loving little elephant.

Just one day after the arrival in the Nursery of Pasaka, we found ourselves embroiled in yet another Elephant Rescue, this time a calf from the Kipsing area who became bogged in the mud of a drying and very polluted watering point believed to be infected with cholera. The extraction of the calf proved problematical, entailing help from Ol Malu Ranch officials who became covered in filth during the rescue and who had to have all their garments sterilized and also undergo a precautionary course of antibiotics against cholera. We named this month old bull calf “Sieku” to identify his origin, but he, too, was a “no-hoper”, from the start refusing milk. He simply grew progressively weaker until he collapsed and died on the 16th. It is most unusual for an infant elephant too young to suffer fear and suffering from milk deprivation to refuse milk, and in the absence of other identifying symptoms, so his sudden death came as a surprise. We suspect that he might have had internal injuries due to his ordeal.

Just a day later, on the 17th, we were embroiled in yet another Elephant Rescue from Maralal in Northern Kenya which had to be aborted at the llth hour as the plane was just about to land because it transpired that the calf had not even been captured, despite earlier assurances that it had!

The very next day on the l8th, the Rescue team was again airborne, this time heading for the Milgis area of Laikipia, where a baby female of about 6 weeks, had been retrieved from a well. She arrived in good condition and so far is thriving. We named this orphan “Nchan”, the Samburu word for “rain”, since every Kenyan in the North is praying for rain to relieve what has been a desperately long, hot drought period during which most of their precious livestock have also perished. So far, little Nchan is thriving so we are hopeful and pray that she and Isiolo will live to enjoy a second chance of a long and happy life.

Training began towards the end of the month for the transfer to the Voi Rehabilitation Centre of Lesanju, Lempaute and Sinya, there to join Wasessa, Shimba, Mzima and Siria who were moved a month or two ago to free up Nursery space for the plethora of new arrivals with others expected. Whilst Lesanju and Sinya willingly entered the parked trucks in order to take their milk feeds, Lempaute would have none of it, obviously associating the parked vehicles with the disappearance of many of her friends during the almost 3 years she has been in the Nursery. When the auspicious day of departure arrived (29th April) everything surprisingly went very smoothly, Lempaute amazingly resigned to the inevitable once Sinya and Lesanju had each disappeared inside their particular parked truck. The three vehicles carrying our 3 precious Nursery seniors drew out of the yard at 5.30 a.m. in the morning, and were at their Tsavo East Voi destination by 12.30 p.m., greeted enthusiastically by their 4 friends. Recognition was instant, and Lesanju lost no time in asserting her authority over the entire unit, Wasessa pleased to accept her back as Leader of the group, and no doubt relieved no longer to be the only female.

Since the three older elephants have long been set to leave the Nursery, we have minimized the contact the juniors have had with them to avoid strong bonds forming that will cause emotional upset when the older elephants leave. However, Kenia was taken from the Older Set to take over Leadership of the infant group, and to try and keep order amongst so many tiny infants, not all of whom are as well behaved as they ought to be towards each another. Pushy members of the Junior set such as Kimana and Ndii are often embroiled in an altercation during milk feeds, with Suguta and Sabachi also inclined to throw their weight around the others. However, Kenia is intolerant of bad behaviour, especially when her own milk feed is threatened and Kimana has earned her disapproval on several occasions, as has Suguta. On one occasion after Suguta interrupted her milk feed, Kenia retaliated by chasing her off, taking hold of her tail as she retreated, and giving it a sharp nip!

Cause for concern over Sabachi manifested itself towards the end of the month, when he woke up with a hugely swollen back right leg, runny stools and a cloudy left eye. Since there seemed no explanation to account for this sudden apparently overnight development, we eventually came to the conclusion that it could only be as a result of a bite from a small spitting cobra, which possibly was concealed in the hay of his stable and which bit him in the leg and spat in his eye. For several days he was afraid to lie down, but having been given injectible anti-inflammatories along with a course of antibiotic and having his eye diligently washed out regularly, he soon recovered, but was very uncomfortable for a while.

The 29th was not only the day Lesanju, Lempaute and Sinya left, but also a day that brought the arrival of yet another newcomer, this time a baby bull of 5 – 6 weeks old from Mugi Ranch in Laikipia, whose mother died on the 16th suffering from a huge abscess on her flank. Her calf had been with the herd ever since, but becoming progressively weaker, although he must have had access to at least a little milk from another lactating female to have been able to last so long. Having been identified and captured by the Ranch management assisted by British Army personnel who were on hand at the time, he had a Saline and Dextrose drip inserted into an ear vein for the flight to keep him going, and arrived in the Nursery in a state of extreme emaciation coupled with diarrheoa, so all the stops had to be pulled out instantly. Fortunately, he responded well, and rapidly gained strength, to be able to join the other 14 infants on day two. He has been named “Olkeju”after a low hill close to where he was captured and where his mother died.

It has been good to see both Shira and Tassia gradually recovering from the emotional trauma of losing their elephant family, and sad to see the emotional turmoil in the minds of little Isiolo and Nchan, both of whom have been seeking solitude this month out in the bush, something that is common amongst grieving newcomers who can recollect life with their mother and amongst the herd. Only very newborns lacking in fear and comprehension are spared this phase. The established females such as Mawenzi, Kenia and Ndii do their utmost to comfort grieving newcomers, following them, touching them tenderly under the chin with their trunks, and laying a trunk gently over their backs in a gesture of friendship and love. Nor are the young bulls impervious to the distress of others. They, too, go out of their way to instill comfort and sympathy, understanding the extent of a loss they themselves have experienced.

The Rhinos:- Maalim continues to grow, but is still a miniature for his age, now almost 4 months old and one third of the size he ought to be. Physically, he is different to most other baby rhinos, but mentally he is as sharp as a needle! His diminutive size is his charm, and secretly we all wish he would remain so, especially when 5 year old Shida turns up in a bad mood, which he has often done this month, venting his fury on an unfortunate warthog who as usual entered his stockade to partake of his hand-out of Copra. We have found ourselves in a dilemma over Shida, knowing that he is safest close to home with rhinos again being targeted for their horns both within the Protected Areas and without. The recent upsurge in both elephant and rhino poaching this year, not to mention the bushmeat offtake of other species, is of mounting and very grave concern to all, especially as the Coalition Government is too busy politicking about rank and power to focus on the more important issues that threaten the country. If only there was a safe place to which we could transfer Shida, where we could be sure he would be safe, we would consider doing so for obvious reasons. Sadly, that safe place is becoming increasingly difficult to locate.

Meanwhile Maxwell continues to enjoy his sheltered blind existence, never having known otherwise, with an abundance of food and water at hand and the daily visits of Shida still the highlight that brings excitement. He is a magnificent specimen, now the same size of Shida despite being just 2 1/2 years old. Shida is a somewhat squat rhino with unusually short legs supporting his barrel body, but he sports an impressive forward pointing horn which no doubt stands him in good stead over any wild adversaries! We have seen him fraternizing happily with wild visiting rhinos at the Salt Lick abutting the compound so he is well integrated into the wild community of Nairobi National Park.

April 2009 day to day

01 Apr

Maalim had just finished his noon mudbath, when he suddenly heard two baby warthogs approaching from behind. He spun round, lowered his head, and walked determinedly towards them. However, since the baby warthogs were the same size as him, they were not deterred, and continued to advance, whereupon Maalim lost his nerve and rushed to his Keepers for protection!

Maalim out and about