Keepers' Diaries, April 2010

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

The very sudden and unexpected death of a great Nursery favourite, Nchan, during the early hours of 15th April came as a devastating blow for us all. We had nurtured Nchan in the Nursery for a full year and she had always been a very happy and playful little elephant who appeared to be in good health with nothing untoward to warn us of such an impending disaster. She was deeply loved, both by all her Keepers as well as the other Nursery babies - a very caring and gentle little elephant who had the makings of a wonderful Matriarch and who enjoyed life to the full right up until the moment she was suddenly taken ill.

The very sudden and unexpected death of a great Nursery favourite, Nchan, during the early hours of 15th April came as a devastating blow for us all. We had nurtured Nchan in the Nursery for a full year and she had always been a very happy and playful little elephant who appeared to be in good health with nothing untoward to warn us of such an impending disaster. She was deeply loved, both by all her Keepers as well as the other Nursery babies - a very caring and gentle little elephant who had the makings of a wonderful Matriarch and who enjoyed life to the full right up until the moment she was suddenly taken ill.

Unusually she refused her 3 p.m. milk feed the previous afternoon, but we thought that she had probably simply eaten something that did not agree with her. However, obvious stomach pain turned alarming, so the Vet was hurriedly summonsed, who came and gave her Buscopan and an anti- inflammatory injection to ease her discomfort. Much to everyone’s relief, she seemed to be on the mend by evening for she took her milk feed at 6 p.m., 9 p.m. and also at midnight, but then suddenly began rolling on the ground in agony, her stomach rapidly distending like a balloon. The Keepers rushed to wake up Daphne and Angela who joined them in trying to massage Nchan’s blown belly, and get her to stand in order to walk her around in an effort to disperse the bloat, having given her another Buscopan injection. But, she was unable to stand, and her breathing was laboured. She died a short while later, surrounded by her sorrowing human family who were left in shock with no dry eyes.

An autopsy the next morning determined that peritonitis from a burst duodenal ulcer was the cause of death, and that there was nothing any of us could have done to save her. Whilst there was small consolation knowing this, we were left wondering why on earth Nchan developed an ulcer, for she was certainly never stressed whilst with us. Such a condition, according to the Vet, was probably as a result of earlier trauma and certainly Nchan’s rescue last April had been extremely traumatic. Having fallen down a well dug in the sands of the Milgis Lugga, she could only hear her elephant family walking away having given up all hope of rescuing her. Furthermore, having been hauled out by the Milgis Trust scouts literally moments before the lugga flooded in a raging torrent, she was left unattended during the night, in the hopes that her cries might bring the elephant family back to retrieve her. Although the scouts were keeping vigil over her to ward off the hungry hyenas that were gathering, Nchan must have been terror-stricken alone and so vulnerable during the hours of darkness. Having given up all hope of ever seeing her again, her elephant family had long gone, released from their dry season range by the rainwater that was suddenly available to them. Nchan had then to be over-powered by her human captors again, and flown to the Nursery the next morning.

Aside from this tragedy, the month has been dominated by intense daily competition between all the older Nursery females – Olare, Suguta, Ndii and Dida to secure possession of the smallest and latest Nursery baby, tiny Sities, so named because she came in last month on the day the delegates at the Doha Cites Conference voted in favour of the elephants on the ivory issue.. Every morning all the older females rush to Sities’ night stable to be at hand to welcome her the moment she emerges and offer up their ears for her to suckle. Olare, being the oldest and strongest, usually wins out, but Suguta, who is the main Matriarch of the small baby group accompanying Tano, Mutara, Shukuru, Chemi Chemi, Turkwel Kalama and Kimana who remain closer to home when the older elephants go out to browse, does not give up easily. Sities herself has selected Suguta as her favourite mother and unless hijacked by one of the other females, enjoys nestling beneath Suguta’s chin and sucking on her ears. On the 21st however Suguta arrived to find Olare already with Sities, and this didn’t go down well with her. Pretending to walk away, she then rapidly swung round and charged at Olare, taking her unawares and knocking her to the ground, but then knowing that reprisals would come, ran to hide behind the stables. It was poor Sabachi, an innocent onlooker, who bore the brunt of Olare’s wrath and found himself knocked down in place of the culprit. His bellows brought the Keepers hurriedly to his rescue and once the older elephants had been escorted out to the forest to browse, Suguta re-emerged to take possession of Sities and the other babies.

This month little Sities has been cutting her first molars and has been slightly off colour as a result, which is not unusual during the teething process, but always makes us anxious. By month end most of the first molars had erupted through the gum and she was feeling a little better, albeit having lost condition - no longer the plump baby she was on arrival. Again, this is not unusual as newcomers adjust to their new circumstances and different milk.

The very close friendship of Kilaguni and Kibo endures. The two are inseparable and each morning finds them seeking one another out to indulge in their favourite pastime – a pushing test of strength. Such bouts usually find Kilaguni dominant but as a very gentle little elephant, he is humble in victory and quick to comfort his opponent. However, Kibo had the satisfaction of winning one contest on a rainy day when Kilaguni lost his balance and slipped in the mud. Sabachi often longs to partake in the daily Kibo/Kilaguni games, but the two boys are quick to ignore his input.

Chemi Chemi on the other hand has proved a handful for his peers, taking every opportunity to shove them around, so much so that he has earned been nick-named “Al Quaida” by his Keepers. This “pushiness” is a frequent aftermath in the wake of losing the elephant family, and something that gradually corrects itself with the passage of time. For instance, Turkwel was the same on arrival, but to a lesser degree, and is now a very gentle and caring sub Nannie under Suguta, who is entrusted with little Sities, when Suguta takes time out to play with her friends or disperse the warthog family who are always around, since they feel safe close to the elephants and their Keepers. That said, a lion managed to grab an elderly mother pig, who has earned the name “Pembe” because she has one broken tusk, but fortunately the Keepers were at hand to save her. Having been bitten and scratched in the rump, she took to lying in the mudbath, refusing to budge for any elephant, and was sufficiently trusting to allow Angela to give her a penicillin jab which helped her recovery. The warthogs can always be relied upon to provide a distraction for the orphans, who enjoy chasing them providing they oblige by running away. The seasoned mother pigs often confront the elephants, which sends the orphans into disarray leaving them totally un-done for hours!

Since his arrival Chemi Chemi’s “pushiness” has been directed at his elephant peers, and never the Keepers, of whom he is very fond. Perhaps there was another little boy of his age in his erstwhile wild herd against whom he harboured a grudge or possibly he is resentful about losing his natural family. We will never know, but what we do know is that this behaviour is transitory and does not last once the orphans have recovered psychologically and are settled to their new circumstances. That said, however, Turkwel retains an antipathy towards Kalama for some reason, and likewise Kimana and Chaimu seem to have a score to be settle. Their pushing games often end up in a tough fight in which either one of the older elephants or the Keepers have to intervene. Olare has emerged the main Matriarch, ably assisted by Ndii, whilst Dida, who, in fact, is older, seems happy to take a back seat.

An interesting incident occurred on the 21st when Suguta mounted a demonstration of how to eject an intruder, something that was eagerly watched by Tano, Shukuru, Mutara, Turkwel and Chemi Chemi. With her ears out, she repeatedly charged and trampled down small shrubs, even attempted to go after birds flying overhead, all the while trumpeting. Mutara, Shukuru Tano and Turkwel then followed suit, soon joined by Chaimu, who had been feeding some way off. She curled her trunk up underneath her chin, and with head held high, charged bushes at high speed! Clearly all the youngster were suitably impressed by this demo!

Shukuru is totally besotted by one Keeper – the favourite of all orphaned elephants, and a man who has been with us since l987 – Mischak Nzimbi - the Keeper who helped Emily’s dying calf back to the Voi Stockades. If Mischak is around, Shukuru is glued to him, and becomes extremely possessive, wanting him all to herself. Every morning she mounts a search for him.

Frequent light showers of rain throughout the month have made the month of April entertaining for the Nursery elephants, who have enjoyed playing in the puddles, small running streams of rain run-off, and, of course, mud at every turn. Aside from the tragedy of losing Nchan, it has been a happy month for the orphans, several of whom are now ready for the transition to Tsavo, sporting small tusks, having passed their second birthday. Transfers will be taking place shortly, although the decision about who goes, and who stays has yet to be finalized. For instance, Suguta should be one to go, but her absence could upset Sities and compromise the health of a fragile baby who has only recently cut her first molars. Kilaguni and Kibo will probably be heading for Ithumba, where they will remember Meibai, and Dida and Ndii to Voi to join those they loved in the Nursery who have preceded them.

The Rhinos:- It has been a peaceful and uneventful month for our three rhino orphans. Shida continuing to turn up on a daily basis to check out blind Maxwell and indulge in a mock battle through the separating poles of their adjoining stockades. Maxwell looks forward to Shida’s visits, his cut greens, his mud and soil baths, a romp around his stockade, a rub up against the stumps of shrubs he has demolished, his filarial abrasions anointed with essential oil insect deterrents, accompanied by a tummy rub and his daily milk and porridge treats, even though he is almost fully grown, taller even than short Shida and no longer milk dependent! Maalim’s routine follows the same procedure each day, i.e. 4 hourly milk feeds, the rounds of rhino dungpiles and urinals during the hours of daylight in order to leave his specific “visiting cards” which are the pre-requisite to being accepted as part of the Park’s resident wild rhino community, a mudbath after all the visitors have left, so that he is not tempted to playfully “down” any of them, and by 6 p.m., back in his stable for a massage and a sleep beneath the beloved mattress during the night!

April 2010 day to day

01 Apr

All the babies emerged from their Night Stables in a happy mood, with Sities the centre of attraction for the older females. Olare, Suguta, Ndii and Dida each wanted her, but it was Olare who won the little newcomer’s affection, touching her tenderly with her trunk and allowing her to suckle on her ears. Meanwhile Dida, Suguta and Ndii were pushing and shoving in order to get close to Sities, whilst Shukuru, Tano and Mutara played rolling games close to the Keepers and Kilaguni and Kibo engaged one another in a test of strength. However, due to heavy overnight rain, the two contestants kept slipping and falling down. Once out in the bush, the older elephants fed calmly, while Sities, Shukuru and Tano remained close to their Keepers. However, Mutara decided that she was now a big elephant, and joined the older group.


Mutara hugging Shukuru