Keepers' Diaries, April 2012

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

April has been an extremely hectic month for us. April Fools’ Day brought a surprise first thing in the morning, which, according to tribal custom, should have been a good omen but seems to have turned out otherwise - a large python curled up in a bush beside the Orphans’ mudbath! Everyone was up early to take a look, and not enjoying such attention, the snake moved off once all the excitement had died down!

April has been an extremely hectic month for us. April Fools’ Day brought a surprise first thing in the morning, which, according to tribal custom, should have been a good omen but seems to have turned out otherwise - a large python curled up in a bush beside the Orphans’ mudbath! Everyone was up early to take a look, and not enjoying such attention, the snake moved off once all the excitement had died down!

The death of newcomer, 8 month old “Kerio”, rescued from the Kerio Valley at the end of last month came as no surprise that first early morning of April, since this calf was more dead than alive when she came in. She was on and off life support throughout her first 24 hours in the Nursery but died at 6 a.m.

The 9th (Easter Monday) brought us a 2 – 3 month old female elephant baby given the name “Maralal”, rescued from a cattle well near the Karisia forest near the town of Maralal. Sadly, this calf, too, was another who did not make it having arrived in the midst of teething (which is always life threatening), her digestive system in turmoil and she so grief stricken that she could not sleep, crying incessantly for her mother, despite all the calming homeopathic remedies we could think of. Tragically, despite our best efforts, she lacked the will to live, losing condition rapidly and passing away two weeks later on the 24th. Her sudden absence was felt deeply by the Nursery elephants, all of whom adored her and also did their best to comfort her, but to no avail. Little Kithaka, especially, was deeply saddened and grieving for several days, far from his usual self.

The 14th brought another nasty shock – this time an infant White Rhino rescued from Meru National Park with a smashed back leg and a suspicious looking hole in the chest indicative of a possible bullet ricochet from the automatic fire that probably killed his White Rhino mother and shattered his back leg, although the KWS Vet that accompanied him suggested that it was as a result of a hyaena mauling. The tiny calf, no more than 2 weeks old, arrived in the Nursery soon after dark on a Saturday so all we could do that night was splinter the broken leg and make arrangements for two competent Vet/Surgeons to operate on the leg the next morning (Sunday). Sadly, however, the baby rhino died as it was being carried to the operating table. The wounds were not fresh and seriously infected, so septicemia was pronounced the cause of death. The chest hole was very and indicative of a bullet.

That very same day there was yet another Rescue alert, this time from Wamba in Laikipia, where a mother elephant, had been shot by poachers and left so severely wounded that she could no longer move, bleeding profusely from the mouth and with shattered front legs. She was found by the community and had a small calf at foot. Having alerted the KWS authorities, a KWS Vet came to assess the situation and concluding that there was no hope of recovery for the poached mother, euthenazed her and rescued the calf. Our Rescue team flew to Wamba airstrip and brought the baby back to the Nairobi Nursery, arriving soon after dark. It was a 2 – 3 month old baby bull given the name “Barsilinga”. Although in good condition, having had his mother’s milk, he was extremely traumatized and restless, bellowing all night which upset all the other Nursery Elephants, especially Naipoki, who did likewise without any let up, keeping all the humans awake. However, the baby took his milk well, and was able to join the other Nursery gang the very next day, as usual welcomed extremely warmly by all.

Nor did it end there, since another elephant orphan was rescued by our Voi Elephant Keepers in Tsavo East National Park during the late afternoon of the 20th, held overnight at the Voi Elephant Stockades and airlifted to the Nursery on the 21st, We named him “Balguda” a place name in Tsavo not far from where he was found. Since Turkwel’s stable was in the process of being partitioned in order to accommodate him, he joined the resident Orphans immediately, instantly embraced by all, especially the Big Girls, Mutara, Shukuru, Tano, Makireti and Turkwel. However, Ishanga, desperate for custody of the new baby, pulled a cunning number – she began to run, closely followed by the newcomer and another nervous relative newcomer, Kanjoro, who has been prone to escape ever since his arrival! This took everyone by surprise, including the Keepers, who had to embark on a search that lasted until dusk. Eventually the three truants were rounded up having been found some 2 kms. away, browsing peacefully near the Banda Gate! It had been an exhausting day for all, not least little “Balguda”, newly orphaned and newly rescued having endured a plane ride from Voi to Nairobi that very day!

The Keepers have had difficulty with Kanjoro all month. He has yet to fully settle and recover from the ordeal of being orphaned and also losing half his tail to hyaenas, not helped by Ishanga, who has turned into “a tail biter”! Kanjoro, (like all of his age who are recovering from trauma, is inclined to be “pushy” during milk feeds) which is a symptom of post traumatic stress. He has also been prone to running back into the forest from the mudbath venue having taken his milk to join the older elephants who await their turn. However, on one such occasion, he failed to meet up with the older elephants, instead fleeing deep into the bush. Again the Keepers had to instigate a search, during which they bumped into 4 lions ambushing 2 old bull buffaloes! Kanjoro is fortunate not to have met his end by them! It surprised everyone that little Balguda chose him initially as a favourite, until he was embraced by gentle and lovable Orwa ho is known as “the Wonder Boy” by the Keepers. Sonje, still healing psychologically, is “pushy” towards all close to her at feeding times, even Orwa, who is her best Nursery friend.

Orwa is a very special elephant – exceedingly gentle with compassion and empathy for all newcomers whom he seeks out to comfort. He has been a wonderful companion to injured 2 1/2 year old Murera, also from Meru National Park, who has a paralysed back limb having fallen awkwardly after treading on poachers’ concealed poisoned spikes. So far Murera’s injured back leg, which is swollen at the knee joint, shows little sign of improvement, but, according to the Vets, is not broken. A kind Osteopath donates time twice weekly to work on the injured leg and apart from this, homeopathic remedies kindly donated by Lesley Suter (Our Homeopathic Dr. in the U.K.) a great deal of t.l.c. and time, there is little else that can be done to try and heal this tragic victim of human greed and cruelty.

Kasigau is the Nursery’s sole big male and misses a sparring partner of his age against whom to test his strength, which is the favourite pastime of little boy elephants. He has been targeting “Kanjoro” who, being much younger and still weakened, is no match for him. He has also been trying his luck on the Big Girls, who will have none of it, and gang up to see him off! He will meet his match when he graduates to Ithumba which will be just as soon as the country turns green in Tsavo! Playful Nursery Junior girls are Naipoki (who adores Balguda), Sities, Kihari, (a shy and gentle character) and Ishaq-B who is a very “good” little elephant, always eager to do as the Keepers wish and, unlike most, uncomplaining about any change in the sleeping arrangements. She has been moved to Turkwel’s erstwhile night quarters as company for Balguda, while Turkwel and her “shadow”, Kainuk now amicably share the largest Stockade, something that has pleased Kainuk no end. Turkwel and Kainuk have always been exceptionally close, both ex South Turkana elephant orphans who could conceivably have known one another when wild, since that population is nearing annihilation. When Turkwel is upgraded to one of the Rehab Centres, Kainuk will simply have to be along as well because to separate them would cause both enormous stress. Ready to be upgraded are Mutara, Shukuru, Tano, Makireti, Kilabasi, and possibly Turkwel and Kainuk as well as Kasigau, although one of the bigger girls (probably Shukuru) might have to remain as the Nursery Matriarch, ably assisted by both Sities and Naipoki, who are already displaying female elephant maternal caring attributes, Naipoki wanting to “mother” Balguda in the absence of the Big Girls, and Sities anxious to do the same.

Little Kithaka, who had such a difficult time teething, still causes concern, since he does not appear to be growing as he should. At the end of the month he appeared to have stomach pain, walking about from the others, and rolling on the ground as though in pain. However, he took his next milk feed, and later appeared O.K. He adores the special blanket which hangs in his Night Stable, against which he likes to rest his trunk when taking milk. Any other blanket hung out in the bush is never quite the same! He inspects the milk wheelbarrow, then runs back to his stable to stand in front of that special blanket in order to down his milk!

By month end, the number of orphans in the Nairobi Nursery was 20 – almost a full house, so more Stockades are being erected to house others that are sure to come in due to the escalation of poaching throughout Africa fuelled by the demand for ivory in the Far East, especially China, and the influx of Chinese Nationals into Africa who are at hand as Middlemen Buyers of illicit ivory and rhino horn.

The Rhinos:- Due to several heavy downpours of rain during the month Blind Maxwell’s Stockade has been transformed into one huge mudbath, but for his sleeping shelter in which clean hay forms a dry bed. Just one small stump left in the middle of his Stockade acts as his special scratching post, and dry earth is brought in regularly so that he can enjoy a drier dustbath rather than the interminable mud during the rainy season. Max makes the most of the mud, rolling in it, hooking it up and throwing it around using his sizeable horn, and plastering his body in a thick coating. After this he becomes very playful, racing around his Stockade as skillfully as any sighted rhino, leaving onlookers incredulous. The highlight of every day is the return of Solio, who is next door. As soon as she appears, he is ready and waiting with tail up and head down to engage her playfully between the separating poles.

Solio, meanwhile leaves her Night Stockade first thing in the morning, accompanied by two Keepers who do their best to trail her, but usually end up left high and dry when she runs off and sequesters herself in a thicket. This is a favourite trick of hers to try and give the humans the slip! She now ventures far and wide, searching for the middens of wild rhinos on which to leave her mark and advertise her presence. The fact that she is now confident going solo, indicates that she has been accepted as a member of the Nairobi Park rhino community. In the late afternoon she is happy to bring herself back home to her comfortable Stockade and a handout of delicious Lucerne, which both she and Max adore, trailed by two exhausted Keepers! Solio duty is not a priority of the Keepers’ daily agenda, but all have to do their turn!

April 2012 day to day

01 Apr

There was great excitement at dawn when the Keepers noticed a large python curled up in a bush beside the Orphans’ mudbath, everyone coming to take a look at the snake, which, later moved on. Meanwhile Tano and Shukuru gathered outside Kerio’s stable, hoping to escort the baby out, but little Kerio was on life support, not sufficiently strong to even stand. After the younger orphans had taken their milk at mudbath time, Kanjoro sneaked off to join the older group, who were at the next sitting, turning up again with them, hoping for another ration on milk! He has turned into a very greedy boy!

Tano browsing

Shukuru smelling the air