Keepers' Diaries, April 2013

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

It has been an extremely wet and stormy month in the Nursery, turning the yard and particularly Maxwell’s Stockade into an endless veritable mudbath! The weather has also meant that any very young or fragile elephants have had to remain indoors when raining for fear of pneumonia, and since all elephants hate being confined, this is never popular.

It has been an extremely wet and stormy month in the Nursery, turning the yard and particularly Maxwell’s Stockade into an endless veritable mudbath! The weather has also meant that any very young or fragile elephants have had to remain indoors when raining for fear of pneumonia, and since all elephants hate being confined, this is never popular.

We bade farewell to Turkwel, Kainuk and Sities on the 3rd, who embarked on their journey to the Ithumba Rehabilitation Centre in Northern Tsavo East. We also had to bury our precious baby Bocha who died the previous night after a long but unsuccessful struggle to try and save him after coming in already compromised by having been fed cows’ milk prior to arrival. We simply could not get control of his diarrheoa.

The 4th brought us the newborn baby girl “Ajabu”, found abandoned and alone at the KWS Voi airfield and who was held overnight at the Voi Stockades it being too late to send the rescue plane that day. She was flown to the Nursery the following day, her umbilicus still moist and soft, and the hind-side of her ears pink. Since it was doubtful whether she had even suckled her elephant mother to get the first colostrum milk containing antibodies vital to survival, she was immediately given a sizeable intravenous infusion of Elephant Plasma drawn from the frozen reserves we hold in stock for such cases. Her name “Ajabu” means “mystery”, it being a mystery as to why she was abandoned immediately after birth since there has been no evidence of a dead mother in the vicinity.

The 8th brought a very special orphan to the Nursery, yearling “Tundani” from the Tundani area of the Tiva watercourse in Northern Tsavo East, an area frequented by our now wild Ex Orphans and their wild friends and where 11 Elephants were recently gunned down by poachers. Having been spotted from the air by the Trust’s aerial surveillance Supercub, his was a dramatic rescue in a remote area inaccessible by road, amidst extremely challenging conditions and following heavy rainstorms. Involved in the rescue along with the Ithumba Keepers and members of our De-Snaring team was the Canadian Film Unit who filmed the rescue of Sities three years ago, and were present to record the next stage of her life’s journey. A path had to be hacked through dense undergrowth to be able to get a vehicle to the orphaned baby once it had been captured. He was taken to the Ithumba Stockades pending the arrival of the Rescue Plane which was on its way from Nairobi, the unusual thing being that this yearling calf was totally relaxed and at home with the human Keepers right from the beginning, suckling their fingers and with no fear whatsoever. This for a wild caught calf of his age is unique, and something never experienced before during the 50 years that Daphne Sheldrick has been involved with orphaned Elephants. To her mind there can be just one explanation and that is that “Tundani” has been in contact with our Ex Orphans and possibly might have even visited the Stockade water trough with his wild mother and observed the interaction of the Keepers with their orphaned Elephant “family”. There is no other reason for an elephant of his age to be confident around humans in an area that has suffered heavy poaching. Once at the Nursery his behaviour was identical, and although at first we thought him too calm for comfort, he was soon out and about with the other elephants choosing to remain as close as possible to the human Keepers out in the bush and perfectly relaxed during the public viewing hour. Tundani has left us marveling even further at the intelligence of Elephants. Laragai showered him in special affection as soon as he arrived, extending her trunk through the separating poles of their various Stockades to comfort and reassure.

For the first 10 days of April, we had to struggle very hard in order to save the life of last month’s Amboseli albino Nursery newcomer, Jasiri, who came in so close to dying that he kept falling into a coma and had to be revived by intravenous life support. Each time he spent what little strength he had charging the Keepers before collapsing again. Finally balls of cooked oatmeal porridge laced with Glucose in addition to his milk fed to him by hand throughout the day and night saved him, and he is also now out and about with the other Nursery Elephants, bonding closely with what could be his half-brother, another albino from Amboseli, Faraja. Both calves have obviously been fathered by the only known Big Amboseli Albino Bull and could even have known each other during their previous wild life.

Concern persists over the health of Tano, especially after she fell down on the 24th. She is still not her old self, although no evidence other than anaemia showed in earlier blood samples after the initial antibiotic course, but there now seems to be a reoccurrence of the infection she had on her return. While she takes her milk avidly, she feeds on greens reluctantly, remains dull and obviously has some obvious underlying chronic condition that has so far defied treatment. She has not reasserted authority as the Nursery Matriarch, although Ngasha enjoys spending time with her, but lately has attached himself to Kihari, having initially chosen Naipoki who is still not entirely sure that she wants to take on that mantle. Kihari, Ishaq-B and Sonje are much more so while Murera, although the oldest Nursery female has shown no interest, preferring to remain a free and independent spirit devoid of encumbrances. Naipoki and Kihari have spent a lot of time focused on Jasiri, obviously understanding his fragility.

Meanwhile, Orwa has morphed into the biggest and strongest Nursery Boy who has had a lot of fun this month challenging both Bomani and Teleki, the elephants deliberately slipping and sliding in the process. Orwa was so weak when he first came in that he could barely stand without support but originating from the remnant South Turkana population, he has strong genes honed by natural selection down the ages. Although still young, he clearly enjoys the feeling of Bull independence deliberately walking alone in a stately manner way behind the others

Miniature Kithaka is growing apace now, but still has a long way to catch up with others of his age. He is particularly attached to Naipoki, Kihari and Sonje since the departure of the older elephants, while his best friend, Lemoyian prefers Ishaq-B. Sonje always used to be one of the Nursery “Pushers”, but has done a U-turn now, and is proving a caring and attentive Mini Matriarch while Lemoyian from a wobbly beginning is now a plump and strong baby bull, up to challenging Barsilinga to Pushing Matches with good results.

Best friends Balguda and Kwale took to ganging up each morning to tease Faraja, running to his stable at first light swinging their trunks happily. Faraja ready and waiting for them issues a warning of outspread ears that slows up their advance, but while Balguda engages Faraja from the front, Ngasha sneaks to the back and pushes him from behind. This uneven contest always brings either Naipoki, Kihari or Sonje to the rescue in response to Faraja’s bellows, whereupon the two mischievous boys hurriedly make good their escape! This has not ingratiated them with Faraja, who will undoubtedly seek to settle the score once he is stronger, and who will also enjoy the backing of Jasiri once he has recovered his strength! There were indications of this towards the end of the month with Faraja pushing away Kwale and Balguda whenever they happen to be near him.

Teleki, Narok and Quanza are good friends, while Laragai and Lima lima are close companions, both endowed with the qualities that will make proficient Matriarchs in the future. Lima lima is a particularly friendly and gentle member of the orphaned herd, while Quanza still remains wary of all humans, keeping her distance from even the Keepers except at milk feeding times.

The Rhinos:- It was an extremely dramatic event for blind Maxwell, whose door somehow opened during a heavy night rainstorm and he found himself outside his Enclosure! Somehow the securing screw bolt came loose and Max walked out possibly following the scent trail of Solio which was lost by more rain. Daylight found him crashing around Angela’s front yard near the Orphans’ mudbath, confused and scared in unfamiliar surroundings The Keepers, armed with Lucerne, bananas and a bottle of milk managed to lead him safely back home and once back in familiar surroundings he was clearly relieved to be on home turf again!

Meanwhile, Solio has demonstrated that she wants the door to her Stockade left open at night, so that she can come and go at will. Having taken to spending nights away from base before returning, now that her door is open at night, she has been returning each evening to be closed in while visiting foster-parents are around. Once they have left, she bangs the door with her horn to alert the Keepers that she needs it open! Solio is now a free spirit and has demonstrated to us humans very clearly that she is now fully integrated into the wild rhino community, and that she no longer needs human supervision, especially during the hours of darkness when rhino friends are out and about. Since she is no longer locked in at night she has been returning much more consistently in the evenings to keep in touch with Max and the Lucerne provided for them both.

April 2013 day to day

01 Apr

Turkwel, Kainuk and Sities are still rehearsing for their move to the Ithumba Rehabilitation facility in N. Tsavo East. Having previously been reluctant to enter the Elephant Mover Truck, Sities gained confidence when she saw Orwa, Naipoki and Ishaq-B going in without hesitation. Meanwhile poor tiny “Bocha” continues to fight for survival, his stools continuing to be very loose.

Turkwel, Sities and Kainuk practising getting int

Bocha's rescue