Keepers' Diaries, August 2001

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Overview - Nursery Elephants:- Currently, we have five baby elephants in the Nairobi Nursery - Nasalot and Mulika who are now over one year old, and ought really to be in Tsavo, but who were kept behind so that the little Ugandan, "Mweya" would not be alone. Then there is Mweya herself, who is now in her ninth month and who was joined by "Sweet Sally" on 23rd July and "Thoma", a tiny two month old elephant, another victim of "problem animal control", brought into the Nursery more dead than alive on the 11th August, her back legs pock-marked with puncture wounds (probably from being beaten with barbed wire) and in a state, to say the least. So traumatised that she did not sleep for an entire week, we and her Keepers were at a loss as to what to do to soothe this tiny calf. Finally, there was celebration when she collapsed and slept for 6 consecutive hours on the seventh day, but it was still some time before she was well enough to join the others, and many weeks before she could sleep peacefully. Hot towels laid against all her sores brought some relief and inject-able antibiotics and colloidal silver did the rest. Then she developed serious diarrhoea, which was very life threatening in her frail condition. This, as usual, we treated initially with homeopathy and colloidal silver, but had to resort to oral sulphonomides and finally injectable antibiotic to which Salmonella bacteria is sensitive. Thankfully, this healed Thoma entirely, and today, a month has passed and she is sleeping well, feeding well, and beginning to play. Her recovery has been helped immensely by the caring and gentle "mothering" of Mulika, who immediately took both her and Sweet Sally under her care, comforting and loving them both, never far from Thoma's side. Nasalot has Mweya as "her" special baby, and it was interesting to note that she made no attempt to take on the next two smaller calves, understanding that it was now Mulika's turn. Probably she also finds that Mweya is more than a bundle of mischief to handle!

Overview - Nursery Elephants:- Currently, we have five baby elephants in the Nairobi Nursery - Nasalot and Mulika who are now over one year old, and ought really to be in Tsavo, but who were kept behind so that the little Ugandan, "Mweya" would not be alone. Then there is Mweya herself, who is now in her ninth month and who was joined by "Sweet Sally" on 23rd July and "Thoma", a tiny two month old elephant, another victim of "problem animal control", brought into the Nursery more dead than alive on the 11th August, her back legs pock-marked with puncture wounds (probably from being beaten with barbed wire) and in a state, to say the least. So traumatised that she did not sleep for an entire week, we and her Keepers were at a loss as to what to do to soothe this tiny calf. Finally, there was celebration when she collapsed and slept for 6 consecutive hours on the seventh day, but it was still some time before she was well enough to join the others, and many weeks before she could sleep peacefully. Hot towels laid against all her sores brought some relief and inject-able antibiotics and colloidal silver did the rest. Then she developed serious diarrhoea, which was very life threatening in her frail condition. This, as usual, we treated initially with homeopathy and colloidal silver, but had to resort to oral sulphonomides and finally injectable antibiotic to which Salmonella bacteria is sensitive. Thankfully, this healed Thoma entirely, and today, a month has passed and she is sleeping well, feeding well, and beginning to play. Her recovery has been helped immensely by the caring and gentle "mothering" of Mulika, who immediately took both her and Sweet Sally under her care, comforting and loving them both, never far from Thoma's side. Nasalot has Mweya as "her" special baby, and it was interesting to note that she made no attempt to take on the next two smaller calves, understanding that it was now Mulika's turn. Probably she also finds that Mweya is more than a bundle of mischief to handle!

When Mweya arrived and became Nasalot's favourite, Mulika was a little jealous and "off" towards them both, leaving us to conclude that she was not as caring as previous older elephants. But there has been a complete character change since the arrival of Sweet Sally and Thoma and she is now much more attentive than Nasalot is to Mweya. She will make a wonderful Matriarch one day, and before then, a very caring and conscientious little "Nannie" in the same way that Aitong has slotted into this important role within Emily's growing family.

Since then, Thoma has chummed up with Mweya, and together they enjoy chasing the warthogs, Mweya even going down on her knees to mimic the pigs feeding whenever she meets them at the mudbath. Chasing the warthogs with ears out like saucers, trying to squeeze out a squeaky trumpet, is the favourite sport of the Nursery elephants. This always takes place during the mudbath to the delight of all the human onlookers.

Of all our elephants, Mweya is definitely the strongest character and also the most precocious and mischievous but all endearing, a great favourite with all our direct on-line foster parents. She boasts more than any of the others which is not surprising, because as the ultimate "show-off", she dominates the daily mudbath. Thankfully she is also now much better behaved in terms of charging the people in fun, confining such activities to the warthogs.

Sweet Sally is a rather shy, gentle little elephant, now more interested in food than anything else, which is very gratifying in view of her reluctance to feed in the beginning. Her little cheeks, once sunken revealing a prominent cheek bone, are now filling out, and she plays happily in the mudbath. Whenever a baby elephant begins to play, there is joy in our hearts, for we know we are winning. The Swahili word "cheza", meaning play, is something that we constantly enquire of the Keepers and when the answer is in the affirmative, we are all elated, although there are still many pitfalls that can manifest themselves before one can have the luxury of complacency.

The Nursery routine is somewhat mundane compared to that of the older orphans already graduated to Tsavo. The babies are accompanied by their Keepers 24 hours a day, the Keepers working in shifts and rotating for the nights, so that a different Keeper sleeps with each elephant each night. During the day they go as a group, leaving their Night Stables at dawn, fed throughout the day (and the night) the older elephants now settled into a 3 hourly feeding routine, the younger ones still fed on demand. They spend the morning in the Nairobi Park forest, where they play with each other, and sticks and stones, chase the warthogs and interact with their Keepers. Mudbath is between 11 a.m. and 12 noon when the public arrive to watch the proceedings for an hour, and they come in droves. Upon leaving they are all given information sheets, hopefully make a few purchases from our little shop and leave a donation in the orphans' box. This open hour is aimed mostly at local people, most of whom have never set eyes on an elephant, so it is an important P.R. exercised endorsed by the Kenya Wildlife Service who provide an armed Ranger to ensure that noone snatches the takings, all of which, in their entirety, support the Orphans Programme.

At 12 noon the elephants return to the bush, returning to the Night Stables just before six, when they settle down with their Keepers, sleeping in physical contact with the Keeper against a mattress, and being fed throughout the night. Each elephant has a little book where the Keepers record the amount of milk taken in a 24 hour period, which is monitored carefully by us on a daily basis. Any drop in appetite provides early warning of things amiss, because baby elephants are essentially very fragile, and only years of experience and expertise can determine when a youngster is off colour - the brightness of the eyes, the texture of the stools, the elasticity or otherwise of the skin, and the calf's general demeanour are early indicators that have to be taken very seriously. Experience and expertise comes into deciding what is wrong and what to do about it before resorting to calling the Vet, and even then, we consult closely with the Vet since he understands that our hands-on experience and past mistakes are important.

Thoma comes from a refugee population of elephants now completely isolated in a small patch of remnant forest near what used to be known as Thomson's Falls, (named for the British Explorer, Joseph Thomson) but which is now Nyahururu. These elephants shelter in the depths of the forest during daylight hours of human activity, venturing out under cover of darkness to feed on whatever they can find, which is usually cultivated crops. Being labelled "problem animals" they face death on a daily basis, so it is a beleaguered and dwindling population, doomed in the long term, their migration routes cut by dense human settlement, disturbed even within their forest stronghold by illegal logging. Little Thoma became separated from her family as the elephants were driven out of croplands during the night. She was then loaded into a small Crate intended for a trapped lion, and driven in the back of a truck to Mweiga Airfield near the Aberdare Park, where we found her unconscious and barely breathing having flown up to collect her.

Tsavo Orphans:- It has been an eventful month for the Tsavo orphans, due to the adventures and misadventures of Ndume, who has been led astray by his wild bull friends, and who also got Lewa into trouble. The misadventures of Ndume and Lewa are chronicled under the Update Section of our web page.

Because Maungu, still needs four hourly feeding throughout the day, the Orphans have now been separated into three groups; the baby group which includes Maungu, Kinna, Yatta, Mukwaju and Nyiro, who do not travel so far from the Stockades and are usually taken into the Headquarter perimeter fence in order to be closer to where the milk has to be mixed. The older, but still milk dependent orphans in their weaning year, who are fed just three times a day, (known as Natumi's group,) leave the Stockades along with Emily's adopted family, but Emily and Aitong are independent of their Keepers and often peel off to feed further afield, and interact with other wild elephants, yet always keeping in close touch with the smaller calves. Two calves within Emily's family are also still milk dependent, Mweiga, who is a rather frail little elephant, and Tsavo who is still under two and Emily and Aitong are very conscious of the fact that they must be present for their milk feeds.

The Big Boys, (independent of both milk and their Keepers) are free spirits and go where they will, but as part of the Orphan Elephant family, still keep in touch, especially during the dry season when they come to the Stockades for Copra supplementation. This group includes Edo (who is very fond of Emily ever since they shared the Nursery, and who still chooses to spend a lot of time with her, fitting indeed, since his mother was named "Emily"), Dika, Ndume Uaso and Lewa whilst Lissa, her calf and Nanny Mpenzi are virtually wild elephants and also free spirits yet keep looser contact with our orphans. Totally independent and obviously perfectly at home as totally wild elephants again, since they have not returned for many years now, are Chuma, Taru, Ajok, Olmeg, Mary and her offspring and Eleanor. These orphans are the true successes of the Trust and have overcome the hurdle of being hand-reared by humans, perhaps tutored by the wild elephants that humans are best avoided! It is also possible that they are with herds based much further afield for Tsavo is a very large Park, the size of Michigan State, Israel or Wales, with the s p a c e elephants need to enjoy a quality of life. There is no reason that they should stay close to home unless they opt to do so.

Dika is a gentle, but now very large 14 year old, with long thick tusks. He walks tall with the dignity that befits a true bull elephant, and is always extremely gentle with the youngsters. Whenever any of the Big Boys, as extensions of the Orphans family, return, they are greeted with such joy by all the others that it is touching to see. Dika has appeared only on a few occasions this month, obviously preoccupied with the company of his wild friends. Occasionally he takes Lewa and Uaso under his wing, but "Uncle Edo" is their favourite, and Ndume attractive to them as a naughty and adventurous prankster fond of breaking out of the boundaries of the Park to seek forbidden fruits beyond.

Amongst the youngest set, Kinna, although only two years old, is the self appointed little mother of Maungu and this is very gratifying because Maungu, as a newcomer, needs that comfort. Kinna is also a dominant character, asserting authority over Yatta, although these two are very supportive of one another, ganging up to keep the little bulls in line. All young bull elephants, as can be seen from the Diary, are very competitive, and in the youngest set Nyiro and Mukwaju feature prominently, along with Salama, Lolokwe and Laikipia, who are within Natumi's group. Like boy children, little bull elephants love testing the strength and dominance of each other as they grow up.

August is within the height of the dry season in Tsavo, which is an arid area anyway, so it is a month of hardship, when finding enough browse supercedes other more pleasurably activities. Yet, there has been a lot of play amongst our orphans, which demonstrates their sense of security and well being. Emily and Imenti play together on a daily basis, still very close, as they were when they shared the Nursery. Imenti remains the Protector and leads the chase to expel unwanted intruders in their path, working himself and Emily into a playful frenzy that takes a toll of the bushes!

Who says animals can't reason? The ploy of Laikipia to be first at the Milk Bar clearly illustrates that they can, and they do, as anyone who lives amongst animals well knows!

August 2001 day to day

01 Aug

All the orphans left the Night Stockades together. Kinna had a tussle with Mukwaju over the milk at noon, but all then enjoyed a wonderful wallow, where Kinna watched over Maungu in a very motherly manner. Natumi's group and Emily's family spent 3 hours together intermingling with each other, and then left at 10 a.m., joining the youngsters again at noon for a drink of water from the drums and a dustbath. (It was too cold for a mudbath today.) Later they all joined a group of wild elephants with whom they spent an hour. Imenti found a wild friend to play with and was later Emily joined the game.
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