Keepers' Diaries, August 2007

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

There was great excitement in the Nursery when an orphan from the Mount Elgon population was brought in during the evening of the 4th August, having fallen down a dis-used Pit Latrine just outside the Western boundary of the Park. The Mount Elgon population of elephants is unique for the caves and tunnels they have chiseled out of that ancient extinct volcano in their search for minerals and it is, in fact, the one elephant population in Kenya that is not represented amongst our orphans.

There was great excitement in the Nursery when an orphan from the Mount Elgon population was brought in during the evening of the 4th August, having fallen down a dis-used Pit Latrine just outside the Western boundary of the Park. The Mount Elgon population of elephants is unique for the caves and tunnels they have chiseled out of that ancient extinct volcano in their search for minerals and it is, in fact, the one elephant population in Kenya that is not represented amongst our orphans.

The calf was at severe risk from pneumonia, having spent a very tortuous night at the bottom of the 28 ft. Pit Latrine, in pouring rain and excruciatingly cold conditions, followed by a grueling four hour car journey over bad roads strapped down in the back of a Pick-up truck. She was then housed in a horse stable at the KWS Elgon Park Headquarters, before being taken to the nearest Airfield to be airlifted back to us, arriving in the late evening with severe damage to two limbs on one side of her body, and extensive bruising around the head. Otherwise, she was not in bad physical condition. Immediately, she was embraced by all the resident orphans, particularly the three smaller members of the group, who were able to spend more time keeping her company in her Stockade, not needing to forage far afield with the older elephants. Lempaute was first to embrace her, but soon Lesanju took the newcomer into her elephant heart, and was totally besotted, reluctant always to leave her side, even when she lay down to ease the pain of her damaged limbs when Lesanju would lie alongside. In spite of two long injectable antibiotic courses, little Elgon began to show signs of laboured breathing with a foul odour on her breath. Suspecting tissue damage to the top of her trunk, she was put on a third antibiotic course, but then blood and pus appeared from the mouth and trunk, which everyone suspected was from a burst abscess high in the trunk. However, it turned out to be something far more sinister, and during the small hours of the morning of the 21st little Elgon fell into a coma, and died soon afterwards.

A postmortem was carried out on the body, with tissue samples sent to Dubai and elsewhere for sensitivity tests and further diagnoses, the suspicion being that the abscesses in her lungs could be as a result of an equine disease previously only ever seen in young horses. Since the calf had spent time in a horse stable at KWS Elgon H.Q., this was felt feasible, since very little is known about the diseases to which elephants are susceptible. However, further tests confirmed that the cause of death was, in fact, a particularly virulent form of pneumonia caused by a specific bacteria that is resistant to all antibiotics save just one – Ciprofloxacine.

Little “Elgon” was sorely missed by all, but especially by Lesanju, who searched for her for days, hurrying out of her Night Stable each morning to go to Elgon’s Stockade, and also scouring the bushes and the places where they had previously spent time during the day. For several days all the Nursery female elephants were very “down”, feeling the absence of the newcomer deeply. We were all deeply saddened by this painful loss for she was a beautiful, loving and very gentle little elephant who represented a unique population.

It has been a chilly month in Nairobi, with few days warm enough for the elephants to enjoy their mudbath. When Elgon arrived, Zurura had to vacate his Stockade next door to that of his friend, Kamboyo, with whom yet again he shared the nights whilst the newcomer was with us. For some reason these two young bulls had a disagreement one night, the cause of which remains obscure, but both spent a busy time trying to settle their difference! With longer tusks than Zurura, Kamboyo has the edge and usually emerges victorious. He has also been shoving the Mini Matriarch, Lenana, around on occasions, indicative that the time has come for him to move on and be amongst older bulls who can put him in line! He, Lenana and Zurura will be moving to Ithumba as soon as the next rains break, hopefully towards the end of the year, which will leave Makena and Chyulu in charge of the three remaining “littlees”. However, these three (Lesanju, Lempaute and Shimba) have all enjoyed a huge growth spurt recently, and they too, are growing up with Lesanju also aspiring to a Matriarchal role. She and Lempaute are inseparable, and continue to resist being “possessed” by the older females, whilst Shimba basks in the adoration of Lenana whenever he is with the older group.

Lempaute continues to entertain the mudbath visitors, and always targets the children, rushes towards them and sometimes passes under the cordon, before lying down at their feet to demonstrate the fact that she only wants to play. She was very frustrated with one very small visitor, who bellowed and continued to run away screaming rather than playing ball like others usually do! Makena and Chyulu are inseparable, sharing Night Quarters and never far apart during the hours of daylight whilst little Shimba enjoys the undivided attention of Lenana and the other females whenever the three youngsters are with the older group.

Happily, the month of August has been free of hungry Nairobi Park lions around our elephants and Keepers, so apart from chasing the warthogs and attempting to scare off a line of baboons, it has been a peaceful and pleasurable month for the Nursery elephants, aside from the death of little Elgon. Lesanju continues to look for her ever morning, running to the Stockade she once occupied, and scouring the bush places they shared whilst she was alive.

August 2007 day to day

01 Aug

A slight morning drizzle delayed the exit of the smaller elephants in the morning, something that was not appreciated by Lempaute and Lesanju, but Shimba didn’t mind. He simply kept on feeding on the grass placed in his stable.

Shimba having a bottle of milk

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