Keepers' Diaries, December 2001

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Overview - Nursery:- Most of the festive month has been a peaceful and stress-free time for those of us in charge of the infant Nursery Elephants, marked by happiness and good health and gratifying to hear a positive report at the dawn of each new morning. The cheeks of little "Seraa" and "Solango" were beginning to fill out nicely obscuring the prominent cheekbone beneath the eye which should never be visible in a healthy calf. We thought they had both overcome all their initial problems, both mental and physical, but then on 30th December, at 4 p.m., Seraa began to lag behind the others, showing signs of weakness and once again fluid was dripping from her trunk. Yet, just that morning she had been chasing the pigs and romping in the mudbath with all the others, but experience has taught us that a baby elephant can be fine in the morning, and dead within hours. By the next morning, she was desperately ill, her lungs full of fluid, barely able to breathe and despite the antibiotic injections, we feared the worst. Essential Oil of Pine and Tea Tree mixed with Olive Carrier was massaged around her lungs throughout the day, and some Vicks rubbed on her breast in a desperate extra attempt to save the life of this little elephant and release the fluid in her lungs which was threatening to drown her.

Overview - Nursery:- Most of the festive month has been a peaceful and stress-free time for those of us in charge of the infant Nursery Elephants, marked by happiness and good health and gratifying to hear a positive report at the dawn of each new morning. The cheeks of little "Seraa" and "Solango" were beginning to fill out nicely obscuring the prominent cheekbone beneath the eye which should never be visible in a healthy calf. We thought they had both overcome all their initial problems, both mental and physical, but then on 30th December, at 4 p.m., Seraa began to lag behind the others, showing signs of weakness and once again fluid was dripping from her trunk. Yet, just that morning she had been chasing the pigs and romping in the mudbath with all the others, but experience has taught us that a baby elephant can be fine in the morning, and dead within hours. By the next morning, she was desperately ill, her lungs full of fluid, barely able to breathe and despite the antibiotic injections, we feared the worst. Essential Oil of Pine and Tea Tree mixed with Olive Carrier was massaged around her lungs throughout the day, and some Vicks rubbed on her breast in a desperate extra attempt to save the life of this little elephant and release the fluid in her lungs which was threatening to drown her.

Daphne was alone on New Year's eve, filled with trepidation, sure that Seraa would not survive the night, thinking the usual thoughts that always begin with the words "If Only" and shedding the usual tears!. Fearing the worst, she was up first thing on New Years Day, and was pleasantly surprised to find Seraa standing, albeit still very groggy, though with less fluid dripping from her trunk and struggling to take a little milk. Two more injections that day brought about an even greater improvement, and as this Keepers' Diary is being written, we are daring to hope that Seraa will make it, after all, despite what is obviously a very life threatening condition. Ever since she has been with us, the Keepers have reported fluid coming from the trunk, which improved with her initial course of antibiotic injections, and is obviously a chronic condition resulting from having been struggling to keep afloat in the deep rock well into which she fell in the far North beyond Shaba, unable to touch bottom for many hours before being rescued. Having been rescued an attempt was made to attach Seraa to a herd of fleeing elephants nearby but obviously the scent of humans on her body was too much for the traumatised elephants to accept. She was violently tossed away and Phil Mathews, who flew her to us by Helicopter, is astounded that she did not suffer fatal internal injuries from this episode. We fear that between this and the well, she may well still not be out of danger, even if she manages to recover from this New Year set- back.

"Mweya" has been her usual exuberant self, much better behaved, forming a strong bond of friendship with "Thoma", who is very like her in so many ways, with a mischievous, often forceful personality, the battered baby of yore a distant memory. Mulika and Nasalot have been the picture of contentment, keeping a motherly watchful eye on the two smallest babies, enduring endless ear-sucking from Solango, and showing off to the mudbath visitors by giving the warthogs a run around, thereby squeezing out a squeaky trumpet. Solango's sun-damaged ears have now largely healed, but will always be a bit "raggedy" around the top edge! However, compared to those of Kinna, he is lucky to have got away so lightly. We have since learnt that whilst he was trying to keep afloat in the same rock "well" that claimed Seraa, but with another dead calf beneath him to give him a little purchase, the lions paced around all night, hoping to be able to make a meal of him! Imagine the trauma! Small wonder he arrived in such a pathetic state, both physically and mentally!

Tsavo Orphans:- This month has seen the debut of "Ndara", whose serious back injury has all but healed, thanks to mother tincture of Calendular. She is now out and about with the others, but quite obviously, as the smallest, the favourite of all the older females, and especially Emily who has made a determined effort to keep her close within her unit.

There have been only two encounters with wild elephants this month, due to the rains, when the elephant herds are released from their dry season range and seek new feeding grounds further inland. Of the Big Boys, Ndume has appeared on only two occasions, always greeted lovingly by his extended Orphan Family, and Edo has been a more frequent visitor. There is, however, no mention of Uaso or Dika, who are obviously enjoying the festive season with the wild herds as they should, or of Lissa and her group, who likewise must be further afield. As another year dawned our thoughts and prayers were the Trust's true successes - the famous early Matriarch,"Eleanor" as well as "Mary"and their respective wild born young, all of whom are now true wild "elephants" again, comfortable with their wild kin, and no longer in need of human contact.

Aitong is still the caring little "Nannie" of all the younger orphans, Emily's mainstay and stand-in Matriarch, always there to help when needed, whether it be for lifting someone out of the mudbath, breaking up a disagreements, or escorting fragile Mweiga back up the hill to the Stockades in the evening.

"Intruders" this month have been dominated by a resident Monitor Lizard at the Stockades, who has triggered (and weathered) repeated efforts to repel him, mainly made by Aitong, with Edie and Natumi as backup. The odd buffalo, a herd of zebra, a mongoose and the birds have been a diversion in the daily orphan routine, and, of course, the rains, when food and water are plentiful, and there is time to play and party.

But, the Big Boy who has monopolized our attention this month is none other than "Imenti", translocated to the lush Ngulia Valley of Tsavo West along with Ndume and Lewa way back on the 5th October 2001, but who turned up at the Kilaguni Safari Lodge in Tsavo West, just after Christmas, intent on finding "a friend" some what may. Reports of a young bull chasing after cars and people, who refused to be deterred by thunder-flashes and even live rounds, motivated Daphne into hurriedly sending two Keepers from Voi to Kilaguni to identify this so-called "rogue elephant", just in case it was our "Imenti". Sure enough, it was - an elephant misunderstood, not aggressive but only lonely, searching for a friend and his human family. The reunion with his Keepers took place before an astounded audience, and was an event so emotional that it brought tears to eyes and tore at the heart-strings of all present. This so-called "rogue", rushed up to his Keepers with ears extended, stopped short to rumble a loving and excited greeting, wrapped his trunk gently around their necks and was so overcome with happiness that he has since stuck to them like a leach, determined not to let them again out of sight! They escorted him to the Lodge pool to take a drink of water, in full view of all the amazed Lodge guests, and have been with him ever since, even during the night! Imenti is determined never to be abandoned again!

So, New Years day 2001 will always be memorable for us, for this eight year old elephant, reared from the day he was born, who arrived still encased in the foetal membranes never having known his elephant mother, and who was hand-reared with great difficulty in our Nairobi Nursery, has taught us yet another important lesson - that no matter how sure we may be that an elephant will be better off elsewhere, it will never be happy without its family and friends; that elephants possess mysterious homing abilities, (demonstrated by Ndume, who simply headed home covering 100 miles of strange terrain in 3 weeks).

But, where is Lewa? We believe that he is young enough still to be taken in by the wild herds, and that Imenti, at aged eight, is unacceptable to the wild Matriarchs because he should now be with other bulls. Whilst, as an elephant, he is probably quite capable of making the journey home, as did Ndume, he lacks the courage to do so on his own, desperately craving the support of the only natural family he knows - the human one. In the coming weeks, his Keepers will walk him back home with him to Voi, a journey that will take them some five days, there to be reunited with those he loves, both elephant and human. Emily will be over the moon, as will all the others and as for us humans, another lesson has been learnt, despite having had 50 years of intimate exposure to known elephants, and that is that an elephant cannot be happy without his family and friends, no matter how plush his surroundings.

December 2001 day to day

01 Dec

The "Baby Group" left the Stockades in the morning along with all the others, but later Ndara opted to join Emily's group. Natumi's group were with Emily's for the day. In the morning at l0.30 a.m. they met up with three buffaloes, which Aitong and Edie sent on their way. All the orphans congregated at the mudbath, which they greatly enjoyed and because it was hot, they returned for a second wallow in the afternoon. Earlier Emily took Ndara with her group and that of Natumi to feed further afield, and after the second mudbath Ndara followed Emily, with Aitong and Tsavo keeping a close eye on her. In the evening the Keepers had to call Ndara back so that she could return earlier to the Stockades with the younger set and get her ration of milk.
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