Keepers' Diaries, December 2002

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Nursery Elephants:- Once we could be sure that the rains in Tsavo had turned the vegetation lush and green, plans went ahead to move the four oldest Nursery Elephants, Thoma, Burra, Sosian and Solango all of whom had now past their first birthday. All were now in fine fettle, ready for the next phase of growing up and ultimately returned to where they rightly belong - within the wild community, but in the interim to join the older Tsavo group to begin their gradual period of reintroduction.

Nursery Elephants:- Once we could be sure that the rains in Tsavo had turned the vegetation lush and green, plans went ahead to move the four oldest Nursery Elephants, Thoma, Burra, Sosian and Solango all of whom had now past their first birthday. All were now in fine fettle, ready for the next phase of growing up and ultimately returned to where they rightly belong - within the wild community, but in the interim to join the older Tsavo group to begin their gradual period of reintroduction.

This move entailed two large Safari trucks. All the elephants in question were now sizeable, and Sosian, who is past his second birthday, particularly so. The trucks were positioned against the Loading Ramp near the Nursery Stables for several days prior to the planned date of departure, so that the elephants could become accustomed to walking into the open back to take their milk inside. Within two days, all were quite comfortable doing so, except for Burra, who would even forego his ration of milk rather than risk entering the dreaded truck. Obviously, he remembered the last journey he made in this same vehicle, when he was brought back to the Nursery, wounded, emaciated and in agony, after Mweya and Sweet Sally had been moved to Tsavo. That six hour journey back to Nairobi when he was so injured and sore still remains a nightmare in his mind, and probably will for life, and is something he does not want to repeat.

As always, the morning began very early at 5 a.m. on the 9th December, when the elephants were due to be moved, and still Burra had not been persuaded to cooperate. However, Roy Carr-Hartley, being an old hand at the game of moving animals, quietly walked up behind as he hesitated at the threshold, and propelled him in once Sosian and Thoma were safely loaded and Solango taking his milk inside the second truck. Burra was taken by surprised, in he went, and the doors were hurriedly closed. Meanwhile, Mpala and Seraa, sensing that something unusual was afoot involving their friends, were frantically trying to climb out of their stables, feeling vulnerable and frightened without their Keepers, who were occupied loading the others. Little Wendi was too young to understand, quite happy near the comfort of her hung blanket in her Nursery Stable next door to where Thoma usually slept.

The vehicles, duly transporting the four, drew away at 6 a.m., whilst the bystanders, as usual, shed a few tears. It is always sad to have to say adieu to our Nursery elephants, for emotion is an integral necessity when rearing elephant babies, something they would have enjoyed from their elephant family. It has to be thus and cannot be otherwise. Sending the Nursery babies off into the Big Wide World can be likened to leaving one's child at Boarding School so it is an event charged with emotion, and something that is not easy, for although the good news is that they have been granted a second chance of life, what life will hold for them in the future is an unknown quantity, particularly in view of the easing of the Ivory Ban due to pressure from the Southern African States.

We were confident that Thoma and Solango would receive a rousing welcome from Mweya and Sweet Sally, with whom they shared the Nursery. They certainly did! Mweya and Sally were the first to greet them, and were beside themselves with happiness and excitement, Mweya fondling her two little friends, and Sally rushing around trumpeting excitedly. Meanwhile, Sosian and Burra, both of whom were orphaned old enough to remember their elephant family clearly, but who never knew Mweya and Sally in the Nursery, were fully occupied investigating all the exciting elephant scents around the Night Stockades and hardly even noticed Mweya and Sally who came to greet them cautiously. Now, the Keepers brought the older elephants down the hill to greet the newcomers, who were similarly overjoyed to welcome another four newcomers into their midst. And then Emily and the older elephants arrived to greet the four babies warmly, as always, instantly accepting them as part of their orphaned family.

Burra and Sosian were over the moon to be amongst a real "herd" of larger elephants again, and slotted in like veterans, wanting to be as close to the bigger boys as possible. Emily, however, felt that as newcomers, they should be amongst the youngest group, and kept gently escorting them back, so there was a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing in the beginning!

That night, Solango cried a great deal, missing the comfort of his Nursery stable and the close contact of a Keeper, but by the next morning he had accepted his new slot in life, and was happy to go out with all the others. Mweya and Sally were preoccupied with Thoma, and Burra and Sosian very much part of the gang, eager to be amongst the older bulls.

With the addition of another four elephants, Emily and Aitong (and the Keepers) now have no less than 28 young elephants under their care, but all the females take on the role of Mini Matriarchs and Nannies, so they enjoy a great deal of support from the younger girls, especially Edie, who is very dominant. Because the Tsavo group is so large now, and although they all leave the Night Stockades together, the orphans then usually split into three or four separate groups, each with Keepers in attendance. The smallest set known as Yatta's group do not go as far afield as the next oldest set known as Natumi's group, whilst Emily and Aitong like to venture even further, yet are always ready to respond to any cry of alarm, regularly checking up on all the various groups throughout the course of the day, and usually joining up with them all at the noon mudbath.

For a few days the Nursery seemed unusually quiet, and Seraa very obviously missed Thoma sorely, to whom she was very close, but she was thrilled to have little Wendi all to herself, and very caring and attentive to her, so she soon forgot her sadness. Mpala, always something of a self sufficient loner, simply got on with life, enjoying the lush vegetation brought on by the recent rains without competition from Burra and Sosian. However, I have no doubt that he missed the company of Solango, who was his best friend.

Then on the 14th, another Rescue Alert arrived from Ian Craig of Lewa Downs, who had news that a newborn calf had been abandoned in Samburu National Reserve, gunshots having been heard the previous night. Because the calf was so small, we felt that a Vet was not necessary, so the plane left immediately, equipped with all the paraphernalia needed for loading at the other end. However, when just 10 minutes out of Nairobi, we had a call from Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants, who orchestrates an elephant monitoring project in Samburu and its environs. He told us that the calf was the firstborn of a very young mother of only about 10 years of age, who had lost her own mother a few years previously and was thought to have crossed the river to rejoin what remains of her family. The Researchers wanted to try and locate the young mother and reunite her with her baby, so the plane was recalled, and placed on "stand-by".

We cautioned them about the wisdom of this, knowing that the Northern population of elephants has been under severe human pressure for many years, and that the mother would not be partial to the human scent on the calf. Being so young, she was not an experienced mother and had, after all, abandoned her baby once. We felt she would be unlikely to accept it, but it was worth a try, so we awaited the outcome hoping for a happy ending.

Sadly it did not come about. By late afternoon the mother could not be located, and an attempt to integrate the calf into a group containing an aunt had proved unsuccessful. News to this affect came late with scarcely sufficient daylight left to be able to bring the calf in, but the pilot just managed, and little Tomboi arrived in the Nursery at 8 p.m. that same night with what was obviously a tusk wound in his face, and a rump and legs punctured by thorns.

He had been named appropriately by the Samburu, "Tomboi" meaning "Boy without a Father". The next morning we were able to assess his condition and approximate his age. We estimated that he was about five days old, born probably around the 10th December, and apart from the hole in his cheek, and the thorns, he was not in bad shape, and readily took his milk. Unlike Wendi, he had obviously suckled his mother, benefiting from the essential first Colostrum which triggers the immune system, but we took the precaution of keeping him on a maintenance dose of Septrum and Colloidal Silver just to stave off any diarrhoea brought about by stress and a change in diet.

Like Wendi, he is attached to the blanket hung up wherever he happens to be, providing something soft and large which might feel a little like "mother", and against which he rests the tip of his trunk when feeding. He is a playful and thoroughly enchanting little miniature, with petal soft ears are still pink on the hindside and a fuzzy "brush" of white hair at each ear hole, a miniature trunk that he finds more of a hindrance than a help, and a lot of personality, even at this young age..

The Tsavo Group:- The rains have been plentiful this season in Tsavo, turning the Park lush and in bloom, so all the orphans have enjoyed the festive season. Maungu continues to cause us concern, obviously a very weak little elephant, who, like Mweiga, would appear to have a chronic condition that the Vets have not been able to identify. Despite Vitamin B injections to boost her appetite, mineral supplements in her bottle etc., she has not really improved as she should, labouring up the hill, lagging behind the others. However, with the vegetation in Tsavo so lush, and because of her deep attachment to Mweya and the other orphans, we have been reluctant to return her to Nairobi during the festive Tsavo season when she can benefit from ideal elephant browse. However, when the dry season sets in again, we will consider bringing her to the Nursery for further tests and some specialized t.l.c. if she deteriorates further.

Contact with wild herds has been frequent this month. On the 1st Imenti spent the day with a wild group of 7; on the 3rd a wild herd passed by our orphans, with a wild bull busy mounting a cow, which distressed Aitong, who tried to get between. However, the bull separated the young cow from the group, and got on with what he was bent on doing. On the 5th a lone bull joined our orphans briefly to give Emily and Aitong the "once over" and on the 6th the wild Matriarch, Naomi and her baby and herd spent the morning with our orphans and enjoyed the mudbath together with them. On the 13th Imenti played with a wild age-mate in the mudbath, sharing his special "toy" with him, which is a log of wood he enjoys shoving around the pool, normally exclusively "his". On the 20th Imenti took our orphans off with a wild group of 10 elephants, and they all spent the day together, Emily bringing the orphans home in the evening, leaving Imenti with the wild herds.

On the 26th, Imenti encouraged our orphans to join up with 21 wild elephant friends of his and they all went down to the Voi River. An unfortunate incident occurred on the way back, which might have sealed Imenti's fate in a most unfortunate manner. The orphans encountered a Minibus whilst crossing the road, which rushed at the orphans, breaking the limited distance at which they feel comfortable, revving the engine to scare them off the road. This annoyed not only Imenti, but Emily as well, and both charged the vehicle to protect the babies. Unhappily, Imenti made contact with the vehicle, inserting a tusk through the windshield.

It was, of course, entirely the fault of the tour driver, and not the elephants, but this incident has left Imenti with an animosity towards motorists, and since then he has taken to ambushing vehicles on the road, and charging them, even standing guard near the entrance Gate and attempting to prevent them from entering or leaving the Park. He views them as a threat to his family, but there is also the feeling of power he derives from intimidating them. Imenti is subservient to the other Big Boys and the Keepers Diary illustrates the fact the he is inclined to have "a short fuse" and is easily riled.

The result is that Imenti is now earning the unfortunate label of "a rogue elephant" and there are now just two options for us - teach him a sharp lesson on the road to deter him, translocate him to the remote Northern Area of Tsavo East, because if he poses a threat to visitors, he will end up being shot. If the translocation option has to be, then this time, a radio collar will be placed on him so that we can keep in touch with his movements, and we can but pray that he will be able to befriend other elephants who cannot be harassed by irresponsible tour drivers.

We are all very distressed by these unfortunate developments, which are the result of careless behaviour from people that ought to know better. However, this merely illustrates the pressing need to raise the young bulls further afield away from the tourist hub, something for which we have been seeking permission since April 2002. We are stilll awaiting the necessary authority from the KWS Board.

The Trust has now reared over 45 orphaned elephants, many of them bulls, and out of 45, only Imenti has so far misbehaved around humans, which is not a bad record. Olmeg, Taru, Dika, Edo, Ndume, Lominyek , Ajok, Uaso and Lewa have never caused any trouble, although Olmeg was corrupted by an irresponsible Lodge Manager beyond the boundaries of the Park, who offered him hand-outs to keep him close when tourists were at hand, and tried to discourage him when they weren't.

This month, Edo, who is usually around, has been conspicuous by his absence, and Ndume has appeared just once, in amongst a wild herd, this time taking Imenti off with him, which is unusual, because Imenti has been avoiding contact with Ndume ever since his long walk back home from Tsavo West after the first translocation exercise.

Sadly, the greatest threat to our orphans and, indeed, all elephants, emanates from humans - human poachers who kill them for their teeth, human bystanders who corrupt them unintentionally through kindness, offering them hand-outs of junk food for the cheap thrill of being close to such a powerful and impressive animal, human and irresponsible tour drivers who put on a show of "bravado" for their clients, by not keeping a respectful distance from a wild animal. This is the stuff of "rogue elephants" when the real rogues are the people.

The four Nairobi Nursery inmates have settled in well, although poor Burra suffered an electric shock when he got his damaged ear caught up in the hot wire of the Stockade fence. Encounters with a baboon jumping from a tree, a passing herd of buffalo, the usual monitor lizard, and antelopes they have met on their travels have scared the group, but it is interesting that the newcomers and Mweya's group of smallest orphans enjoyed time together with some impala and waterbuck, all feeding peacefully as they intermingled. There has been the usual competition over the bottles of milk, the usual disagreements and tussles, all ending with either Emily or Aitong keeping the peace. Nasalot is very anxious to spend time with the youngest set, but her best friend, Mulika, prefers the company of the older orphans. Mweya and Sally are the leaders of the junior set, with Mweya as usual featuring most in this month's diary. Sally obviously has a mischievous sense of humour, playing scaring pranks on the others, by hiding in a bush, making an unusual growling sound, and exploding out to send them all fleeing back to the Keepers!

December 2002 day to day

01 Dec

After such a long dry period, the orphans were very happy when green shoots appeared after the rain. Mweya and Sally played a wonderful pushing game in the morning, closely watched by Maungu. At the noon mudbath Laikipia submerged himself fully, with just his trunk above the water like a snorkel, but was interrupted when Edie grabbed it and prevented him from breathing. He shot out and took himself off, refusing the participate again. In the afternoon Imenti joined a wild group of 7 elephants, who had a small baby with him. Imenti tried to touch the calf, but was prevented from doing so by the mother. However, he spent the day with the wild group, reporting to the Stockades at 6 p.m. in the evening.