Keepers' Diaries, December 2003

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Nursery Elephants:- There have been two main events in the Nairobi Nursery this month - the ailment that has beset little “Ndomot” which has, and is, causing us such anxiety, and the arrival of the little Southern African elephant, called “Ollie”, whose name we have changed to “Madiba” to reflect his Southern African origin. “Madiba” is the name by which Nelson Mandela is affectionately known by the people of his homeland.

Nursery Elephants:- There have been two main events in the Nairobi Nursery this month - the ailment that has beset little “Ndomot” which has, and is, causing us such anxiety, and the arrival of the little Southern African elephant, called “Ollie”, whose name we have changed to “Madiba” to reflect his Southern African origin. “Madiba” is the name by which Nelson Mandela is affectionately known by the people of his homeland.

The elephant was flown from Johannesburg on the 23rd December, courtesy of a Tanzanian based Company called Coastal Air. He travelled standing in an open crate for the journey, accompanied by his very loving South African foster-Mum, Karen Trendler, who runs a Shelter for waifs and strays in Johannesburg known as Wildcare. The South African arm of IFAW played an important role in co-ordinating the elephant’s move, and also shouldered some contingency funding involved with his keep and transport.

“Madiba” alias “Ollie” is tiny for his age, and still covered in fuzz, in fact, resembling a miniature woolly mammoth! Having been unwell shortly before arrival (probably due to teething) he travelled well, and was surprisingly strong after his 8 hour flight from the South. He was very skinny, and somewhat wobbly, but settled in immediately, happy to latch onto the blanket that came along with him, and accept milk from the Keeper who spent the first night with him. The next morning saw him out and about with the others, but a little wary of them, probably because he had no recollection of his mother or elephant family. When found, he was suffering from a head wound, and was very confused, walking in circles, his age estimated to be just days old. For the three months that he was at Wildcare in South Africa his best friend had been a young rhino calf and, of course, the humans that cared for him.

Wendi and Ol Malo were intrigued by this newcomer; Selengai and Sunyei viewed him with overt suspicion, whilst Tomboi and Napasha pretended not to even notice his presence, yet looking sideways at him with obvious curiosity. As for “Madiba” his main focus was “the blanket”, something that has persisted since. Each day has seen him becoming a little stronger and sturdier on his legs and he is feeding well, and gaining weight rapidly. We are very pleased with his progress so far.

Not so, little “Ndomot”. Having managed to get control of the diarrhoea that assailed him soon after arrival, he thrived in the beginning and eventually settled in to sleeping in his stable without the company of Wendi. But then the teething started, and with it came the diarrhoea again, before he had had enough time to pick up sufficient condition to enable him to weather such a set-back. Two more courses of Sulphonomides made no difference, and he began getting progressively weaker. Fearing the dreaded pneumonia and the klebsiella that has taken the life of two of our elephant babies in the past, our Vet administered another course of injectible broad spectrum antibiotic, but even this had no affect. We were jubilant when all his first molars appeared overnight, sure that we would now be able to win, but the weakness and runny stools persisted, despite Kaolin and every herbal remedy we could lay our hands on. As the year ends, we and the Vets are puzzled as to what and where the problem lies, and we are anxious about his chances of survival. Heartache is never far away when one takes on an elephant, but we will do our utmost to save yet another precious elephant life..

The good news is that all the other Nursery elephants are thriving. Wendi asserts her authority over any visitors, making sure they all know who is in charge. Ol Malo is gentle and loving and eager to dominate the attention of any visitor whilst Taita is beginning to look positively robust, as is Napasha who is bordering on being “fat” – not a bad thing in a baby elephant who are essentially so very fragile in infancy. Selengai is a little glutton, with plump wobbly cheeks, always focused on her milk, and Sunyei continues to capture the hearts of everyone by being a real little “show-off” and very playful. Tomboi is a true “Tomboy” who likes throwing his weight around (literally), but it is little Ndomot and “Madiba” who have dominated the month, and kept us firmly anchored to base over the festive period when most people manage to escape and we, too, had hoped to do so! This year, that chance eluded us!

Tsavo Orphans:- It has been a very anxious month, as we waited – and waited – and waited for the rains to break down in Voi to bring in the green festive season for our elephants. The month ended, and still no sign of proper rain, which should fall in Tsavo from mid October until the end of December. We have not ruled out having to move our large Tsavo elephant family to the greener pastures of Northern Tsavo, where Imenti is enjoying a green festive season. This will entail either a “Great Trek” of them all (with Mweiga being moved by lorry, because of her weak condition, or separating the unit and trucking half of them with Emily, leaving Aitong with the younger set. Either way, it will be a logistical nightmare for us and the Keepers, but is something that we will have to consider should the rains fail completely.

The orphans had few encounters with wild elephants this month, since most of the wild elephants have migrated to other parts of the Park where rain has fallen bringing on a flush of green. But, overall, the drought conditions have persisted, except in the far North which has enjoyed reasonable precipitation. The general condition of our orphans is still good, except for Mweiga, who has always been a very fragile calf, and the drought has taken a further toll on her health. Emily and Aitong are also looking a little leaner than they should.

The orphans enjoyed time with Lissa’s groupon the 6th when Laikipia and Salama played with Uaso, persuading him to join them at the mudbath before re-joining Lissa and her family. On the 9th Emily and Aitong spent time with a bachelor bull, Aitong particularly taken with him, opting to remain with him until the evening when she joined the others on their way back to the Night Stockades. On the 12th a wild group passed by but were travelling too fast for contact, but on the 16th the orphans joined a group of 9 wild elephants, and enjoyed playing pushing games with age-mates.

This month’s Diary highlights the special friendships that exist between various individuals of the Tsavo group, notably Emily’s special babies, namely Tsavo, Loisaba, and Ndara, with Mukwaju seemingly also taking a place amongst this elite group. Aitong also has her pets, notably Sweet Sally and Morani. Also illustrated is the possessiveness these particular orphans demonstrate when others approach Emily and Aitong. Graphically portrayed is the boundless compassion elephants feel for others in distress, for instance, Morani, Solango and Thoma remaining behind to keep Mweiga company when, as a weakling, she cannot keep pace with the others, and the entire group opting to devote one full day to feed close to her, at a tune when I am sure they would rather have gone further afield in the search of food which is sparse due to the drought. We see the compassion that Mweiga had for the newly rescued 4 year old from Mwatate Sisal Estate, who was too far gone to be able to be saved and succumbed after a day or two to the dreaded pneumonia. We see the tenderness Mweiga, Aitong and the others displayed towards this stranger, touching her gently and repeatedly with their trunks and we read about Mulika and Yatta rushing to help Nasalot to her feet after Mvita had knocked her down during an altercation at the mudbath. We also see other human traits, such as jealousy, retribution for a wrong-doing, cunningness and deviousness when trying to get more than a rightful share of the milk, doubling back to join the next milk batch, hoping not to be noticed as having already had. In this respect, Sosian again emerges as a glutton – a real survivor, selfishly determined never to be hungry again at the expense of others!

There have been exciting incidents with other species, the usual chasing of squirrels, dikdiks, zebras, a warthog and her babies, and anything that will oblige by running away. However, the orphans were startled by running giraffes but seem to have a truce with the impala, browsing peacefully amongst 20. However, when the orphans and their Keepers disturbed two mating lions on their way back to the night Stockades on the 23rd, they knew the meaning of raw fear. The lions roared and charged, sending both humans and elephants fleeing in all directions. Emily, Aitong and 16 of the older orphans ended up back at the Stockades, but ll younger ones fled in the opposite direction towards Lugards Falls. It took the Keepers until 7.30 p.m. that night, travelling by truck, to round them all up safely, some of them having covered about 13 kms! Thankfully, the only casualty was Irima, who obviously pulled a muscle and had a bad leg the next day, but it must have been a very terrifying experience for everyone, and especially the smaller orphans who would have been traumatised enough by the fury of the charging lions, and seeing their Matriarchs and human Mentors running for their lives, but then finding themselves alone so far from home. Thereafter, any hint of lions being around makes them crowd around their Keepers!

During the month Laikipia felt unwell one day, but had recovered by the next, following a dose of colloidal silver, and Ilingwezi had a tummy ache which was cured by some worm medication.

The year ended very sadly when the newcomer, four year old “Mwatate”, died, but at least her death was peaceful and she died surrounded by compassion and love and in safety, where predators, vultures and other scavengers could not terrorise her last moments on earth. R.I.P. Mwatate.

The Rhino:- Shida is beginning to look positively portly, and continues to thrive without any setbacks. He has graduated to just having the Keeper’s coat in his Night Stable, rather than the man himself, and is happy to lie quietly next to the coat that carries the scent of those he trusts and loves, waiting patiently for his night ration of milk which comes at 4 hourly intervals, which is now reinforced with boiled barley. He charms all the visitors, a miniature pachyderm that spins around like a top, does little pig jumps in the air, and gallops off at speed, returning at speed the way he went. His favourite toy is the bucket, which he tosses around at mudbath to the delight of all the spectators, jumping around with it covering his face. Meanwhile 6 year old Magnum (now rising 7) and mischievous 4 year old Makosa, both of whom are no longer accompanied, return to Home Base on a daily basis, Magnum in the mornings, (to avoid having to play rough with Makosa), and Makosa in the evenings when he stands outside the Stockade of Olmalo and Taita, his eyes closed in bliss, as they explore him through the bars of the gate with the tip of an extended trunk. At night, Makosa’s pranks become evident with the arrival of dawn - the Telephone Pole downed, bales of hay chucked around, potted plants up-ended and Angela’s favourite palm reduced to just a few twigs! Little “hot wires” have had to be installed to stop him again coming through glass doors and protect our vehicles, otherwise the pranks could become even more costly! Magnum behaves impeccably, but Makosa is the feistiest rhino we have ever had to deal with!

December 2003 day to day

01 Dec

The day was extremely hot with no sign of rain. The orphans mudwallowed happily and extensively. Morani, Seraa, Pmpala and Burra went to dust themselves by rolling on a nearby anthill.
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