Keepers' Diaries, December 2004

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

The inexplicable and very sudden death of little Jipe on the 20th will always be remembered as one of the most mysterious and tragic events that has ever beset our Nursery elephants. He had always been perhaps the most healthy and problem free infant we had ever had, thriving from the moment he arrived, and even cutting his first molars without the usual fevers and diarrheoa. The only unusual thing was the quantity of stool that he was passing for a day or two beforehand, but it was of a perfectly normal consistency, and other than that he showed no signs whatsoever of feeling unwell, playful and happy even when he returned to his stable that fateful evening. He took his 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. feeds in full, but refused the other 3 hourly feeds thereafter, and was dead by 8 a.m. the next morning, white froth exuding from the trunk. Even the Vet, who came to give him an injection in the morning, was astonished by such a rapid demise in what appeared just a day before to be a normal and healthy animal.

The inexplicable and very sudden death of little Jipe on the 20th will always be remembered as one of the most mysterious and tragic events that has ever beset our Nursery elephants. He had always been perhaps the most healthy and problem free infant we had ever had, thriving from the moment he arrived, and even cutting his first molars without the usual fevers and diarrheoa. The only unusual thing was the quantity of stool that he was passing for a day or two beforehand, but it was of a perfectly normal consistency, and other than that he showed no signs whatsoever of feeling unwell, playful and happy even when he returned to his stable that fateful evening. He took his 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. feeds in full, but refused the other 3 hourly feeds thereafter, and was dead by 8 a.m. the next morning, white froth exuding from the trunk. Even the Vet, who came to give him an injection in the morning, was astonished by such a rapid demise in what appeared just a day before to be a normal and healthy animal.

The post-mortem examination revealed nothing untoward, except signs of fermentation within the contents of the stomach. The Pathologist surmises that perhaps milk was regurgitated in his sleep, due to indigestion, and some went into the lungs. It is revealing to note from the Diary that he was intent on taking food from Sunyei’s mouth out in the bush - normal practice for an infant elephant, but perhaps little Jipe ingested something that simply did not agree with him that day. Pneumonia is one of the main killers of the infant elephants, particularly those rescued from mud and water as was he, but one usually notices signs of lethargy a few days before fluid is seen dripping from the trunk. (It is impossible for an elephant to cough, since the lungs are attached to the rib-cage, so fluid coming from the trunk is the first sign, but even then, death is never quite as rapid as that of little Jipe. He was the great favourite of all the Keepers, and, indeed, of everyone, and has been sorely missed by all his Nursery companions, especially Sunyei, Naserian and little Nalitu, who have spent time waiting outside his stable, hoping that he will appear. He was a very endearing character, who will remain always in our hearts and minds as a treasured memory.

From the Diary we read of the ongoing competitiveness of Madiba and Ndomot, and, again, the fact that “reasoning” is not something unique to humans. Evidence of this is when Madiba finds himself being defeated in a tussle, pretends to disengage, acknowledging Ndomot’s supremacy, but this turns out to be a cunning ruse to be able to catch Ndomot unawares moments later and conquer him!

Naserian and Galana continue to vie for the undivided attention of little Nalitu, who, in the absence of Jipe, has three mini would-be Matriarchs, Sunyei remaining in overall charge of the entire group, and the one who feels responsible for their safety and wellbeing, intervening to break up squabbles, courageously confronting intruders such as hyaenas, buffaloes and wild rhinos who happen in their path out in the bush periodically. Naserian has turned into a very motherly little elephant, who will be a wonderfully caring and responsible Matriarchal figure when grown. Galana, as a starvation victim who was snatched from the jaws of death, is still somewhat obsessed with “self”, but her motherly elephant instinct is beginning to shine through, evidenced in her caring and love of little Nalitu, although she is still inclined to be rough towards the bigger members of the group, especially Buchuma. He is a very gentle and affectionate little elephant, now, mercifully, fully healed from the terrible skin damage suffered through his ordeal in the Mombasa pipeline manhole. He is dying for someone with whom to tussle, but perhaps is unwise to pick on Galana, who is very intolerant of such behaviour and reacts violently! Madiba, too, has a gentle and caring nature and is always very gentle with the babies, whereas Ndomot remains an independent character, still very clinging to his Keepers, but “bullish” when in competitions of strength with the other little boys, particularly Madiba, his ongoing rival.

It has been very rewarding to witness the gradual psychological recovery of Lualeni, who has been in deep grieving for her lost elephant family, but is now coming back to the land of the living, and settling in to become an active participant in all the fun enjoyed by the other members of the Nursery Group. This month, post the Jipe tragedy, Nalitu has been kept under very close surveillance, since she has been teething - an event always accompanied by stools too frequent and too fluid for comfort! Also, having been a water victim, the dread of pneumonia setting in is ever present and as a precaution she has had two long-acting antibiotic injections as well as the initial 3 day course. However, at year end her stools have stabilized, she is feeding well; is playful and settled – so - so far, so good!

The Rhinos:- Shida continues to grow apace, and is almost as rotund as he is round, and like our lost rhino, “Magnet” has deep striations down his sides which make him look like his Great Indian cousins. Abutting his stockade is that of Ndomot, and he and the elephant have become good friends, enjoying contact through the separating bars. Shida presents his face for tickling by Ndomot’s trunk and Ndomot indulges him. Five year old “Makosa” and one year old Shida are now good friends, which is good news. In fact, Mokosa often chooses to sleep in his erstwhile Nursery Stockade next door to that of Shida, and sometimes accompanies him when he leaves for the bush in the mornings, when Makosa peels off to visit his “many houses” according to the Keepers i.e. resting places where he can usually be found at any given time of the day. He was a true hero on the 2nd, when he exploded out of the bush to take on a lone buffalo that was threatening the Nursery group, actually engaging it head to head, and successfully overpowering it and sending it on its way.

Magnum, who will be 8 years old at the end of January sticks to his usual routine, arriving at Daphne’s house most mornings, seeking out a Keeper round the back, having his filarial patches anointed with Aloe Vera and Neem Oil, then, along with the warthogs, following the wheelbarrow of tidbits off down the hill where he shares the spoils with his warthog side-kicks. Unlike Makosa, he is quiet and gentle, as long one announces one’s presence and approaches slowly in order not to startle him. (A rhino’s means of defence is “attack”). However, there are only two Keepers who can handle Makosa, who has developed an antipathy for the KWS Night Guards, often forcing them to take refuge either in the Canteen (which has been reinforced since Makosa almost demolished it in pursuit of the Guards) or on top of the hay pile. He is extremely spirited and feisty, despite being hand-reared lovingly from the second day of life!

December 2004 day to day

01 Dec

All the Nursery inmates looked a bit bored today, and chose to feed apart. Nalitu and Jipe began playing, and Naserian came to watch over them.

The nursery orphans clustered together

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