Keepers' Diaries, December 2013

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

The 2013 end of year rains came very late with only light drizzle falling intermittently until about three meaningful storms just prior to Christmas were sufficiently heavy to penetrate the ground and green the vegetation of Nairobi National Park. Normally the so-called Short Rains for highland areas (which are the main rains for lower altitudes such as Tsavo) should begin at the end of September and continue until Christmas, so this year’s rains have been disappointing both in Nairobi and also in Tsavo.

The 2013 end of year rains came very late with only light drizzle falling intermittently until about three meaningful storms just prior to Christmas were sufficiently heavy to penetrate the ground and green the vegetation of Nairobi National Park. Normally the so-called Short Rains for highland areas (which are the main rains for lower altitudes such as Tsavo) should begin at the end of September and continue until Christmas, so this year’s rains have been disappointing both in Nairobi and also in Tsavo.

This month focus has centered on the struggle to get our four newborn babies through the hazardous teething period, which on anything other than mother’s milk can prove life threatening with fevers, diarrheoa and the loss of body condition leaving them skeletal at the end of it. Kamok, the oldest of the four, and the accepted miniature Matriarch of the newborns, was first to cut her first four molars which were through the gums by month end, followed soon by Ashaka and baby boy Olodare, while tiny Mackinnon only began his teething period in the middle of the month, and by month end was also skeletal. All underwent numerous intravenous infusions to replace lost body fluids following bouts of diarrheoa. It has been our experience that the teething process is more life threatening for the baby elephant boys than the girls, perhaps because nature tends to make females more robust.

Attention has also focused on Asanja this month, following the anaphylactic attack she suffered last month which also took her life. It left her very feeble, with fluid swellings beneath the chin and belly, so she has spent most of the month in her Stockade, not up to joining the others out in the bush, and even when spending a short time with them in the afternoon, anxious to return to her Stockade to rest, where a Keeper keeps her company, and where freshly cut browse, Lucerne, and other supplements are there for her. Following a course of injectible Enrofloxacine, the swellings gradually began to disperse, and we are happy to be able to relate that by month end Asanja was very much better, and gradually becoming stronger. But, she has certainly been through the mill after what we assume must have been a bite on the neck by a very poisonous snake.

Sonje, and Arruba have gradually evolved into the new main Matriarchs of our Nursery Unit following the departure of Kihari Naipoki, Ishaq-B, Laragai and Narok to the Rehabilitation Units in Tsavo. Lima lima, Quanza, and Suswa are next in line, with Rorogoi, Mashariki, Lentili and Zongoloni runner-ups all girls with a host of naughty boys to keep in line – namely Kithaka and Lemoyian (the two most mischievous), Orwa (the biggest boy who likes to lord it over the others), his friend and Pushing Partner Bomani, Barsilinga, Balguda, Ngasha, Teleki, Garzi, albino half brothers Faraja and Jasiri, gentle Tundani and his best friend Nelion and vociferous Vuria who bellows his frustration after finishing his milk feeds and has taught Lentili the same bad habit!

As the biggest girl in the Nursery unit, and also Sonje’s best friend, strangely enough Murera has chosen to remain independent of too many incumbents, although she has always favoured mischievous Lemoyian and at month end hijacked him, albino half-brothers Jasiri and Faraja and Lima Lima away from their Keepers and escorted them away deep into the Park, thereby leading their Keepers quite a dance to locate and round them up again before nightfall. Murera was disappointed when found, and would have kept the hijacked foursome out overnight had she had her way. (Murera along with Sonje, both whom the poachers have left with one stiff leg, will be moved to the new Rehabilitation facility at Umani in the Kibwezi Forest which is currently under construction, since they would never be able to cope with the distances involved in Tsavo during the dry seasons.)

Sonje has chosen Oltaiyoni as her favourite. The two browse side by side throughout the day, and Sonje (often accompanied by Murera) rushes to greet and collect Oltaiyoni each morning, having first checked on the 4 newborns, who normally only leave their night stables when the weather has warmed up and also on ailing Asanja. All the Nursery inmates have visibly displayed compassion for Asanja during her ordeal, laying trunks over her back to comfort and encourage her, and never failing to leave the compound without first visiting her on the way out. Tundani and Nelion are the most gentle and “polite” Nursery boys, and great favourites of the Keepers, Tundani being the fostered elephant of Kenya’s First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta, who came again to visit him on the 13th bringing with her the visiting First Lady of Sri Lanka who also has a love of elephants.

The first heavy downpour fell on the 11th and this excited all the elephants, who loved playing in the puddles and rolling in the mud, Lemoyian and Kithaka exuberant at being able to climb over Big Boy Orwa as he lay down to wallow. Lemoyian then tried to climb onto Oltaiyoni who was also enjoying a wallow, but her bellow for help brought Sonje at the double to expel him and escort her chosen one back to the girl group. Two days of light drizzle followed this downpour creating mini streams of flowing water, which Kithaka, Lemoyian and Barsilinga enjoyed running through back and forth, splashing as much water as they could onto one another, the amusement of the Keepers spurring them on. But when thunder and lightening accompanied the next heavy downpour on the 14th all the Nursery boys gathered around their Keepers who sheltered under trees, while Oltaiyoni, firmly sandwiched between Murera and Sonje huddled amongst the girls. Suswa lost her nerve after a particularly loud clap of thunder, and fled, forcing some of the Keepers to follow, who caught up with her on her way back to the safety of the Stockades. All the elephants are fearful of thunder and lightening, and who can blame them!

There was panic on the 21st when Sonje and Murera (with Oltaiyoni in tow) gave chase to a lone buffalo bull whom they happened upon whilst browsing together in a thicket. In its escape the buffalo ran through the rest of the herd, scattering them and their Keepers in all directions! Then on the 25th Zongoloni, backed up by Teleki, Lentili and Vuria enjoyed seeing off a herd of impalas they encountered. The resident warthogs have given birth to new piglets, and these have also occupied the Nursery elephants who enjoy chasing them around as long as they oblige by running away, which some of the mothers resist! The lions have shown up again briefly, and obviously taken a toll of the latest generation, but old favourite known as “Pembe” still has 3 surviving piglets and each evening can be found begging a tidbit from the Staff canteen.

The Rhinos:- After a protracted absence, Solio showed up on the l0th, intercepted by Murera and Sonje round the back of Maxwell’s Stockade who were on their way to collect Oltaiyoni. Both elephants trumpeted and tried to charge Solio, but she nonchalantly merely took another route to access her Stockade and enjoy the Lucerne handout that awaited her. Meanwhile in a high state of excitement, Maxwell was anxiously waiting to engage her through the Stockade poles in what has become a regular ritual for our two orphaned rhinos every time Solio returns, although these days her visits are not as frequent as before. This month she has only put in an appearance on two occasions.

Now 4 years old, Solio is fully integrated into the resident territorial Nairobi Park rhino community, having been escorted by the Keepers round the dungpiles and urinals of the resident rhino community for her first 3 years of life, which is essential for a newcomer to be accepted rather than ejected or killed. She is therefore a major success of the Trust and one of which we are very proud. We can now only hope and pray that she survives the greed and avariciousness of humankind eager to profit from her horn due to the primitive myth that persists in the Far East about its supposed medicinal properties, which has no scientific foundation whatsoever. In this, the 21st Century, one would expect so-called civilized populations to be better informed.

A warthog mother and her new piglets entered Maxwell’s Stockade to try and partake of his Lucerne on the 20th. However, despite being blind, Max noticed their presence instantly and proceeded to chase them round and round his Stockade, hot on their tails every inch of the way, so accurately that no one could believe that he was, in fact, without sight! Having managed to eject them, he remained in a high state of excitement, daring the warthog family to try the same trick again!

Max loves human contact, and comes when called accurately turning up opposite whoever is calling irrespective of where they happen to be standing! He is now 7 years old and, but for his eyes, a perfect specimen who plays an important PR role for his critically endangered species. Rhinos have trodden the earth unchanged for 60 million years, and as such perfect, since evolution has seen no reason to change the model! If after 60 million years of evolution Rhinos still have horns, it means that they need them!

December 2013 day to day

01 Dec

There was a light drizzle, just sufficient to settle the dust, but enough to keep the four teething babies indoors for most of the day. However, the older orphans thoroughly enjoyed the weather, playing in the dampened soil, Lemoyian, Kithaka, and Barsilinga climbing over Orwa and Sonje whenever they lay down while Oltaiyoni also enjoyed playing on her adopted mother, Sonje.

Barsilinga and Lemoyian playing at mudbath

Lemoyian Kithaka and Barsilinga paying at Mud bath