Keepers' Diaries, February 2003

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Nursery Elephants:- Rest in Peace, Maungu.

Nursery Elephants:- Rest in Peace, Maungu.

The decision to end a baby Elephant life is never easy. It is, inevitably, charged with emotion, especially when one has saved that calf's life in the first place, and nurtured it from early infancy until beyond its second birthday, by which time it should be well on its way to a normal life amongst its own kind again in the fullness of time.

Maungu was orphaned when she fell into a manhole on the Mombasa Pipeline in 2001 and because she was not in bad condition at the time, and 8 months old, she was taken directly to the Tsavo Relocation Centre to complete her milk dependent period within another loving elephant family of older orphans, headed by our young self appointed Matriarch, Emily, and overseen by an army of human Keepers.
She instantly settled in, and slotted in to become a popular member of the group, her best friends being Ndara and latterly, Mweya. However, although she thrived initially, with the passing of time she began to show signs of creeping weakness, lagging behind all the others as she laboured up the hills with shifting oedema in her legs and under-belly.

There was those of us who thought that perhaps too much competition from the others for food was the cause, and those of us who suspected something much more sinister. Eventually, the decision was made to bring her back to the Nairobi Nursery for specialized care and further veterinary scrutiny in order to try and ascertain the cause of her decline. She arrived in Nairobi on the 15th January 2003.

Several Veterinary opinions were sought, none of which were encouraging. Shifting oedema of the under belly and legs pointed to either a renal condition or a heart defect and in the weeks that followed, and despite antibiotics, she became steadily weaker and more feeble by the day. It looked ever more likely that she had a failing heart, and there was nothing that could be done about this, other than administering digitalis, and homeopathic remedies, which we did. Meanwhile, she fed well, downing over 48 pints of milk in a 24 hour period, as well as eating greens. She also slept well once we had made a little bed of soft earth for her to lie on in her stable, since she was not used to a bed a hay. Nevertheless, despite all efforts to build up her strength, she did not respond, and when she could no longer walk more than a few paces at a time, and had to be lifted up from a recumbent position, we knew what had to be done - end her suffering humanely.

Maungu was euthanased at 4 p.m. on 7th February, surrounded by a loving and grieving human family, following which a Post Mortem was immediately undertaken. We needed to know what had gone wrong.

It turned out that she was a hopeless case. The Post Mortem revealed a huge meaty obstruction the size of a thumb in the heart's right ventricle, which was inhibiting the flow of blood. Further tests on the growth itself led to the deduction that this had begun as a blood clot, caused possibly when she fell and struggled in the Pipeline manhole, and developed into living tissue with the passing of time. Eventually, the heart could barely function, and the poor circulation as a result was the cause of the oedema. All other organs looked normal, but for the spleen, which was slightly enlarged.

At such times, one can only reflect that at least this little elephant was cherished and loved throughout her short life, initially by her elephant family until the age of 8 months, and thereafter by another equally loving adopted orphaned family of older elephants as well as an equally caring human family who all grieved her passing. However, at least Maungu had a peaceful and comfortable death, which would not have been the case had nature taken its course in a wild environment hostile to abandoned babies.

Meanwhile little "Tomboi", now 6 weeks old, has caused us some sleepless nights this month whilst cutting his first molars. This is not unusual, but diarrhoea in a baby elephant can be life threatening and is always cause for deep concern, especially when there is blood in the stool. Tomboi, usually so bouncy and playful, became dull and listless, and when there were signs of blood in his stool, we had to resort to a course of the usual sulphur-based antibiotic, followed by prophylaxis Septron, plus again weakening the dilution of his milk. This did the trick, and he is now back to good health again, sporting four tiny brand new teeth, one on each jaw. A very pleasant surprise has been Wendi, who despite being immune deficient on arrival, has managed to cut her first molars without a hitch, which must be a first! Obviously the infusion of plasma taken from Thoma has endowed her with a powerful immune system, and for this we are, indeed, relieved. She is quite a forceful little character, not unlike Mweya, prone to showing off her strength by giving an unsuspecting visitor a shove, but the waggling of a finger, and a displeased voice tone is having the desired affect.

Meanwhile, Seraa and Mpala continue to grow apace and thrive. Mpala's tiny tusks are now visible when he lifts his trunk and are proudly displayed to onlookers who visit him in the evenings in his night quarters. Seraa us becoming quite plump and portly, but is still a squat little elephant. No doubt she will shoot up once she is down in Tsavo. These two Nursery inmates will be ready to join the Tsavo group after the next rains in May, and can be assured of a rousing welcome from Thoma, Burra, Sosian and Solango who will remember their shared Nursery time together.

Sadly, two more very young babies could not be saved this month, one from the Mount Kenya forest that was euthenazed when the KWS Vets discovered that the foot had to be amputated as a result of a wire snare that had cut right into the bone, and another from Marsabit in the far North which was so seriously chewed up by hyaenas that it succumbed to its wounds on the rescue plane soon after take-off.

Tsavo Orphans:- Once again, it is Imenti who has dominated events at the other end. Although we were praying that he would settle down on the North Bank of the Galana, and make some new elephant friends there, at the same time we fully expected that he would pluck up the courage to cross the Galana river and turn up back home again, as did Ndume. However, Imenta had another agenda. He simply about-turned and trekked back North, crossing over the Park's far Northern boundary about in his search for the comfort of a human friend. However, having done this, he was now in hostile Wakamba country.

The Wakamba are not known to be normally Ele Friendly being notorious hunter/poachers. That said, however, our best Elephant Keepers have been drawn from this tribe, and they have had an impact back home, changing attitudes gradually. Nevertheless, the people of the village into which Imenti wandered had never encountered a "friendly" elephant before, and when he stroled into their village, quietly approaching all and sundry with his trunk extended in greeting, they were completely unnerved! They cowered in huts, took to the their heels (and the trees), escaped on bicycles and one fired a poisoned arrow which lodged in Imenti's ear. A runner went to the K.W.S. Northern Area Headquarters at Ithumba to report this strange phenomenon, no doubt reading into it superstition and a mystic omen. Imenti must have been extremely puzzled by this reception, for he had never known anything but love and caring from his human family, who have cared for him from the day he was born and arrived enveloped in foetal membranes 9 long years ago. He was not yet part of the wild elephant community, although almost so, and would have been, had it not been for that ill mannered and ill disciplined tour driver who ran into his elephant family on a road, and led to his antipathy of white tour buses and his ultimate banishment. It is unfortunate that it had to be the elephant that suffered rather than the tour guide.

Having heard the news, our De-Snaring Team Leader, Wambua Kikwatha, was despatched from Ithumba to investigate the curious report K.W.S. had received from the runners. Tribesmen up trees, and those peering from their various hiding places and vantage points, were even more agog when they saw two men alight from the vehicle, call Imenti by name and see him run straight up to them to envelope them lovingly in his trunk accompanied by joyous elephant greeting sounds. He then proceeded to follow the car back to the Ithumba Headquarters, where, soon after, his favourite Keeper, Mishak Nzimbi, (also from the Wakamba tribe) arrived from Voi. Since then Imenti has been glued to Mishak, terrified to let him go out of sight for fear of losing him again!

The saga of Imenti has tugged on the heart-strings of all who know him, because he was so very nearly a "wild" elephant back in Voi, spending less time with Emily and the Orphans, and more time with the other Big Boys who were escorting him into the wild herds they had already befriended. The Trust has since sponsored Stickers to be stuck on every minibus entering Tsavo explaining that the Tsavo elephants are not as habituated to people and vehicles as those of other smaller Parks, and that all elephants must be given space. Moving Imenti has made him dependent again on the human family in an area where it will be more difficult for him to make friends amongst the wild herds, for the Northern Elephants are, understandably, not partial to human scent, having suffered over three decades of poaching in this remote region.

The other orphans in Voi have had an exciting month, with frequent interaction amongst wild herds, Laikipia and Emily spending 4 hours with some wild friends; Ilingwezi, Natumi, Mulika, Nasalot and Mvita happily fraternized with 5 wild elephants even bringing them along to join the others at the mudwallow. Edo startled them when he suddenly burst from the bushes chasing another young bull of his age, watched closely by the wild female group as well as our own orphans. Edo then proceeded to mate one of the young wild cows, which, according to our Keepers, made Aitong very jealous! She rumbled a great deal and was out of sorts for the rest of the day! Aitong is very fond of Edo, and he of her, paying special attention to her whenever he mixes with the orphans, and often, according to the Keepers, "kissing" her on the lips with his trunk, whereas he just touches the others on their bodies. He has mated Aitong on several occasions and is a particular favourite of all the orphans, always gentle and caring, taking time to escort them back home in the evenings when he is with them and happy to share his day with him.

Aitong is out-going, and often spends time with wild herds. She spent 2 hours one morning with a wild herd at the base of the hill, escorted later by the Keepers to join the others out in the bush, (which, in fact, was unnecessary, for she would have found them anyway using infrasound!)

Other Big Boys apart from Edo who feature in this month's Diary are Ndume, who turned up and spent time with the orphans on the 11th, escorting them back to their Night Stockades, and a mysterious 15 year old bull, who appeared on the 4th and was obviously well known to our orphans, and who. We surmise that this could possibly have been either Olmeg or Taru, who would be strangers to all the Keepers except Mishak, who is with Imenti in the North.

Mulika got into trouble when she pushed down a wild calf on the 17th and was banished from the herd by the wild Matriarch, ending up back with the Keepers "trembling" with fear! The rest of the orphaned group remained with this wild herd for some time. Another orphan who "trembled" violently with fear was poor Edie when the hyaena the orphans had cornered at the base of Mazinga Hill ran past her leaving her so fearful that her legs gave way and she fell down. This ended the hyaena chase because all the orphans rushed to lift her up and comfort her. Solango was another who got a bad fright when a Serval appeared in front of him, but Burra enjoyed a game with a squirrel who ran round and round the mudbath. This game ended when Burra slipped and fell!

Aitong repeatedly, but unsuccessfully tried to chase off a python coiled round a fallen tree, which she obviously viewed as a threat to her family. She could not be persuaded to leave the python, until the Keepers took the other orphans away, when she followed. Very touching is an encounter with a brave little guineafowl sitting on eggs in a bush the baby group wanted to occupy and who challenged them and saw them all off rather than leave her eggs!

Within this youngest set, Sosian, who is a forceful character barbed with tiny tusks, competes with Mweya for leadership of the group and it is interesting to see Thoma doing the same one day on the way home, pulling Sweet Sally behind by her tail. However, Sosian received "come-uppance" when all the others ganged up to expel him from the mudbath which they successfully managed to do, after which he sulked alone in a bush. However, on another occasion he enjoyed the protection of Loisaba in a bout of strength with Salama, who is larger, stronger and older. Although Salama was being tolerant and deliberately gentle with him, it is definitely against elephant rules to take on another who is not of the same size!

Solango, as the smallest elephant amongst the Voi orphans, enjoys the special privilege of being allowed to suckle the ears of the older elephants, both Mweiga and Aitong having "lent an ear" for this purpose.

Mweiga continues to be a cause for concern, still showing signs of weakness, despite extra milk, minerals and vitamins. We fear that, like Maungu, she too could have a heart defect. It is interesting to note that 4 of the orphaned calves that have passed through our hands have succumbed to heart problems - a high percentage from a total of some 50 who have ended up normal and healthy.

There have been the usual encounters with stubborn old buffaloes, who are not impressed by attempts at being expelled by the smaller elephants, but take note when the older ones provide the necessary back-up. Waterbucks are always fair game, and there is an impala herd with whom the babies are friendly and in amongst whom they are happy to feed peacefully

February 2003 day to day

01 Feb

Before leaving the Stockades in the morning, Nyiro separated Mweya from the others and mounted her. Sweet Sally watched closely, but was scared to interfere. However, once they left, Sosian chased Nyiro, and would not let him back into the baby group for sometime. At 7.20 a.m. the orphans met a wild herd. Laikipia joined them first, followed by Emily a little later, both of whom spent the next 4 hours with the wild elephants, meeting up with the other orphans only at the noon mudbath.