Keepers' Diaries, February 2006

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

The Nursery welcomed two newcomers this month, the first a female calf of about 18 months on the 2nd from Ol Pejeta Ranch in Laikipia, pitifully weak from advanced starvation and milk deprivation. She was named “Sidai” which in the Samburu language is the word for “beautiful”. Exceedingly traumatised, at first she was very “wild” and refused to take milk or rehydration throughout the night, but once the other elephants had been brought in to be with her, she began accepting the milk and since then can’t get enough of it!. Whilst the milk intake was a hopeful sign, she refused the vital electrolytes, and soon the dreaded trembling began, triggered by low blood sugar levels and resulting muscular dystrophy. She sunk into a life threatening state of collapse but fortunately Robert Carr-Hartley was at hand to immediately insert a drip into an ear vein, pending the arrival of the Vet. This kept her conscious and after the Vet had administered concentrated intravenous dextrose plus Vitamin B to stimulate appetite, with help she managed to get to her feet again. However, another relapse occurred the next morning, similarly averted by the rapid insertion of a drip into an ear vein, and this time she managed to keep standing and as the blood sugar levels were restored, so the trembling abated. After another 3 days in the Stockade, she was sufficiently strong to be allowed out with the others, now extremely gentle and amiable, despite having been a wild elephant just a few days beforehand. However, it was not until the end of the month that Sidai’s strength had built up sufficiently to enable her to rise unaided from a lying position, and with more strength, so came the usual signs of resentment, giving strangers the odd shove, something that hitherto she had been too weak to accomplish! However, this phase is to be expected, and will pass, and Sidai, like all elephant females, will become gentle and caring of the young, and close to the Keepers who replace her lost elephant family. The second newcomer this month arrived on the 7th – (the calf that was reported by the Amboseli Researchers some two weeks back, but who did not return on the rescue plane sent for him, having gone deep into a swamp with some wild friends. The next time he was spotted he was all alone, and his mother had been dead of unknown causes for some 3 weeks. Nevertheless, he was still strong enough to put up strong resistance to being captured, and the subsequent chase and overpowering of him by inexperienced Rangers for him proved a terrifying episode, which left its mark, for upon arrival in the Nursery, he was extremely aggressive, bent on killing everyone on two legs. He was named “Orok” by Cynthia Moss, the Masai word for “Black” since his family spent a lot of time amongst the dark shadows of the doum palm groves of Ol Tukai. Like Sidai, he was 18 months old, and for the next 5 days, the Keepers struggled to calm him, but having to continually scale the escape platform to avoid being pummelled to death! Fortunately, however, having watched Kora next door downing his milk with relish, Orok decided to follow suit, roughly gulping it down before retreating back into a far corner with outspread ears.

The Nursery welcomed two newcomers this month, the first a female calf of about 18 months on the 2nd from Ol Pejeta Ranch in Laikipia, pitifully weak from advanced starvation and milk deprivation. She was named “Sidai” which in the Samburu language is the word for “beautiful”. Exceedingly traumatised, at first she was very “wild” and refused to take milk or rehydration throughout the night, but once the other elephants had been brought in to be with her, she began accepting the milk and since then can’t get enough of it!. Whilst the milk intake was a hopeful sign, she refused the vital electrolytes, and soon the dreaded trembling began, triggered by low blood sugar levels and resulting muscular dystrophy. She sunk into a life threatening state of collapse but fortunately Robert Carr-Hartley was at hand to immediately insert a drip into an ear vein, pending the arrival of the Vet. This kept her conscious and after the Vet had administered concentrated intravenous dextrose plus Vitamin B to stimulate appetite, with help she managed to get to her feet again. However, another relapse occurred the next morning, similarly averted by the rapid insertion of a drip into an ear vein, and this time she managed to keep standing and as the blood sugar levels were restored, so the trembling abated. After another 3 days in the Stockade, she was sufficiently strong to be allowed out with the others, now extremely gentle and amiable, despite having been a wild elephant just a few days beforehand. However, it was not until the end of the month that Sidai’s strength had built up sufficiently to enable her to rise unaided from a lying position, and with more strength, so came the usual signs of resentment, giving strangers the odd shove, something that hitherto she had been too weak to accomplish! However, this phase is to be expected, and will pass, and Sidai, like all elephant females, will become gentle and caring of the young, and close to the Keepers who replace her lost elephant family.
The second newcomer this month arrived on the 7th – (the calf that was reported by the Amboseli Researchers some two weeks back, but who did not return on the rescue plane sent for him, having gone deep into a swamp with some wild friends. The next time he was spotted he was all alone, and his mother had been dead of unknown causes for some 3 weeks. Nevertheless, he was still strong enough to put up strong resistance to being captured, and the subsequent chase and overpowering of him by inexperienced Rangers for him proved a terrifying episode, which left its mark, for upon arrival in the Nursery, he was extremely aggressive, bent on killing everyone on two legs. He was named “Orok” by Cynthia Moss, the Masai word for “Black” since his family spent a lot of time amongst the dark shadows of the doum palm groves of Ol Tukai. Like Sidai, he was 18 months old, and for the next 5 days, the Keepers struggled to calm him, but having to continually scale the escape platform to avoid being pummelled to death! Fortunately, however, having watched Kora next door downing his milk with relish, Orok decided to follow suit, roughly gulping it down before retreating back into a far corner with outspread ears.

In the end, we decided that the only course of action would be to let him out with the others, and this proved successful, although his antipathy towards humans, and particularly being covered with a blanket, endures. Immediately he and Sidai struck up a close friendship, finding solace in their shared grief and strange new life. Today, they usually choose to remain close to one another and feed slightly apart from the main group, and whenever Sidai stumbles, and has difficulty in getting up, it is Orok who will stand beside her and help the Keepers lift her back to her feet.

Tiny Makena, still the smallest in stature, despite being older than Zurura, remains the precious favourite of Lualeni who has stepped into Naserian’s shoes as “mother” and relishes this role, totally preoccupied with Makena and extremely protective of her. Meanwhile, the other tiny Nursery baby, little Zurura, is proving quite a character, and because both he and Makena still insist on being fed against a hung blanket, this has proved a bone of contention between the two. Zurura likes his head actually covered completely by the blanket whilst suckling his bottle, and this gives Makena a chance to sneak up on him and disrupt the process, jealous that he, too, should have a hung blanket! This inevitably results in a punch up between these two miniatures, which requires the intervention of either the Keepers or Lualeni, but amuses all onlookers, because both are so small! Lualeni usually favours Makena, her favourite, but when a loud clap of thunder and a bolt of lightening struck at the end of the month. And on this occasion Lualeni allowed both babies to remain very close by her side, whereas usually she pushes Zurura away.

Zurura has formed a very close friendship with Kora, having given up on Lualeni who is too obsessed with Makena for his liking. He loves to take on Kora in a pushing contest, and Kora is deliberately gentle with him, allowing him to feel that he is the winner when just a shove from the bigger elephant would put him to the ground. All young bulls enjoy testing their strength in pushing matches, which also establishes the hierarchy amongst them. Kora, who enjoys chasing the baby warthogs, also often allows to lead the chase, something that makes him feel very proud!

Loijuk, who, like Sidai, was extremely emaciated when she came into the Nursery last month, is steadily putting on weight, and has formed a close friendship with another relative newcomer, Amboseli’s 9 month old Sian, whose mother failed to return having crossed the border into Tanzania. Both are very gentle little elephants, and Loijuk, especially, enjoys contact with the noon time visitors, walking close to the rope so that they can fondle her.

Odd man out, in terms of peer friendship, at the moment, is Challa, whose strength has returned and who is now stronger than Kora. He is enjoying taking revenge for the many times that Kora has won the shoving contests in the past. Having arrived as a weak starvation case, he now feels that it is payback time, and he makes the most of it. He is particularly pushy at milk feeding times, shoving away any of the others that he feels might take be tempted to hijack his share, and as a starvation victim, this is perfectly understandable, demonstrated by many such cases before him.

Worryingly, Kora’s jaw, which we all thought had healed completely, is now again exuding tiny quantities of pus through a small opening, so obviously some foreign object, either a piece of shrapnel from the bullet, or a piece of dead bone, is causing the problem. He will shortly be anaesthetized so that the Vet can take a closer look and try and extract whatever is causing this infection. However, his jaw does not seem to worry him unduly, and he is thriving despite this setback, and in prime condition. However, it is important to try and remove any foreign body before he begins rehabilitation back into the wild system.

February 2006 day to day

01 Feb

As usual, Zurura was feeding close to Kora today when Kora tried to reach a very high branch, lifting one foreleg. In doing so, he fell, and Zurura took the opportunity of trying to mount him.

Kora in the forest clearing

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