Keepers' Diaries, February 2006

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.

01 February 2006

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.

02 February 2006

The arrival of a very weak little female elephant orphan from Ol Pejeta Ranch in Laikipia District excited all the other elephants. She was named “Sidai”, the word for “beautiful” in the Samburu language. Lualeni, with Makena by her side, was especially thrilled to welcome the newcomer, who was too weak to do anything other than simply stand. Lualeni entwined trunks with the newcomer, and Zurura also came up to greet and touch her gently.

03 February 2006

Loijuk, who is now gaining some strength, thrilled all the visitors at mudbath by walking very close to the rope, and touching them with her tiny trunk. The visitors were very touched in view of the fact that she had come in so recently.

04 February 2006

As the orphans were feeding out in the bush, suddenly they were alarmed by the sudden appearance of the orphaned rhino, Shida, from the bushes, closely followed by his Keepers, who took him away. The elephants all ran to their Keepers for protection, and after the mudbath were reluctant to return to the bush.

05 February 2006

Challa shoved Sian while she was taking her milk. The Keepers reprimanded him by tone of voice, and he ran off, contrite

06 February 2006

Yet again, there was a disagreement between Makena and Zurura over the feeding when the Keeper arrived with the 9 a.m. feed out in the bush. Zurura wanted to be under Makena’s blanket, which triggered the fight. In the end Zurura was led away in a different direction to his blanket, and peace returned.

07 February 2006

It was a sunny evening when another newcomer arrived, rescued from Amboseli. He was an 18 month old bull calf, and was still very strong and very wild. It was very touching to see Kora wrapping his trunk around the body of the new arrival in a gesture of comfort. The new calf, named Orok, was in the next door Stockade to Kora, who kept vigil, watching him, most of the night.

08 February 2006

As the elephants were feeding out in the bush, just before coming to the noon mudbath, Loijuk tricked the other elephants by pretending to have seen something scarey. She ran to the Keepers, and all the others followed, but when the Keepers went to investigate, there was nothing. “Loijuk had turned out to be a wag!”

09 February 2006

Kora and Challa began a shoving contest out in the bush this morning, and when it became obvious that Challa would be the winner, little Zurura joined in on Kora’s side, but even together they could not defeat Challa, who is now becoming very strong.

10 February 2006

A low flying aircraft scared the orphans, forcing them to run to their Keepers. However, newcomers Sian and Loijuk ran in the opposite direction and hid in some thick bushes. The Keepers called them by name, and eventually they emerged, with outspread ears, looking very frightened.

11 February 2006

As the orphans were resting under shade in the afternoon, a family of warthogs arrived. Kora gave chase, closely followed by little Zurura. When Kora noticed that Zurura was close behind him, he stopped to allow Zurura to be the hero, but kept a close eye on events, in case Zurura got into trouble. Zurura was very happy.

12 February 2006

Immediately after the mudbath, all the elephants assembled at the door of Orok’s Stockade, as he was allowed out for the first time. Although still very wild and resenting humans, he was very happy to be amongst the other elephants, and out in the Park forest. He did not try and run away.

13 February 2006

Kora’s friendship with little Zurura blossoms. They fed close together all afternoon, and play fighting, when Kora pushes his small friend very gently, allowing him to feel brave and good.

14 February 2006

At the mudbath, all the Keepers were astonished when little Loijuk went into the mudbath exuberantly, splashing the water with her front legs, and then romping in the mud. We all felt confident that her health had improved greatly.

15 February 2006

Sidai quietly led Orok away from where the other elephants were browsing today, leaving Lualeni with the rest. We tried to persuade Sidai and Orok to join with Lualeni’s group, but to no avail. They wanted to be apart.

16 February 2006

Zurura had a go at mounting little Makena, which she did not appreciate. She ran to Lualeni, who raised her ears, and charged Zurura. The Keepers intervened to protect him from Lualeni’s ire.

17 February 2006

As the orphans were feeding quietly, they were suddenly scared by some warthogs, and ran towards the Keepers. Sidai, who is still very weak, fell and needed the Keepers’ help to get up again. Only Orok remained beside her whilst she was being helped up.

18 February 2006

Today, all the elephants found an anthill with loose soil, and began rolling against it. Makena climbed on Lualeni, which prompted Zurura to try and do the same. This made Makena very jealous, so she pushed him away.

19 February 2006

The elephants loved their mudbath today, after which Makena began a game of football, kicking the ball with her front legs, and rushing around with her ears out. She was soon joined by Loijuk, and the visitors loved the entertainment, everyone trying to capture a photograph of the playful babies.

20 February 2006

As the Keepers were eating their lunch, the warthog family arrived, hoping for some leftovers. Zurura began chasing them, and to everyone’s amazement, managed a squeaky trumpet for the very first time.

21 February 2006

Zurura wanted to feed close to Sidai today, taking some vegetation from her mouth, but Sidai’s best friend, Orok became jealous and displaced Zurura.

22 February 2006

We encountered several buffaloes out in the Park forest today, who ran off, frightening the elephants. Surprisingly Sian and Loijuk were not as scared as the others, probably having met buffaloes in their original homeland before they became orphaned.

23 February 2006

After the elephants had finished their mudbath, they all came close to the rope to eat the vegetation that the Keepers had brought in for them. Loijuk enjoyed the visitors touching her gently, but Sidai disapproved, and charged towards the visitors. The Keepers restrained her.

24 February 2006

Being Friday, the elephants were rubbed in coconut oil, which is something the Keepers do every Friday. They all began rolling on the ground which prompted Zurura to climb onto his friend, Kora. Makena then tried to follow suit, but Zurura objected and pushed her away. She faced Zurura, prepared for battle, but Lualeni quickly intervened.

25 February 2006

Sian stood next to Challa, who was busy pulling down a branch. Sensing that Sian wanted to take his branch from him, he began to push her away, but Kora intervened to shield Sian, taking on Challa instead.

26 February 2006

Today saw another fight between Zurura and Makena. Zurura found himself a branch of vegetation, and Makena wanted it. A tough fight ensured between these two “blanket rivals” which was difficult for even the Keepers to stop. In the end, the branch was broken into two, and each given their share.

27 February 2006

Zurura again wanted to play fight with Kora, but Kora, knowing that he is only a baby, is very gentle with him, and not retaliating as he does with Challa. Meanwhile Lualeni is preoccupied trying to stop a disagreement between Zurura and Makena, favouring Makena.

28 February 2006

Early in the afternoon, just as we had settled down with the elephants, the skies turned very dark, and heavy rain ensued, accompanied by a sharp bolt of lightening which sent all the orphans scampering around, pushing each other, and very afraid. The Keepers had a difficult time to calm them. However, Lualeni displayed a rare trait, allowing both Makena and Zurura to remain close to her, whereas normally she pushes Zurura aside.