Keepers' Diaries, February 2009

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

The month of February will surely count as probably the most stressful for us yet, with a plethora of elephant rescues, each coming hot on the heels of the previous one, the loss of many newcomers, and the deep sadness of having to euthenaze little Ziwani, who had put up such a very brave struggle for life. The spear wounds she sustained at the hands of brutal Masai tribesmen illegally grazing their cattle in Southern Tsavo West National Park, had apparently punctured her stomach wall, resulting in peritonitis. She finally gave up the battle to live and collapsed on the l0th, and following the advice of the Vet, she was put to sleep forever after the pronouncement that there was no hope of recovery. Ending her suffering was the last ultimate kindness we could do for her, at the same time feeling anger and hatred for those that had caused so much agony. There are times when one is ashamed of being “human” if one can attribute that term to her brutal killers. It transpired that again on the 20th February Masai tribesmen again speared another baby elephant near the same canal on Ziwani Sisal Estate where Ziwani was mutilated, and previously had speared an adult cow elephant and her calf near the up-market Finchatten’s tourist camp in Tsavo West. Whereas Somali poachers face being shot on sight in a National Park, it appears that Masai poachers, illegally in such Protected Areas, can do so with impunity and get away scott free! Surely this is very wrong!

The month of February will surely count as probably the most stressful for us yet, with a plethora of elephant rescues, each coming hot on the heels of the previous one, the loss of many newcomers, and the deep sadness of having to euthenaze little Ziwani, who had put up such a very brave struggle for life. The spear wounds she sustained at the hands of brutal Masai tribesmen illegally grazing their cattle in Southern Tsavo West National Park, had apparently punctured her stomach wall, resulting in peritonitis. She finally gave up the battle to live and collapsed on the l0th, and following the advice of the Vet, she was put to sleep forever after the pronouncement that there was no hope of recovery. Ending her suffering was the last ultimate kindness we could do for her, at the same time feeling anger and hatred for those that had caused so much agony. There are times when one is ashamed of being “human” if one can attribute that term to her brutal killers. It transpired that again on the 20th February Masai tribesmen again speared another baby elephant near the same canal on Ziwani Sisal Estate where Ziwani was mutilated, and previously had speared an adult cow elephant and her calf near the up-market Finchatten’s tourist camp in Tsavo West. Whereas Somali poachers face being shot on sight in a National Park, it appears that Masai poachers, illegally in such Protected Areas, can do so with impunity and get away scott free! Surely this is very wrong!

Seven newcomers were received in the Nairobi Nursery this month, living evidence of just how much suffering Kenyan elephants are enduring at the moment. On the 3rd 5 month old “Sabachi” arrived; on the 6th 1 week old Kibo, the 13th saw the arrival of 10 month old Loimugi, already suffering from serious diarrhoea that we were unable to contain. He died on the 20th. On the 14th 8 month old Muti came in (who died on the 21st from pneumonia, despite 45 days of Nuroclav antibiotic) and on the 15th newborn baby Milgis arrived and died on the 23rd. (We later heard that apparently she had been (well- meaningly) fed maizemeal porridge and tea by her Samburu rescuers prior to arrival, which didn’t do her stomach any good at all). On the 24th we rescued another extremely emaciated victim, 3 month old Kirisia, whose life was hanging in the balance at the end of the month and who died a few days later, and on the 26th 4 week old Soit came in, also in a condition of extreme emaciation. He died a week later. These last two orphans, along with Loimugi were too emaciated for us to be able to retrieve, having been without their mother’s milk for far too long. Furthermore, elephant orphans who share watering places with domestic livestock are always particularly at risk, breathing into their lungs cowdung dust and also possibly also ingesting the faeces of domestic livestock whilst attempting to mouth up water near wells. (Very young elephants have yet to learn the use of their trunk).

An autopsy was undertaken on the corpse of little Soit whose symptoms resembled those of other new arrivals. The results revealed the Rota virus as being the cause of death, which is obviously why the antibiotic medication proved ineffectual.

Sabachi ended up simply walking into the grounds of Serara Camp in the Namunyak Conservancy, much to the astonishment of the resident Gardener! Kibo was another well victim like Mawenzi and Sinya, possibly falling down the same rocky well at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, (the Amboseli Researchers have promised to address the issue of this well by arranging to possibly dig steps into the sides so that elephants that fall in have a means of getting out.) Loimugi was from the Namunyak Conservancy found simply found wandering alone, while Muti came from Masailand near Kilgoris town, also found alone. Kirisia originated in the Kirisia forested hills near Maralal in Northern Kenya, likewise all alone, while Soit came from the same area as Muti in Masailand, and was also found on his own without any other elephants nearby. (There are reports of a lot of poaching of elephants in that area).

In all the years the Trust has been operating, the most orphans we have ever had to handle at any one time in the Nairobi Nursery has been 12. Had all the latest arrivals lived, and had we not moved Shimba, Wasessa, Siria and Mzima to the Voi Rehabilitation Centre, there would have been over 20 in the Nursery!

Wasessa, Shimba, Mzima and Siria were moved to the Voi Unit in Southern Tsavo East, to free up more Nursery space, on the 21st sooner than planned, for we don’t like moving our orphans from Nairobi to Tsavo during the hottest time of the year which is January to March. However, in this instance, we had no choice for we were running out of space in Nairobi. The Voi Elephant Stockades have been empty of elephants now for over a year, all 36 previous inmates having successfully made the transition back into the wild herds, and now living perfectly normal wild elephant lives amongst the wild community of the Park, among them Emily and her wild-born calf baby “Eve”. Joseph Sauni and his Merry Men were delighted to have some elephant orphans again in their care and to be back in business again!

Meanwhile, back in the Nursery, Lesanju, Lempaute and Sinya were extremely unphased by the sudden disappearance of four from their unit and were anxious whenever the smaller elephants were separated from them to be taken ahead to the mudbath for their milk. Obviously, Lesanju, Lempaute and Sinya were fearful that they, too, may suddenly be spirited away! The departure of our 4 older orphans, and the death of others, prompted a lot of shuffling around of the sleeping arrangements of the Nursery inmates, something that never goes down well, especially with Suguta and Sabachi, who were used to sharing a compartment. Now in adjoining stables, rather than being together, both bellowed all night long, disturbing the sleep of everyone, and upsetting Lesanju, Lempaute and Sinya even further. In the end the Keepers were forced to return Suguta to Sabachi’s stable next door to Mzima, and peace returned, but not for long, because thereafter whenever Suguta lay down, Sabachi tried to climb on top of her, which ended in a punch-up and more bellowing from both! Further brain-storming became necessary and eventually Suguta was put in with Mawenzi in the stable next door to Sabachi so that the two babies could still see one another, but were separated. This worked well, although Sabachi protested to begin with!

Meanwhile, following the results of the autopsy on Soit, the three stables formerly occupied by deceased newcomers had to be thoroughly disinfected and cleaned, and will be rested for several weeks.

Prior to hearing that baby Milgis had been fed porridge and tea, we came to the conclusion that she may not have benefited from her mother’s first Colostrum milk which could be the cause of all her respiratory and stomach problems. For the third time in the history of the Trust we resorted to infusing plasma into an ear-vein, blood having been taken from Sinya under anesthesia. Milgis rallied a little after the infusion, but very sadly was lost to us on the 23rd. Having had to bury so many elephant orphans this month, some dying within a day, or just days of one another, the Keepers (and us) were left emotionally gutted, not helped by ongoing reports of escalating poaching throughout the country, both of elephants, rhinos and the Big Cats (Chinese driving all this) plus a devastating increasing off-take of bushmeat. Exacerbating all this has been the drier than usual conditions, with rivers and lakes drying out, and forests being felled for hardwoods and charcoal. A UNEP satellite image appeared in the local Press highlighting the seriousness of the situation, and predicting dire consequences in the future, but sadly all this seems to fall on deaf ears!

Kenia is a very caring little elephant, a Junior Matriarch in the Nursery who has taken Mawenzi under her wing, and who is always very compassionate towards any newcomers who are not yet settled. However, with the departure of Shimba, Mzima, Siria and Wasessa, the older elephants have been allowed more access to the babies throughout the day in an effort to settle them, and this has displaced the role of Kenia somewhat. Lesanju has chosen Sabachi as her favourite, while Lempaute has homed in on Mawenzi who would actually rather be with Kenia, and keeps on wandering off, but Lempaute is one not to be thwarted! She persists in following Mawenzi’s every move! Sinya is un-decided as to which baby to choose, focusing all her attention on Lesanju whom she adores. Kenia will come back into her own when the three older girls are moved to join Shimba and Co. down in Voi, hopefully in May, rains permitting.

The Rhinos:- One bright spot during a month of doom and gloom has been the progress of miniature “Maalim”, who has thrived and doubled his size and who charms all that meet him. Anointed with Milking Salve every day, his skin is no longer dry, but soft and supple, so that he resembles a large “jelly bean”! Obligingly he strolls along the line of visitors at the mudbath, relishing their touch, closing his eyes in bliss until the Keeper gently urges him forward for the next caresses. He then enjoys being plastered in mud, and dusted with dry earth, after which he is enchantingly playful, spinning and bouncing up and down with rhino huffing and puffing sounds! When the evening foster-parents arrive, he is again spoilt rotten, after which it is time for his beloved mattress and a comfortable night’s rest. There has been no problem shuffling Maalim’s sleeping arrangements to accommodate the growing number of elephants, because wherever the beloved mattress is, is his bedroom!

Meanwhile Maxwell has grown apace, and is in wonderful condition, benefiting from the Lucerne that we have been able to procure for him courtesy of a kind farm Manager in Naivasha. Fortunately rhinos are creatures of routine, so Max has settled into what to anyone else might appear a mundane daily routine, the daily visits of Shida still being the high spots that provide entertainment and excitement. Whilst baby Maalim passes very close to Max’s enclosure on a daily basis, his proximity doesn’t elicit the same response as that of Shida, perhaps because he always smells of milking salve!

Shida, likewise is a creature of habit, usually putting in an appearance during the public visiting hour, when he returns to his Stockade and enjoys being viewed by all the visitors, who ooh and aah and give him a rub. Once the last visitor has left, the supposedly hot wires, which are usually not charged, are put back in place to remind him about places where he is not welcome, such as where cars are parked and human houses that have glass front doors and special pot plants! He then enjoys a mudbath and meanders off, investigating all the scents and smells as he goes for an afternoon outing in the Park to meet his wild peers. The evening visiting hour often sees him unexpectedly turning up again, alarming the foster-parent visitors as he rounds the corner of the Stockades. . Everyone retreats rapidly until he is secured in his stockade again next door to that of Max, and this galvanizes Max into active mode! When the last visitor has departed, he is again a free spirit, and potters around checking that all is as it should be as imprinted in his rhino memory before wandering off again, sometimes spotted fraternizing with other rhinos who come at night to enjoy the mineral blocks laid out for the benefit of all on the rocks beside Daphne’s house.

February 2009 day to day

01 Feb

Mawenzi has been in the Nursery now for 4 days, and has been diligently taken under the care of Kenia, who is a very responsible and caring little elephant. However, at mudbath she lost her nerve, and ran off into the bush, hotly pursued by the Keepers and Kenia. Again, when the evening foster-parent visitors arrived, she again fled, and had to be rounded up by the Keepers.

Mawenzi follows her keeper

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