The month of February dealt us a catastrophic tragedy at Ithumba, leaving us all shocked and distraught - the very sudden and unexpected deaths of both Naimina and Enasoit, within just a day of one another, on the 5th and 6th February respectively. Both elephants were moved to Ithumba from the Nairobi Nursery on the 4th November 2009 (along with Meibai). Naimina came from the boundary between Amboseli and Tanzania, with a spear wound in her chest and Enasoit from Enesoit Ranch in Laikipia district. They arrived in the Nursery as emaciated milk dependent drought victims who had obviously lost their mother and been forced to share pasture and drinking places with diseased and dying domestic livestock belonging to the pastoral tribes of their respective areas. In the Nursery, both recovered rapidly, and were in fine fettle by the time they were transferred to Ithumba to make room for the many others that were coming in on an almost daily basis. There they instantly thrived and could not have been happier. As the youngest members within the Ithumba herd, they were embraced and adored by all the older orphans and they settled instantly, reveling in the fresh lush green growth brought on by December/January rainstorms which filled the natural waterholes with fresh rainwater, created mudbaths at every turn and turned Ithumba into a veritable elephant paradise.
Naimina was fine at midnight on the 4th February,, but refused her morning feed at 6 a.m. on the morning of the 5th February, which was unusual. She then suddenly began writhing around on the ground, obviously suffering severe stomach cramping. Head Keeper Benjamin instantly climbed the tall rocky kopje abutting the Stockades in order to get a signal and be able to alert us in Nairobi, so an aircraft was hurriedly chartered to fly Head Nursery Keeper Edwin Lusichi to Ithumba, armed with antibiotics, De-wormers and Buscopan to try and save Naimina. He got there just in time to administer the drugs, and although she seemed to improve slightly, it was already too late, and Naimina died at 11 a.m., before the chartered plane had landed back in Nairobi. We were stunned for the demise of Naimina was so rapid and unexpected, as she was in prime condition. That a 2 year old elephant in prime condition could be perfectly healthy and dead just a few hours later beggared belief, because usually by the time a calf has reached its second year, and passed through the Nursery, it is well on its way to being able to grow up unheeded by ill health.
However, little did we realize that a double whammy awaited us, for that same night Enasoit suffered identical symptoms. Immediately Head Ithumba Keeper Benjamin again scrambled up the tall rocky outcrop by torch light at 3 a.m. in the morning to alert us in Nairobi, and thereafter none of us slept a wink, worried sick about what could be the cause of this unhappy situation. Enasoit was dead by 6 a.m of the 6th February, but just before he passed away, at 5 a.m. that morning, the entire ex orphaned herd of elephants returned from the bush and came to the Stockade compound, all somehow having become aware of the tragedy unfolding around their cherished new babies. That mysterious and inexplicable “ elephant sixth sense” that we have witnessed had kicked in yet again, defying human logic! Both the groups normally led by Yatta and Wendi were united, all crowding around the door to Enasoit’s Stockade, as he breathed his last, united with the Keepers in grief. Meanwhile the Youngsters had been escorted out, so as to shield them from the unfolding tragedy, but all the ex orphans hung around and only left the compound long after Enasoit had passed away. They then met up with the Stockade dependent group and spent the entire day comforting the Youngsters, paying particular attention to little Meibai, the sole survivor of the last Ithumba intake of 3 ex Nursery members.
This second unexplained death of an otherwise perfectly healthy 2 year old elephant left us panicked wondering what we were dealing with, mindful that it could be some obscure virus that might threaten our entire orphaned herd. Ithumba offers elephants a habitat where all the minerals and nutrients they need are readily available to them in both the water and the browse so at the time we assumed that Naimina must have inadvertently consumed something extremely toxic out in the bush, or perhaps even been bitten by a poisonous snake that managed to get into the Stockade during the night, but the sudden death of Enasoit the very next day suffering the same symptoms pointed to the possibility of something much more sinister! Could it be the dreaded hookworm that had accounted for the death of so many of our Nursery drought victims, which had been identified through a tiny gut sample sent to Japan? The Vets thought not, but we were not convinced ever since blood sucking gut nematodes identified from gut samples sent to Japan had been identified. We were taking no chances with Meibai, who was also a 2009 Laikipia drought victim moved from the Nursery to Ithumba along with Naimina and Enasoit, so he was instantly dosed with the specific De-worming drugs recommended to us by the South African Onderstepoort Veterinary facility. Having treated Meibai, all the Stockade dependent orphans were also dosed just in case a hatching of the blood sucking nematodes had accounted for the deaths of these two 2009 drought victims who had shared time with diseased domestic livestock prior to being rescued.
Prior to Enasoits passing, Dr. David Ndeereh, the Vet attached to our Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit was already on his way to undertake a postmortem on Naimina’s body, when news came that Enasoit had also died under similar circumstances. Robert Carr-Hartley immediately flew from Nairobi with a Cold Box and containers to bring back body specimens for examination. The post-mortem was undertaken on the fresher body of Enasoit, and revealed an elephant in prime condition with all major organs healthy as did that of Naimina.
Robert Carr-Hartley brought back body samples to Nairobi along with samples of the milk, the water, the barley and coconut supplements, the bottles, the teats etc., etc. for analysis at the University Veterinary faculty. Since then nothing untoward has been identified which could account for the two orphans having been poisoned, and mercifully all the others, including Meibai, have remained healthy. Samples from the body of Enasoit has also been sent in formalin to Japan for analysis, because it was only there that the reason for the “wasting syndrome” of so many of the Nursery drought victims was positively identified. We suspect that the “turning foot” syndrome might also be related to the presence of those two parasites identified in Japan.
It is, indeed, mysterious that as Enasoit lay dying, Yatta, Wendi and all the now “wild” Ithumba orphans gathered as a herd at the door to his Stockade, surrounding him with concern and love as he departed this world. Obviously, through that mysterious “elephant perception” they were aware of the tragedy unfolding back at the Stockades and were united in their grief, and had come to say goodbye, and to share their sorrow with the human Keepers and the Stockade dependent orphans. Both Naimina and Enasoit had been deeply loved by bother their new elephant family as well as their adopted human one. Thereafter, the ex orphans have taken great pains to spend quality time with the Juniors, lavishing a great deal of attention on Meibai, as have the older females within the Junior set.. Meibai is now the cherished darling baby of the entire herd, enveloped by a constant out-pouring of elephant love. There have only been a couple of days this month when the ex orphans led by Yatta and Wendi have not met up with the Juniors, either as one cohesive herd, or separately, sometimes either waiting for them at the Stockade compound first thing in the morning, meeting them out in the bush later or at the noon mudbath, and often escorting them back to their Night Stockades in the evening, sometimes accompanied by wild bulls. On one occasion Nasalot arrived unexpectedly to undertake return escort duty, and went to great pains to usher Meibai into his specific Night Stockade, thereafter hanging around just outside until well after dark before departing.
An exciting event this month has been the h honeymoon of Mulika which began on the 8th and lasted for some three days during which time she was accompanied by a large handsome and very attentive wild bull and traveled separately to the other ex orphans led by Yatta and/or Wendi, joining them and the babies on one occasion at the noon mudbath.
On the l0th Kora and Lualeni, both of whom are normally still Keeper dependent opted to leave with Wendi’s group who had joined the Youngsters out in the bush and then departed taking the two Juniors with them. However, as the Juniors were about to return to feed after their noon mudbath, Kora and Lualeni returned to rejoin them again when they settled down to browse in the Kanziku area, Meibai sandwiched lovingly between Naserian and Sidai. However, a few days later, Kora and Lualeni suddenly rumbled and headed off in a hurry, no doubt called by Wendi to join her group for a night out, and again the next day the two were waiting at the mudbath venue when the Youngsters turned up. However, towards the end of the month Kora and Wendi rejoined the Seniors and by the end of the month had spent 5 consecutive days and nights out with them, so it looks as though they may have elevated themselves permanently to becoming part of the Senior ex orphaned group of Keeper Independent now “wild” orphans.
On the 21st, unusually it was Kinna who came alone to escort the Youngsters out first thing in the morning. Thereafter, she spent the entire day close to Meibai, apparently, (according to the Keepers), “teaching him many things about life in the wild”! Meanwhile, the weather this month at Ithumba has been very variable; some days so hot that all the Youngsters have been forced to browse under the shade of trees while Meibai has had to resort to drawing water from his stomach to cool himself down. On other days it has been too cool for the orphans to be tempted into the mud wallow, so they have opted for just a dust-bath instead.
On the 14th Ol Malo did not want to return into the Night Stockades, as she has been doing of late, but instead headed out with the ex orphans who had escorted the Youngsters back and who left the compound later. She has not been seen since. Being a somewhat fragile elephant, Head Ithumba Keeper Benjamin and the Warden have taken to the air on several days to try and locate her, but instead have seen many wild cow elephant herds, some with small calves and also many teenagers the size of Ol Malo, but no lone elephant her size, and, more importantly, no sign of a dead body. Ol Malo has always been a very outgoing elephant, comfortable in the company of her wild friends, on many occasions returning alone, or accompanied by wild bulls. We hope that she has just joined a friendly cow herd to become a “Nannie” to smaller calves, or even met up with “Mgeni”, Yatta’s wild recruit, who has also been missing from the ex orphaned herd since the arrival of the large boyfriend. We trust that she is just on a wild walk-about now that she is feeling in better shape, the hernia on her flank having visibly subsided.