February has been a month filled with drama and sadness - the deaths of two little orphaned elephant newcomers, “Kulalu” and “Kongit” on the 7th and 20th respectively and the rescue of little “Kainuk” an orphan of the few remaining elephants in the South Turkana National Reserve on the 22nd, an area that is populated by the warlike Pokot pastoral people who eke out a living as best they can in an extremely marginal lava desert. All the tribesmen are illegally heavily armed against cattle rustling which is also rife in that forgotten corner of the country, and now that Chinese aid workers are in the country, the market for illegal ivory is here as well, so is the incentive to poach both elephants and rhinos, commodities that are much in demand in the Far East.
Orphan Kulalu originated from Kulalu Ranch abutting Tsavo’s Eastern Park boundary, believed to be a victim of poaching, and obviously having walked a great distance through hot and arid hostile country before reaching the Galana river near the Sala Gate, from whence she was rescued on the 4th. By the time she reached the Nursery, her last ounce of strength and the will to live had been compromised. Tiny “Kongit”, an orphan from the Mt. Elgon area on the Kenya/Uganda border rescued by Ndorobo honey hunters having fallen over a Cliff on the 14th, had been (well meaningly) fed cows’ milk overnight by her rescuers, to which baby elephants are totally intolerant so her digestive tract was in turmoil. She was flown to the Nursery on the 15th, having spent a night and a day in a cold climate, added to which she was obviously newborn and probably had not had her mother’s first colostrum milk containing the antibodies the immune system needs to cope with life outside the womb. The chances of recovery for both these newcomers was compromised from the start and we lost them both.
Kainuk, the new arrival who came in on the 22nd, although emaciated through not having had sufficient milk from her ailing mother, was understandably very traumatized and wild on arrival, but in between shoving the Keeper around her stable, hungrily downed both milk and water from a bottle. She calmed down when the other Nursery inmates were brought to meet her and was so eager to be amongst them that she was allowed out to join them the very next day. Immediately Olare and Mutara comforted her, lavishing love on her, and she bonded with little Naipoki as well. So far she is doing very well, taking all her milk feeds, and is very much an integral part of the Nursery herd. However, we had to move Turkwel into her Nursery stable to keep her company, since she was still fearful of being alone with a human attendant.
The 9th brought the incident between orphaned Rhino Shida and orphaned elephant Tano which could easily have ended tragically, but mercifully did not. As the elephants were making their way out to browse during the morning, Shida happened to be on his way home when Tano, (possibly mistaking him for a warthog), ran up to him. As he spotted her, Shida immediately engaged her, initially gently, but when she fell down, he slotted into auto “killing mode”, as these ancient pachyderms do. He tossed her in the air, rolled her along the ground and despite all the Keepers bellowing and hurling rocks at him, refused to give up. Only when a rock hit him in the face, did he snap out of “instinctive mode” and allow Tano time to escape. Miraculously, but for bruising and a few abrasions, she was unscathed, Shida’s sizeable horn having passed beneath her body rather than through it. We were, however, fearful that she might have sustained internal damage, so a very close watch was kept over her throughout the day, and during that night, but there was no outward indication of anything remiss. It was a miracle, but also a timely warning that Shida would have to be moved.
Another drama this month has been the presence of a surprise visitor, none other than a lame hyaena who put himself under one of the Trust’s Storage Containers, occupying the burrow excavated for themselves at night by the resident warthogs who obviously had to exit their retreat in a hurry. The presence of this hyaena totally unphased orphan “Murka” who literally went berserk in her Stockade overnight, so much so that the Keepers feared that she had lost her marbles! Murka obviously holds extremely sinister memories about being hounded by hyaenas attracted by the suppurating axe wounds on her body and the spear wound in her head before she was rescued as an orphan. So traumatized was she by the appearance of the hyaena that we had to move her sleeping quarters next door to Olare, the Nursery Matriarch, for she would not go back into the one she had occupied the night before.
Hungry Nairobi Park (and very vociferous lions) have also contributed towards a very troubled Nursery month for our elephants and their Keepers who have had to be extremely vigilant whilst out in the bush. As usual the lions have been targeting the resident warthogs, but eventually managed to kill a buffalo not far from the Elephant Stockades, and this anchored them for a while not far from our compound, sending the elephants and their Keepers into a high state of nervous alert. Every morning Olare embarked on a hurried round of all the stables and stockades to ensure that all her brood were still present and correct after a disturbed night!
Little Naipoki is a great favourite of all the female elephants now sharing that slot with Kainuk. Even Sities has overcome the jealousy she initially displayed at being displaced as “the baby” and is now amenable to both Naipoki and Kainuk. Olare, Mutara and Makireti adore the two smallest babies, constantly focused on them, as is Shukuru. Taking a cue from Sities, Naipoki enjoys going up and down the cordon that separates the mudbath visitors from the elephants, escorted by Mutara, Makireti and Shukuru, and charms all the visitors who are astounded at the way the orphans respond to the commands of their Keepers.
For several months, we have been concerned about Kudup whose appetite has not been quite as good as it should be at her age. She is also very lethargic, trailing all the others as they run for their noon milk feed at mudbath time. She has been de-wormed again, but that resulted in no visible improvement, so the Vet was asked to take blood from both her and Turkwel, another somewhat quiet member of the Nursery herd, who also does not always finish her milk ration. The result of the blood tests showed that Kudup had a very high white cell count indicating an infection of some sort, so the has to undergo a long course of Nuroclav antibiotic as well as Betasol combined with homeopathic remedies supplied by our Homeopathic Doctor, Lesley Suter. She also receives probiotics in her milk to ensure that her stomach flora is not compromised. The sample taken from Turkwel appeared normal, and that was a relief.
Rhino Orphans:- It was with great sorrow that we were forced to have to move orphaned rhino Shida on the 15th February, following the altercation with elephant orphan “Tano” on the 9th which could well have ended tragically. Miraculously Tano emerged unscathed, although none of us can understand how for she was tossed in the air, and rolled around on the ground before the Keepers managed to drive Shida off. Fortunately, Shida’s sizeable horn went beneath her body and not through it.
Shida was born in 2003 and now in his eighth year, and Keeper independent, he is virtually a wild rhino, fully integrated into the resident Nairobi Park rhino community but for the fact that he has been in the habit of returning to keep an eye on blind Maxwell on a daily basis. After this incident, we had no option but to request the KWS authorities to move him in order to avoid a tragedy which could involve one of the Keepers as well as an orphaned elephant, or even possibly a Trust Visitor.
He was sedated and moved to the electrically fenced Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary on the 15th a radio transmitter having been inserted into his horn so that he could be monitored at the other end. Details surrounding his move can be found as an update on our website.
In the end KWS decided to tip him out near Goss Camp within the fenced Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary where KWS Rangers are based and where their presence would act as a deterrent to the wild rhinos resident in the Sanctuary, said to number around 60. However, Shida immediately set off on a quest to locate his territory again, and overnight walked about l0 kms. from Goss Camp, easily located the next day because of the radio transmitter inserted in his horn. Keeper Mishak caught up with him and laid a dung trail back to Goss Camp, but Shida was in no mood to pay attention to any human, and merely kept on walking. The danger is that because he is not known by the established rhino residents of the Sanctuary, he is at risk of being beaten up and ejected from established territories, so the Trust has obtained permission from KWS to establish a Stockade for him back at Goss Camp. This is in the process of being constructed, and then we will try and entice him back to base and establish him there which will provide a Safe Retreat for him where he will be able to be under close surveillance and to which he can retreat if necessary.
In the meantime one of the Trust’s Keepers whom he knows well will be based at Ngulia with the KWS Rhino Surveillance team, at hand to keep a close eye on Shida, locating him every day and ensuring that he is still intact, and taking him water and Lucerne. A recent rainstorm has provided puddles of rainwater and mudbaths at his current location, which he has obviously enjoyed, but he still appears to be on the move. However, once the Stockade has been erected, and we are able to either entice him, or move him, back and hold him there for a few weeks, hopefully he will come to regard that location as “Home Base”, and make sorties out from there, returning when necessary. Once this happens, we will feel a lot happier about him. Rhinos are fiercely territorial animals, and establishing them in a new territory is always a complicated and difficult process, especially when others are already established territory owners and do not tolerate intrusion from unknown strangers.
Blind Maxwell is missing Shida sorely. Shida’s daily return to his Stockade has always been the highlight of Max’s dark days, and Shida’s sudden absence has left him extremely restless. However, little Solio is still there for him, and whenever she returns to her Stockade in the evenings, Max is pressed up against the separating poles, obviously aware of her proximity, and delighted that she is close. As for Solio, she is thriving, and thoroughly enjoying doing the rounds of Shida’s old dungpiles and urinals as well as those of the few remaining Nairobi Park rhino residents. Due to the presence of the lions, she browses near to the elephant orphans on a daily basis, so that men in numbers can prove a satisfactory predator deterrent. One night a lion lay down and slept just outside her stockade, hungrily eyeing her and the Keeper who was with her for the night! She is a very gentle little rhino, who adores her Keepers and a great Nursery favourite.