Keepers' Diaries, January 2003

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Nursery Elephants:- This month we took the decision to return "Maungu" to the Nairobi Nursery, because she has not been thriving as she should down in Tsavo. This calf, who fell in a manhole on the Mombasa Pipeline on Rukinga Ranch on the boundary of Tsavo, was taken directly to the Voi Relocation Centre, her age when orphaned estimated at approximately 8 months. We felt she would be happier amongst the older orphans and that her remaining milk dependency could be completed in Tsavo rather than subjecting her to the additional trauma of being transported back to Nairobi.

Nursery Elephants:- This month we took the decision to return "Maungu" to the Nairobi Nursery, because she has not been thriving as she should down in Tsavo. This calf, who fell in a manhole on the Mombasa Pipeline on Rukinga Ranch on the boundary of Tsavo, was taken directly to the Voi Relocation Centre, her age when orphaned estimated at approximately 8 months. We felt she would be happier amongst the older orphans and that her remaining milk dependency could be completed in Tsavo rather than subjecting her to the additional trauma of being transported back to Nairobi.

However, from the start, she has been a reluctant feeder, a very subdued and slow little elephant who has not grown or gained weight as she should during the 18 months she has been in Tsavo. She trails behind the others, and has shown signs of increasing weakness, latterly suffering from shifting oedema in the abdomen and legs.

A KWS Veterinarian was flown to look at Maungu, and returned with blood samples which indicated severe anaemia. We increased her milk and isolated her from the others so that she could take her ration of copra cake without compeition, and gave her a course of injectable Vitamin B, but whilst the Keepers reported a little improvement in her condition, this has been minimal.

The decision to bring Maungu back was a difficult one, involving separating her from her friends and orphaned family which would be a psychological trauma. Her closest friend is "Mweya" but she is also very close to another Pipeline manhole victim, "Ndara". Maungu and Ndara probably originate from the same group of elephants, and obviously knew one another before being orphaned, because recognition was immediate. However, since Ndara now travels with Emily's group, and Maungu with the very junior Tsavo set, "Mweya" has become her closest companion.

Maungu arrived back on the 15th January. We allowed her a few days settling in, and getting to know the other Nursery babies, before further Veterinary intervention was undertaken, which, unhappily, reinforced our conviction that the cause of her ailment was a chronic heart condition. It is well known that elephants suffer from similar heart conditions as do humans, and, indeed, several of our infant elephants who have died unexpectedly have been found when post-mortemed to have had heart defents.

For several days, Maungu could not sleep lying down, obviously grieving the loss of her close friends, and not used to sleeping on hay. However, having made a little bed of earth in the corner of the stable, she has been able to sleep lying down, but has difficulty getting up unaided. The oedema persists and although she has been feeding well, and taking over 48 pints of milk in a 24 hour day, plus vitamins and minerals, and homeopathic aids, her condition has not improved. Currently, she is on a course of digitalis for the heart, and injectable antibiotics just to rule out any bacterial problem, but we are not optimistic about the chances of survival of this little elephant, despite special treatment and care. As the volume of blood in her body increases, so the heart will be put under additional strain. We simply have to hope for the best and wait and see what happens.

Meanwhile, both Wendi and Tomboi have managed to cut their first set of molars without a problem, which is unusual. They thrive, and are a great joy to all who meet them. Tomboi is a particularly playful little elephant, who enjoys standing on his nose and showing off to all onlookers. Wendi is quite "pushy", not unlike Mweya when she first arrived. But, the waggling of a finger, and severe voice tone are correcting this, and, hopefully, she will fall into line.

Seraa is a very proud mini Matriarch of the two smaller babies, and also very protective of Mweya, especially when our Vet visits her! Mpala is something of a loner, and just gets on with whatever he is doing. He is plump, happy and doing fine, as is Seraa. The stars of the daily mudbath hour are, of course, tiny Wendi and Tomboi, who enchant everyone with their playful behaviour and trusting antics.

Tsavo Orphans:- The main event of the month has been the saga surrounding Imenti, who has always been the self appointed "Protector" of his orphaned family, chasing off buffalo and other intruders the orphans encounter in their sorties out into the bush, which he views as a threat. Unhappily, the latest threat turned out to be a thoughtless tour driver in a minibus, who almost ran into the orphans as they were crossing the road near the Airfield along with 21 wild elephants. Both Emily and Imenti charged the offending bus. Emily stopped short, but Imenti carried through the charge, piercing the windshield of the bus with his tusks. Thereafter, in his elephant mind, all white tour buses were unwelcome intruders into his elephant Kingdom, so he positioned himself near the Entrance Gate to the Park and refused to allow any of them entry or exit.

A day or two later he connected with another vehicle which was driving at night in the Park (and should not have been). The Driver, who was an ex K.W.S. employee and who obviously knew Imenti, called him, and once again, obviously rather pleased by the sound of breaking glass, he quietly pushed a tusk through a window, but greeted the occupants gently and affectionately!

The Warden became very agitated, following complaints by tour Drivers to the Minister of Tourism. He insisted that Imenti be moved. We pleaded for a reprieve and did our best to persuade Imenti to give tour buses a wide berth by using thunder flashes as a deterrent whenever he was near the road, and even buckshot fired from a shotgun, but the Warden complained that keeping Imenti at bay was occupying too many of his Rangers, and this was counter-productive to security. Furthermore, the new "Rainbow Government's" Minister in charge of Wildlife was expected to visit the Park in a day or two. So, in the end, we conceded that perhaps Imenti should be moved. The K.W.S. Capture Unit was activated, and at a cost to the Trust of
K. Shs. 80,000/- ,Imenti was banished to the Tiva River in the far Northern end of Tsavo. He was sedated, crated and transported to his new home 100 miles distant in the Capture Unit's Elephant Truck named "Hannibal"Area, woken up near a permanent seepage in the seasonal River river bed, where the spoor of wild elephants was testimony to the fact that many utilized this place.

Imenti was not impressed. Immediately, he embarked on another long walk home, covering 84 miles of arid waterless country in just 14 hours, dealing with a pride of lions en route, and demolishing the shell of an abandoned Air France bus midway which had been lying near the road for over 30 years! By the evening of the 23rd, he had reached the Galana River, where he took a long drink, had a good look, and retreated into some thick bush.

Imenti has never seen a river this size before, and so far he has not plucked up the courage to cross because he has not returned home. Home is a mere 40 miles away from this point, so it is another little stroll for an elephant. For us, it was a huge relief to know that he has permanent water, good fodder to eat, and, of course, the company of wild elephants, and who knows, he may even encounter some of his orphaned bull friends such as Olmeg and Ajok, who have been away from the Voi Stockades for many years now. (Olmeg was last seen near the Galana River). But, I feel sure that it will be Emily who is uppermost in his heart, and whom he will want to be with again, because what an elephant values above all else are his childhood friends and his family. I have no doubt, that in the fullness of time Imenti the Brave will be back and then all the Thinking Gaps will have to put on again to determine what next do do about it. We will cross that hurdle when it comes!

It is good to have news of Ndume and Dika again, who joined the orphans briefly, joyously received by all Emily's family. Edo has also been a visitor on several occasions, treated to the same joyous welcome, his love of Aitong still evident. Sosian is turning out to be quite a force to be reckoned with amongst the younger set, with a distinct advantage in the pecking order because of his tiny tusks. And, as always, evident in the Keepers' Diary is the bond that unites the orphans as a family, despite their varied backgrounds, and the care that they enjoy from their self appointed Matriarch Emily and Aitong as the Senior Nannie. It is interesting to note the distress when Maungu was moved to Nairobi, and how Emily noticed that she was missing from the group the next morning, and went in search of her, as did her friend, Mweya.

There have been several encounters for the Junior Set with wild herds this month which they have handled with aplomb. Emily's group meet up with wild elephants almost on a daily basis, but are no longer always trailed by their Keepers, but left to their own devices. Once again, Aitong found herself in trouble when she tried to entice a small wild calf away from its mother, ending up with a tusk wound in her rump. It is interesting to see that the same cow was quite comfortable with Emily, who has obviously learnt that such behaviour is not worth the risk of reprisal and is the quickest way to lose wild friends..

The youngest set of orphans, which include Mweya, Sally, Thoma, Solango and Sosian feature most prominently in the Diary, simply because they are still under close surveillance. Emily often takes the others further afield, often beyond walking distance of their human Keepers, but keeps in touch with the others, appearing unexpectedly to check up on them. The older elephants no longer need the close proximity of the Keepers because they have each other and are becoming increasingly comfortable in a wild setting.

Yet again, we read in the Diary many instances of human characteristics, the compassion of the others for weakling Maungu, even the young bulls such as Salama, who kept her company as she laboriously climbed the hill, and then spent 10 minutes gentling her before going to his own sleeping quarters. We read of competitiveness, mischievousness, sulking, the settling of scores, of tussles for rank and pranks practiced at the expense of peers. Yet again, this merely reinforces the fact that elephants are truly very "human" animals. The fact that Imenti the Brave knew the way home, despite being moved l00 miles sedated in a crate, emphasizes the fact that in many respects elephants are, indeed, superior to the human animal in many ways! There is still many unsolved mysteries about them that we have yet to unravel.

January 2003 day to day

01 Jan

At the noon bottle feeding time, Sosian gulped down his share rapidly and then tried to take that of Maungu. Maungu retaliated by shoving him away, but was not strong enough to push him down. He retired to the bushes to sulk. In the afternoon, whilst sheltering from the sun, Yatta, Kinna and Laikipia took fright when a flock of weavers landed in the branches of their tree. They began to scream, which frightened the birds, and frightened the elephants even more! The Keepers had to come and soothe them. At 6 p.m., back at the Stockades, Tsavo went to take a drink of water. Emily stood by him, resting her trunk lovingly on his back, and then escorted him to their Stockade.