Keepers' Diaries, January 2006

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

January has been a tragic month for the Nursery, the severe drought conditions that gripped the country taking their toll. The 4 month old baby bull, named “Yiarie” rescued from the mud of a swamp of that name in Ilingwezi Community Sanctuary, Northern Kenya on the 4th January, 2006, died just 2 days later during the night of the 6th. We struggled desperately to save this baby, but he was already suffering the affects of advanced pneumonia (verified by a Post Mortem examination after death), so he was a hopeless case.

January has been a tragic month for the Nursery, the severe drought conditions that gripped the country taking their toll. The 4 month old baby bull, named “Yiarie” rescued from the mud of a swamp of that name in Ilingwezi Community Sanctuary, Northern Kenya on the 4th January, 2006, died just 2 days later during the night of the 6th. We struggled desperately to save this baby, but he was already suffering the affects of advanced pneumonia (verified by a Post Mortem examination after death), so he was a hopeless case.

On the 15th January, we found ourselves embroiled in two simultaneous elephant rescues each at opposite ends of the country, which proved testing. The first to arrive was a young bull of about 8 months, from Tsavo West National Park, found wandering alone between Ziwani on the Southern Boundary and the Kitani Lodge. This young elephant, who was given the name “Nakiito” (the word for “small quartz pebbles”, abundant in this area), was extremely weak, and put up little resistance when rescued. This, itself, was an ominous omen. A few minutes later, the second orphan, a female calf of about 7 months arrived, from the West Gate Community Sanctuary of Samburu in Laikipia district, already with the name, “Loijuk”, given her by the warriors that rescued her and brought her to the nearest airfield. “Loijuk” is the name of the place where she was found, emaciated and wandering all alone with no other elephants nearby.

From the start we struggled desperately to save the life of the little bull, Nakiito, who was bent on dying, refusing milk and all fluids. By the next morning he was down and comatose, and during the course of the next 12 hours, even an intravenous drip failed to revive him. He died early in the morning of the 17th, a victim of advanced malnutrition exacerbated by pneumonia, tell tale fluid coming from his trunk. Worryingly, the female calf, “Loijuk”, who was also extremely emaciated and feeble, began to show similar signs of pneumonia, but was taking milk and rehydration fluids eagerly, and responded positively to a long course of strong injectable broad spectrum antibiotic. We are cautiously optimistic that she will survive.

On Friday 13th we found ourselves embroiled in yet another rescue, this time an Amboseli orphan, a member of the SA Study Elephant family, and the calf of 23 year old “Soila”, named after Cynthia Moss’s Assistant. Born in April 2005 to the elephant mother “Soila”, the 9 month old female calf named “Sian” returned from having crossed the border into Tanzania without her mother, but still within the family. However, before she could be rescued, the family crossed back into Tanzania, and the rescue was called off. The calf was again spotted on the 17th, but this time without the family, but attached to 4 large Bulls near one of the Amboseli Swamps. Her rescue proved dramatic, because it entailed separating the baby from her Protectors, who did not take kindly to the rude intrusion of being charged by several roaring and hooting vehicles, one being that of Cynthia Moss herself, which was usually simply a friendly quiet observer! Puzzled, after some anxious moments, they took the hint and began to move off, allowing an opportunity for the rescuers, led by Robert Carr-Hartley, to move betwixt them and the orphaned calf, and eventually overpower her. She still had sufficient strength to put up a spirited struggle and it took about 10 men to subdue her, tie her legs and take her to the waiting plane on the airfield. The fact that she was still strong upon arrival in the Nursery was encouraging, but she proved a difficult customer, intent on flattening everyone in sight, and crashing against the bars of her Stockade. Even the calming influence of “Kora” next door failed to reassure her, but during that first night, she began to understand that the Keepers only meant well, and by the next morning, hungrily she accepted both milk and the oatmeal and coconut balls that Daphne had prepared. The other elephants were brought by to meet her, and after just one more day in the Stockade, little Sian was sufficiently calm to be allowed out with them, and immediately integrated well into the Orphaned Herd, making the transition surprisingly quickly.

Meanwhile, all the other Nursery inmates were thriving, and that included our precious little blind baby, Ndololo, whose eyes were beginning to clear, enabling him to respond to light and notice shapes. The two Specialists monitoring his eyes were optimistic that in time he would make a full recovery and regain his sight. We were too, until the 23rd January, when he was not his usual playful self and there was mucous in his stools, which otherwise were normal in consistency. We decided to go for an antibiotic injection rather than oral Sulphdimidine, fearing the dreaded pneumonia after an unusual cold snap for this time of the year. Just 15 minutes later, with one last bellow, he fell over and died before our eyes. We simply could not believe it, for he had missed taking only two milk feeds during the last 24 hours, and showed no outward signs of having been struck with a life threatening ailment. We were stunned, and devastated, never having experienced such a rapid demise before with so little prior warning.

The autopsy revealed an infection of the small intestine, which, apart from the mucous, never changed the consistency of the stools. There is a thought that possibly this could have been caused by milk residue that caused an imbalance of flora bearing in mind that a calf of his age would probably be taking food from the mouth of the mother, and this fibre would hasten the passage of nutrients through the digestive system. It never occurred to us, that being blind, Ndololo never did this, but there are lessons to be learnt from every elephant that passes through our Nursery. Should we ever have another blind baby in the future (which God forbid), we will be aware of this fact to circumvent a similar tragedy.)

The death of Ndololo was a particularly painful heartbreak for us, all his Keepers, his many foster-parents world-wide, who had followed his short life with such interest and concern, not forgetting the other Nursery inmates, and especially Zurura, who was his best friend. There were no dry eyes that day, and even the other orphans sorrowed at his absence. Having overcome serious bouts of diarrheoa, and become skeletal, he was now thriving, plump and healthy, playing happily amongst all the others, and even managing to kick the football accurately, as his eyes began to heal. He taught us so much in his short life - about the mysterious intelligence of one so very young; about the acuteness and proficiency of the other senses that became so attuned that one would be forgiven for not knowing that he could not see. He could pick out his favourite Keeper, whenever he appeared, and could walk with confidence following the soft tapping of a stick on the ground, weaving his way through the thickets and avoiding all obstacles. The outpouring of affection that he gave his Keepers, and his trust of them, made little Ndololo a very special baby who will live in our hearts forever..

Since then, there has been another orphan alert from Amboseli, and another attempted rescue, but the rescuers arrived to find that the young bull in question was deep in a swamp with some adult elephants and finally with darkness approaching, the rescue plane had to leave, without its precious cargo. Since then we have heard no more about this particular orphan, whose chances of life diminish with every passing day.

By month end, the surviving Nursery inmates were all doing well. Challa is putting on weight rapidly, very competitive with his best friend Kora, with whom he wrestles endlessly in between feeding alongside him. Little Zurura has turned into a very caring baby boy, lavish in his concern and comfort for the two newcomers, Loijuk and Sian, and never far from their side. Lualeni, like Naserian before her, is obsessed with Makena, who occupies pride of place in her affections over and above all others. So protective of Makena is she that she is reluctant to allow play between Zurura and Makena, in case her precious Makena comes off second best. Little Zurura has since teamed up with gentle Loijuk and Sian, so he has two females all to himself!

By month end, the drought began to take its toll of the Park’s other inmates; the buffalo and eland growing every thinner, and the threat of Anthrax very real with the intrusion of hordes of starving and sick Masai domestic herds, over which the Politicians seem disinclined to take forceful measures.

The Rhinos:- “Shida”, now 2 years and 4 months, must surely take the prize for being the plumpest and healthiest rhino in Kenya, particularly during the current drought conditions! He is certainly the fattest in the Nairobi National Park, whose rhino population has again been disrupted by KWS deciding to remove another l0 of their number to Meru National Park. He surprised his Keepers on the 27th by refusing to follow their lead and a short while later, the reason became abundantly apparent when several buffalo emerged from a nearby thicket. He could not possibly have seen them, so the Keepers were astounded by Shida’s perception, and thankful that he could have saved them from harm. Meanwhile, 8 year old Magnum has obviously not done too well in the several punch-ups he has had with wild competitors, which have left him minus the tip of his horn and definitely ill-tempered, resulting in out of character behaviour. On two occasions he has charged the elephant orphans, and also put a hole in the bumper of one of the Trust’s vehicles. He has also taken to seeking out Shida to restore his ego and this, of course, presents us with yet another rhino dilemma. However, plans to move Magnum to Tsavo are well advanced, where he will be secured within an electric fenced area and a Stockade base until he is settled in his new home, and can be set free. As soon as the necessary permission is obtained from KWS, he will go along with sacks of his dung which will be laid out at middens as the necessary pre-requisite for physical contact with other established members of the area, of which, to our knowledge, there are just two! He will be closely monitored from a nearby permanent KWS Out-Post, and our Mtito De-Snaring team which is based in the area. Tsavo is prime rhino habitat, so we feel that this is the best place for Magnum for at one time Tsavo East alone harboured the largest Black Rhino population in the entire world, numbering over 8,000. Currently, there are less than l00 free ranging rhinos in this section of the Park. Shida has been embroiled in two punch-ups with Magnum this month, but apart from a small wound on his side, he has given a good account of himself. However, it is now abundantly plain that Magnum must go sooner rather than later and his transfer will be accomplished just as soon as everything is in place.

January 2006 day to day

01 Jan

As the New Year dawned the elephants and their Keepers were in high hopes that Ndololo would regain his sight, and that Kenya would experience better times ahead. Ndololo follows the Keepers with confidence, and finds one, even if he tries to hide from him.

Mischak and Ndololo