Keepers' Diaries, January 2008

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

Due to the unrest that gripped the country in the wake of the disputed December 27th Presidential election, attendance at the daily orphans’ mudbath has been depleted, with just a few intrepid visitors turning up each day as opposed to the usual huge crowds. This, of course, has impacted negatively on the working revenue generated by the Donation Box. Those visitors that have braved the political upheavals to come and enjoy the orphaned elephants have had quality time with them, for, being so few, they have been able to actually mingle with the elephants rather than stand behind the cordon. As usual, mischievous little Lempaute can always be counted upon to give the schoolchildren an adrenalin rush, charging towards them so that they scamper off screaming, before lying down at their feet just to show that she means them no harm. This prank has been copied by both Makena and Lenana, who are twice the size of Lempaute, fortunately on just one occasion each!

Due to the unrest that gripped the country in the wake of the disputed December 27th Presidential election, attendance at the daily orphans’ mudbath has been depleted, with just a few intrepid visitors turning up each day as opposed to the usual huge crowds. This, of course, has impacted negatively on the working revenue generated by the Donation Box. Those visitors that have braved the political upheavals to come and enjoy the orphaned elephants have had quality time with them, for, being so few, they have been able to actually mingle with the elephants rather than stand behind the cordon. As usual, mischievous little Lempaute can always be counted upon to give the schoolchildren an adrenalin rush, charging towards them so that they scamper off screaming, before lying down at their feet just to show that she means them no harm. This prank has been copied by both Makena and Lenana, who are twice the size of Lempaute, fortunately on just one occasion each!

This month, little Dida was unwell for about a week, due, we believe to teething, but nevertheless causing us anxiety. The first molars are usually all through by the fourth month, so hopefully teething problems are now behind her. Lesanju and Sinya now share Matriarchal leadership of the younger set, Sinya now free of pain, and very loving to Dida. A welcome shower of rain mid-month was celebrated in style by all the Nursery babies bringing welcome relief to what is usually an oppressively hot dry month and greening up the vegetation again. The October/November rains were very disappointing in Nairobi last year, so the mid month shower was a blessing indeed.

Exciting events involving others have leant spice to the month, especially the encounter with a leopard up a tree on the 10th which prompted the Keepers to hurriedly steer their charges in another direction, leaving the leopard to leap into a second nearby tree before jumping to the ground and running off at speed. Dikdiks and baboons have scared the baby Group, especially Shimba, who enjoys feeding apart from the little girls and was caught unawares by the approach of the baboon troupe. Of the bigger girls, Lenana is not the bravest, happy to leave Makena and Chyulu to disperse any other animals in the way. These two stood their ground when Lenana fled from a herd of impala, scattered the impala in all directions with a show of aggression as they rushed around downing small shrubs and trumpeting. The older elephants were visibly disturbed when they came across the fresh half eaten body of an impala on their way out into the Park one morning, Lenana again leading a hurried retreat.

For the Nursery elephants, January has been a peaceful and happy month, as they all grow apace. Lesanju, Lempaute and Shimba have had a growth spurt and are all the same size as Sinya now. Little Dida has put on some weight, but is a picky feeder, selective about which Keeper holds the bottle for her to take her milk, always wanting just the Keeper who happened to be with her during the night. When he is not available, on duty with the older group, she insists on each Keeper taking turns, drinking just a little milk from each, so that her feed takes a long time. On two occasions the younger group have been allowed time with the older elephants, something that is always popular with Makena and Chyulu, both of whom adore little Dida, and would like her all to themselves, whilst Dida makes it quite clear that she only wants to have Lesanju as her surrogate “mother”. Lenana invariably homes in on Shimba, who has always been her chosen favourite and he is quite happy for her special attention. Meanwhile, Lesanju, Lempaute and Sinya disapprove of these encounters, keeping at the side of the Keepers making it quite plain that they are not “up for grabs”, as it were. When not with the older elephants, Shimba prefers to feed apart from the girls, showing that as a bull he is more self sufficient. Outnumbered, he has to endure harsh reprisals for trying to mount onto the girls, which is something all young bulls enjoy doing in a display of “one-up-manship”.

The Rhinos:- Dr. Antony Goodhead, an Animal Eye Specialist from the Johannesburg Animal Eye Hospital in South Africa, was flown up on the l0th January, his sophisticated equipment having been couriered ahead, for the planned surgery to remove the cataracts from orphaned rhino Maxwell’s right eye, and also try and return at least some vision to the left eye, which was the subject of the first cataract operation that proved unsuccessful. However, our hopes were soon dashed, and it was simply not to be. Just one look at Max’s sunken blind eyes rang alarm bells for Dr. Goodhead who asked that we try and source an ultrasound machine. This we did, and just as he suspected, Max’s problem was far more serious for he had been born with “congenital micropthalmia”. Added to this there was evidence of many other intraocular problems, a detached retina and shriveled dysfunctional optic nerve, all of which ruled out any hope of successful surgery. This was devastating news for us, extremely disappointing to say the least, but at least Max was spared the affects of an anaesthetic and an operation that would not have helped him. By rubbing his tummy, Max obligingly collapsed in a state of sensuous bliss, lying quite still so that the Surgeon could perform the ultrasound examination without having him sedated. He was able to do the same on Shida, who happened to turn up that morning, and who had been secured in the Stockade next door. The comparison between a healthy living eye and Max’s dysfunctional blind ones came up on the screen and was plain for all to see.

However, at least now, we know the worst, and will have to investigate Plan B , i.e. Keep Max secure and safe, protected from attack by more fortunate wild rhinos bent on doing him in; keep him well fed and as happy as possible, with the dung of other rhinos at hand so that he doesn’t feel alone, and investigate the possibility of lowering his testosterone levels so that he is not continually sexually frustrated and by extension overly aggressive. That way, Max can still enjoy a peaceful and happy life playing an important PR role for his severely endangered species. The good news is that it will keep Shida close as well when rhinos are again being targeted for their horns greatly prized in both the Middle and Far East by emergent opulence in those countries. More than 20 Great Indian rhinos were slaughtered in Kaziranga National Park, Assam, last year, and others still being lost this year; rhino horns have mysteriously disappeared from Government armouries here in Kenya, and rhinos generally are still very much at risk, irrespective of where they live. Shida is very interested in Maxwell. They spar with one another through the separating bars of their respective Stockades whenever Shida returns to base. This makes Shida feel good, for Max is half his size and he knows he has the edge on him, and it makes Max feel good because he knows he has rhino company. It makes us feel good, for we know that both are alive and well!

January 2008 day to day

01 Jan

The baby group of Nursery elephants, i.e. Lesanju, Lempaute, Shimba, Sinya and little Dida joined up with the older elephants (Lenana, Makena and Chyulu). Makena and Chyulu wanted to take over Dida desperately, which did not please Lesanju. She and Sinya began to walk away, leaving Dida behind with Makena and Chyulu, which made them happy, but did not please Dida. Eventually, the Keepers returned Dida to the Baby Group, after which all was well again.

Oiled with coconut oil the nursery babies

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