Keepers' Diaries, January 2010

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

We were stunned to receive news that our baby Chaffa had suddenly died, for she was promising a full recovery from the pneumonia that nearly took her from us several months ago. She was gaining weight, feeding well, and playing with her little elephant friends just hours before dying – but – she had the dreaded and mysterious turning back foot syndrome, that during the drought of 2009 has proved to be a precursor to certain death for many of our infant Nursery elephants and something that has baffled all the experts. It had struck once again, something that has baffled all the experts, even though detailed autopsies have been undertaken in three different Laboratories in Kenya, with body parts sent to Japan and blood for analysis in South Africa. Japan managed to identified 2 gut parasites in Bhaawa’s intestines, which had been missed in Kenya, and which is prevalent in domestic livestock but so far no explanation has been forthcoming the “turning foot” syndrome other than it is probably a deficiency of some vital nutrient during a drought year, or secondary to the emaciation caused by the new gut parasites obviously transmitted by having to share pasture and watering places with domestic livestock, even within the Protected Areas.

We were stunned to receive news that our baby Chaffa had suddenly died, for she was promising a full recovery from the pneumonia that nearly took her from us several months ago. She was gaining weight, feeding well, and playing with her little elephant friends just hours before dying – but – she had the dreaded and mysterious turning back foot syndrome, that during the drought of 2009 has proved to be a precursor to certain death for many of our infant Nursery elephants and something that has baffled all the experts. It had struck once again, something that has baffled all the experts, even though detailed autopsies have been undertaken in three different Laboratories in Kenya, with body parts sent to Japan and blood for analysis in South Africa. Japan managed to identified 2 gut parasites in Bhaawa’s intestines, which had been missed in Kenya, and which is prevalent in domestic livestock but so far no explanation has been forthcoming the “turning foot” syndrome other than it is probably a deficiency of some vital nutrient during a drought year, or secondary to the emaciation caused by the new gut parasites obviously transmitted by having to share pasture and watering places with domestic livestock, even within the Protected Areas.

However, the good news is that Mawenzi and Melia, both of whom were “dull” are improving radically following treatment for the gut parasite found in the gut samples sent to Japan. We are at least now hopeful that they will be spared the fate that has taken out so many of our orphans during the drought of 2009. By month end, all the remaining 19 Nursery elephants were thriving, looking well, and growing as they should so we and the Keepers have enjoyed a few weeks of respite during January, following a very harrowing year in 2009.

Mercifully, some heavy rainstorms towards the end of the year relieved the drought situation, just as we were beginning to despair that 2010 would be more of the same! The land turned green again, the waterholes filled, those wild elephants that managed to weather two years of drought are recovering, and we begin 2010 on an optimistic note, although the rains are short of what was expected, especially around Nairobi.

Following the death of Chaffa, we were left with the following orphans in the Nursery – Dida, Kimana, Suguta, Ndii, Mawenzi, Sabachi, Kibo, Nchan, Kudup, Kalama, Kilaguni, Chaimu, Turkwel, Olare, Melia, Tumaren, Tano, Mutara, and Shukuru. Because of numbers, milk feeds were in two sittings, the babies under the leadership of Suguta fed first, and the older elephants led by Ndii, Dida, and Olare following later. Although Dida is the oldest of the Senior Group, Ndii and Olare play more of a leadership role, with Olare very fond and caring of the three remaining tiny elephants, Tano, Mutara and Shukuru. The small babies thoroughly enjoy mingling with the older group upon being let out of their Night Stables each morning, when joyous greetings are exchanged, and when Olare often lies down and encourages the little ones to clamber all over her, something they relish. However, mischievous Sabachi, who is Olare’s Stockade-mate and whom she knows well, never misses an opportunity to try and mount any of the girls who lie down, but Olare is wise to his tricks, and keeps a close eye on him. He attempted this on the 24th but Olare read his intentions, gently dislodged the babies, and stood up with ears out, preparing to discipline him, whereupon Sabachi cunningly changed direction, pretending to charge something unknown on the sidelines and ending up sheltering behind Dida and Ndii, denying Olare the satisfaction of putting him in his place! Olare is always very solicitous of the babies, shepherding them out of harm’s way when the boys become a bit too boisterous, and protecting them during football games. Furthermore, whilst Mawenzi was obviously unwell (“dull”, according to the Keepers) Olare was always at hand to comfort her and pay her special attention. Thankfully, having been treated for the mysterious gut parasites discovered in Japan, Mawenzi is recovering well. Melia, her room-mate has also been treated, as has Dida who has long been having the odd “dull” day.

The mudbath hour is always highly charged and full of fun, when Nchan enjoys playing football actually in the pool of water, and then running along the cordon painting all the visitors with her muddy trunk. She does this so expertly that the visitors ask whether it is something she has been “trained” to do! The orphans enjoy an appreciative audience and love playing football in the pool, kicking the ball with front and back feet, heaving it in and out of the water and kicking it around the compound, to the delight of the audience. They clearly enjoy being the centre of attention and showing off before a crowd! On a hot day the resident warthogs, and their young, often turn up hoping for a turn in the mudbath whilst the elephants are still there, and invariably this results in a warthog chase, usually instigated by one of the girls, but reinforced by the boys once the warthogs are definitely in full flight! Should one of the adults turn round, confusion reigns amongst the chasers!

This month Turkwel and Kalama, who used to be good friends, have had an altercation over the noon milk bottles, which degenerated into a tough battle in which the Keepers had to intervene to separate the warring parties. Since then they have remained estranged, feeding far apart from one another and avoiding close contact. Meanwhile Turkwel and Kudup have teamed up to become close friends.

Tailless Kilaguni is the largest and strongest boy in the Nursery, but a very gentle character, who nevertheless loves nothing more than a strength testing exercise, even taking on two girls at a time given half a chance, and still emerging victorious and feeling very pleased with himself. However, his main sparring partners are Kibo and Sabachi.

Sadly, the newborn bushbuck fawn which was rescued by the Keepers on the 7th, having been attacked by baboons, did not survive, and nor did an orphaned zebra foal which had been stoned by African school children when it wandered into an enclosure on the Kitengela plains.

January 2010 day to day

01 Jan

The Nursery orphans spent New Year’s day all together, and Suguta established herself as a very able Matriarch of them all. She kept on fondling the small babies – namely Tano, Mutara, Chaffa and Shukuru. Olare was in second place, also wanting the four tiny babies close, but Suguta was too possessive to allow that until Mutara managed to detach herself from Suguta, and remained close to Olare. Meanwhile Dida, Ndii, and Tumaren were not competitors for the role of Matriarch to the smaller elephants.

Suguta with little Tano

Olare

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