Keepers' Diaries, January 2014

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

With 31 infant elephants already resident in our Nairobi Nursery, it was business as usual at the onset of another year in the Nursery, with little respite and the trauma connected with the tragic loss of 2 of our Nursery babies, plus the rescue of 4 others during the month, two of whom also never made it.

With 31 infant elephants already resident in our Nairobi Nursery, it was business as usual at the onset of another year in the Nursery, with little respite and the trauma connected with the tragic loss of 2 of our Nursery babies, plus the rescue of 4 others during the month, two of whom also never made it.

The very sudden and unexpected death of baby Mackinnon on the 6th, rocked and shocked us all. He was fine all day, went back happily into his stable in the evening, enjoyed his milk, but then began writhing around and died a few hours later. Mackinnon, Kamok, Olodare and baby Ashaka had all been struggling with the teething of their his first baby molars, and, as usual during this process, had lost a great deal of body condition, but since Mackinnon’s first teeth were already through the gum, we felt he was safely through. However, it was not to be, yet another example of what we have always known, that baby elephants are extremely fragile and can be fine one moment, and dead the next. A postmortem undertaken on his tiny body revealed no obvious cause for his sudden demise, so we remain confused and bemused while further tests are being carried out on tissue samples.

Another desperately sad loss was the eventual death of Asanje during the early hours of the 30th January 2014. She had never fully recovered from the mysterious anaphylactic seizure she so suddenly suffered towards the end of last year, developing body swellings and a large abscess on her forehead which when lanced by the Vet, exuded copious quantities of thick pus. Blood samples taken towards the end of the month revealed what could be a mysterious parasite in her red blood cells, but which the Vet was unable to identify. A course of Enrofloxacine seemed to bring temporary improvement, but she then regressed, becoming progressively weaker until she finally died. Her demise was another very sad loss for the Nursery, because she, and we, had fought so hard for her life, but it was not to be, nor did the autopsy enlighten us further about the nature of her ailment.

The first rescue of the year was on the 2nd when a yearling female victim of snaring from Sagalla Ranch abutting Tsavo, came in with a foot all but severed by the wire snare. The calf, named “Sagalla” epitomized the extreme suffering inflicted by this infamous type of poaching. Although we did our best for this baby, the pain was more than she could bare, and we lost her a few days later, all the resident Nursery elephants having done their best to comfort her, particularly Lima Lima, Suswa, Ngasha and Tundani who demonstrated deeply touching empathy.

A further two rescues took place a few days later, on the 8th, the first being a 5 month old well victim from the Sera Conservancy in N. Kenya, who, but for the tip of her trunk, had been submerged down the well all night, and was found to be blind upon arrival at the Nursery. She had also obviously ingested well water whilst submerged, so this female calf, named Losasia, died on the 11th. The next rescue, that same day, on the 8th, thankfully, had a happier ending, albeit a tragic beginning. The mother of 2 year old Ziwa from the Z family of Amboseli elephants had been ailing for sometime, and when she eventually collapsed and could no longer get up, was euthenazed and her calf airlifted to the Nairobi Nursery.

The fourth rescue was on the 30th, (the same day that Asanje died) - yet another tiny well victim from the Sera Conservancy, whose umbilical cord was new. This was a baby bull, big for his age, but could only have actually been days old, so as a precautionary measure he was given an infusion of elephant plasma to boost his immune system. Small predators had obviously bitten his trunk and severed one “finger” at its tip.
The baby was named “Kauro” having been rescued near a place of that name and being too young to understand fear, he was happy to find himself in a better place and took his first bottle of formula milk eagerly, after which he lay down to sleep, having come in very exhausted.

Thankfully, our remaining three tiny Nursery babies, Kamok, Olodare and Ashaka began to put back all the condition they had lost during the teething process, and also began to play, which is always a heartening sign. Olodare, the only boy of the trio, like Tundani, is a gentle and quiet baby, who prefers the company of the Keepers to the two more active baby girls, while Kamok prides herself in the role of “Baby Boss”! Of all of them Olodare is still the most fragile, but since his teeth are now through, we are cautiously optimistic that he will now begin to thrive.

Like human children, baby elephants also suffer periodic health issues, sometimes feeling slightly below par, when the Keepers report them as being “dull”. Two such candidates this month have been Suswa and Balguda, so a close watch is being kept on them and with the help of immune boosters, we hope that their natural immunity will overcome whatever is leaving them “dull”. Very little is known about the diseases that inflict elephants, but since they are so essentially “human”, we believe they could share with us many of the same parasitic and viral problems.

Big for his age, the newcomer from Amboseli, named Ziwa, came in aggressive, but still healthy and strong. He accepted milk, initially from a bucket placed outside his Stockade Gate, but soon from a hand held bottle offered through the gate grid. Being so large and strong, the Nairobi Keepers were hesitant to allow him out to join the others until the 17th, when he confounded everyone by behaving in an exemplary manner - friendly and calm, even at the public viewing mudbath hour, and returning to his Night Stockade in the evening without hesitation. From the onset the older Nursery bulls, (Orwa, Bomani, Teleki, Garzi, Jasiri, and Faraja) took a great interest in the newcomer, obviously seeing him as a competitive sparring candidate, and it was Orwa and Bomani who came to collect him on the l7th, and escort him out sandwiched between them and trailed excitedly by all the others. However, although large in body size, Ziwa is not yet well endowed tuskwise, so has been a reluctant sparring partner for the Big Boys. Although he favours and is in awe of Orwa, he is careful to distance himself from Bomani, Teleki and especially the albino“half bothers” Faraja and Jasiri. Since they are also Amboseli elephants, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he may have met them before! Instead, he gravitates towards Zongoloni and Nelion when browsing out in the bush.

Big Girl Murera who has Lemoyian as her favourite calf, rushes to greet him as soon as she exits her night stockade each morning, while her side-kick, Sonje, who adores Oltaiyoni, does likewise. Meanwhile mischievous small boys, Kithaka and Lemoyian have been up to their usual pranks involving the visitors, Kithaka especially demanding the full attention of attendant filming crews, of which there have been many, sneaking round the bushes to try and score a shove from behind, but the Keepers are aware of his tricks and whenever visitors are present, keep a close eye on him. Meanwhile Bomani has been out of favour having developed a bad habit - biting the ears of the smaller boys, and targeting Tundani, Vuria and Nelion particularly at milk feeding times. They now do their best to avoid being anywhere near him at such times!

Junior boys Balguda and Ngasha, as night time neighbours, are best friends, while Garzi, Nelion and Vuria like hanging out together. Younger girls close in age such as Quanza, Lima Lima, Mashariki and Rorogoi also tend to stick together, while Suswa and Arruba play second fiddle to Sonje in terms of leadership. Big Girl Murera likes to travel independently, so her Matriarchal duties are only part time, and usually involve only Lemoyian.

The Rhinos:- Solio returned to the compound on the 3rd and again on the 15th when she enjoyed sparring with Max as usual through the separating poles of his Stockade. Later she returned to her previous Night Stockade on both occasions to enjoy a handout of Lucerne and a rest, Max lying as close as he possibly could to her next door. The bond between these two rhinos is real and exceedingly touching to witness. Their interaction has taught us a great deal about the emotional aspect of their ancient and complex species, as well as about the mysterious powers of perception that they share with the elephants.

The shooting of a young female rhino resident in Nairobi National Park on Saturday 25th, left us all extremely anxious and in shock, dreading having to discover that this latest victim might be our precious Solio, whom we have painstakingly rehabilitated over the past 3 years until accepted and integrated into the local resident rhino community. KWS have assured us that it was not Solio, but until we set eyes on her again, we will not sleep easy. Apparently another two Nairobi Park rhinos have also died recently, supposedly from fighting, but with rhino horn the price it is, and alleged in-house poaching, one can be forgiven by being skeptical. Certainly, bull rhinos do fight for rank and territory because dependent on this is the right to breed to which every male rhino aspires. In this respect the species does itself no favours, particularly when so few are left!

Being blind, Max continues his sheltered and comfortable life in enforced captivity, so he will be spared the hazards connected with rank and territory and will never be able to be a breeding bull, since the mating of rhinos is as complicated as their social interaction and is by no means a simple process.

January 2014 day to day

01 Jan

On New Year’s day, the two oldest Nursery females, Murera and Sonje, having checked on the smallest calves, ran to greet their chosen favourites – Murera to Lemoyian and Sonje to Oltaiyoni. Meanwhile Kithaka, Barsilinga and Mashariki heralded the onset of another year with trumpeting and a bush bashing session around the compound, before Murera and Sonje rounded up the herd and led them out to browse. The three smallest calves, Kamok, Ashaka, Olodare and Mackinnon have all been teething, and have lost a lot of body condition as a result.

Murera leads the way

Sonje enjoys some greens