Keepers' Diaries, July 2003

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Nursery Elephants:- On the 14th July, we welcomed another inmate into the Nairobi Nursery from Mpala Ranch in Laikipia District, Northern Kenya. Several days previously, apparently a herd had come onto the Ranch from the North, many of them riddled in bullet wounds, and one bull, so badly wounded in the head that he could only stagger around as though drunk. Since the CITES decision of 2002 to ease the International Ban on the sale of Ivory, there has been a definite upsurge in poaching, particularly in Northern Kenya, and our latest Nursery inmate, little “Napasha”, aged about 9 months, is obviously a victim of that. He was found lying in tall grass by a herdsman, weak, grief-stricken and simply waiting for death. In fact the herdsman thought he was already dead, but he stirred when the man approached.

Nursery Elephants:- On the 14th July, we welcomed another inmate into the Nairobi Nursery from Mpala Ranch in Laikipia District, Northern Kenya. Several days previously, apparently a herd had come onto the Ranch from the North, many of them riddled in bullet wounds, and one bull, so badly wounded in the head that he could only stagger around as though drunk. Since the CITES decision of 2002 to ease the International Ban on the sale of Ivory, there has been a definite upsurge in poaching, particularly in Northern Kenya, and our latest Nursery inmate, little “Napasha”, aged about 9 months, is obviously a victim of that. He was found lying in tall grass by a herdsman, weak, grief-stricken and simply waiting for death. In fact the herdsman thought he was already dead, but he stirred when the man approached.

The herdsman rushed off to alert the Ranch management to the presence of this lone calf, and when the people returned, the calf was still lying in the same place. He was taken to the Ranch Headquarters, where he was made comfortable for the night, (it being too late to drive to Nairobi that day). Meanwhile, we had been kept informed, and instructed the Ranch to keep the baby warm, feed him only rehydration liquid and no milk, and make sure that someone was with him throughout the night to comfort and make him feel that he was not all alone in the world. We were spared an air rescue on this occasion, because the Ranch very kindly offered to drive him to Nairobi first thing in the morning and by 11 a.m. he was with us. At the request of the Ranch Manager, he was named “Napasha”, and although he is still a sad little soul, he has settled in amazingly well, and the very next morning was out and about with the other five babies, though opting to spend time alone, slightly apart from the others, no doubt grieving for his lost family.

To begin with, he was viewed with suspicion by Wendi and Tomboi, because he was the same size, if not a little larger. However, tiny Sunyei, who is the most playful little elephant we have ever had, immediately romped up to him and made friends, and Olmalo, who adores Sunyei, followed suit. Very soon Tomboi decided that having another boy in the fold, even though a bit bigger, had to be a good thing, and once Wendi had accepted that he was not a threat to her position as Mini Matriarch of the Nursery group, she, too, greeted him warmly and welcomed him to the group. Selengai, who is a very self sufficient little elephant, and law unto herself and her bottle, pretended not to not to take much notice of a newcomer, living only for the next feed! She has shot up, and is the picture of health now, with the chubby cheeks of a thriving baby.

Like most of the elephant calves who come in older than 6 months, and who have been deprived of milk for sometime, but are still milk dependent, Napasha suffered from mild bloating to begin with, but not nearly as severe as Burra, who blew up like a balloon one night and was in so much discomfort that we had to call out the Vet at midnight. Since then we are armed with the drug and can administer it if necessary.

Like most elephants who mourn the loss of their mother and family acutely, Napasha had difficulty in sleeping for the first few nights, and cried a lot throughout the hours of darkness. However, after about 4 days he settled down, and each day finds him a little happier and, like Selengai, hooked on his milk. He is remarkable in that he never showed any sign of aggression towards humans, despite being of an age when we would expect this. Like Morani, he is a very gentle and friendly little chap, and once he has mended psychologically, and the horrors that he has obviously witnessed, begin to fade, he will be a hot favourite with both the other elephants and also his human fans.

Wendi has turned into a very responsible little Matriarch and not nearly so pushy as before. Tomboi is, indeed, a “tomboy” – boisterous, playful and essentially mischievous, whilst Olmalo and Selengai are somewhat reserved who simply get on with doing their own thing. Little Sunyei is a delight because she plays, and plays and plays all day long, and being so miniscule, is truly endearing, charming everyone who has the privilege of meeting her. All in all, it has been a good month for the Nursery elephants, and all have gained weight and grown. Only Napasha has cheekbones that are still visible, but judging by the way he is downing his bottle and tucking into greens, even his will soon disappear into the chubby cheeked look of a healthy baby.

Tsavo Orphans:- As the dry season sets in, and the wild herds congregate in areas that have a slight tinge of green, our orphans have had contact with wild elephants on an almost daily basis this month, which is very good news. It is particularly rewarding to see how comfortable the latest arrivals to the Tsavo group are with the wild elephants, especially Morani, who is a very popular member of the Orphan Group and who remembers his wild family, as does Mpala. This is not therefore surprising, but what is surprising is how well Seraa has fitted into wild groups.

On many occasions Morani has been tempted to go off with the wild herds, but both Aitong and Loisaba keep a very close watch on him and always go to retrieve him, Aitong even holding him back close with her trunk, reluctant to let him fraternise too closely. Both Loisaba and Aitong adore Morani and vie for possession of him, Loisaba escorting him to take his noon milk feed, and lovingly laying her trunk across his back as he feeds, before taking him back to join the group. Mpala has waltzed up to a wild cow and been allowed to suckle an ear, and all the babies have enjoyed wallowing right in amongst wild elephant herds. For instance, Burra, Thoma, Morani and Seraa all climbed onto an 18 year old wild cow who lay down so that they could do so in the mudbath. However, it is also evident that they were all somewhat daunted by a cow with exceptionally long tusks, and another very large lone bull, who would have liked to make friends with the orphans, but not when they sought the protection of their Keepers.

Ilingwezi developed a boil on her bottom, which obviously turned pretty nasty, because she was given an antibiotic long acting injection by a visiting Vet. Apparently, she is healing well now.

It is always intriguing to see how bad behaviour is punished. For instance when Nyiro pushed Burra down in the mudbath and then climbed on top of him, he was expelled from the mudbath by Thoma and Sosian, who joined forces to discipline him. Aitong frequently intervenes to separate warring parties, as does Emily, and when Mukwaju charged a fallen tree and Emily and Mweiga came to deal with a threat, Mweiga gave Mukwaju an irritated shove on discovering that it was just a fallen tree and that they had been called up for no good reason!

As usual, in amongst the wild herds, the younger females of Natumi’s age group are allowed to touch the wild babies, but the wild Matriarchs will not allow Aitong and Emily the same privilege, not trusting their intentions. It has become apparent that orphans deprived of a natural family tend to try and “nick” babies to build up their group and it is for this reason that the older cows are denied close proximity to wild babies.

Encounters with other species have included the usual buffalo incident when an old tailless bull scared Seraa, Mweya, Mvita, Tsavo and Mpala, but was then roundly seen off by Aitong, Salama, and Mukwaju. A “friendly” warthog tried to join the orphans in their mudbath, but found himself surrounded and forced to make a dash through Nyiro’s legs! Running zebras scared the babies, as did a Monitor Lizard initially, but which provided chasing sport for all later. Natumi, who is usually very “wimpy” saw off a group of impalas which obviously made her feel good!

The special affection Aitong has for Sally is again evident in this Diary, but it seems that little Morani, who is the youngest and the most outgoing of all the orphans, has won the hearts of all the orphans, as he did the people in the Nursery. Loisaba, who is usually somewhat aloof and has never shown any preference for an individual newcomer before is particularly fond of him, as is Aitong.

No sign of any of the Big Boys this month, which means that they are obviously comfortable wherever they are, and have seen no reason to return yet to the human family. Icholta, Lolokwe, Nasalot and Mulika also do not feature in this month’s Diary, but that does not mean that they have not been as busy as the others, only that it is difficult for the Keepers to mention every incident that takes place every day. Icholta is a very caring mini Nannie, identified by Head Keeper Mishak as one who will one day make a wonderful Matriarch since she is one of the first to sort out squabbles, whilst Nasalot and Mulika remain best friends and are happy wherever they are as long as they are together. Both are also very reliable sub Nannies. The middle sized boys, Salama, Lolokwe and Laikipia enjoy pushing games with each other, and it would appear that Nyiro and Mukwaju are beginning to want to be part of this boys group too. Sosian holds his own with the bigger boys, but seems better behaved this month, obviously having been put in line by the others. The Diary illustrates that those who have been Nursery companions remain close, and watch out for each other within the larger group of orphans, but watching carefully over all those younger are Emily, the Matriarch of our Group, Aitong, the Chief Nannie and Loisaba, Icholta, and the other young females of Natumi’s group the sun-Nannies. Very evident is the fact that it is usually the females who are first to sort out squabbles, often reinforced by some of the bigger boys.

July 2003 day to day

01 Jul

Emily took the bigger orphans to meet a wild herd of 12 during the course of the morning, and enjoyed playing with an age-mate. They parted to join the babies at the noon mudbath, when Morani had a wonderful time, but because the sides were so slippery, had difficulty in getting out, so Aitong came to help him
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