Keepers' Diaries, July 2004

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

The main happening of the month was the dramatic rescue of an l8 month old calf from the Pelican Swamp of Amboseli National Park, which took place on the 21st July. This calf was obviously an orphan and had three spear gashes in the left side of the body. He was identified by the Amboseli Researchers as the yet un-named calf of Joleen from the famous J Study Group of the Elephant Research Programme, and both this mother, and the Matriarch of the J family were missing, feared dead. The Researchers had heard that some young Masai youths had indulged in a spot of “target practice” on this unfortunate baby elephant, to prove their so-called courage which was in truth a shameful and cowardly admission of anything but.

The main happening of the month was the dramatic rescue of an l8 month old calf from the Pelican Swamp of Amboseli National Park, which took place on the 21st July. This calf was obviously an orphan and had three spear gashes in the left side of the body. He was identified by the Amboseli Researchers as the yet un-named calf of Joleen from the famous J Study Group of the Elephant Research Programme, and both this mother, and the Matriarch of the J family were missing, feared dead. The Researchers had heard that some young Masai youths had indulged in a spot of “target practice” on this unfortunate baby elephant, to prove their so-called courage which was in truth a shameful and cowardly admission of anything but.

As the Rescue Plane was in the process of landing, the Researchers saw the calf fleeing for his life towards the swamp, pursued by hyaenas. He was saved by the timely intervention of an old bull buffalo, who charged out of the swamp and chased the hyaenas off.

That day, any handouts for “courage” belonged not to the Masai tribesmen guilty of this cruel and dastardly act, but to three of our Elephant Keepers, who ventured shoulder deep into the swamp which harbours a healthy populated of hippos and crocodiles, (not to mention the odd buffalo). After a struggle they managed to extract the calf, who, once on dry land, was tranquilized by the Vet of our Mobile Veterinary Unit, who happened to be in the area having been alerted to the plight of this calf. The elephant was then airlifted to our Nairobi Nursery in a chartered aircraft, arriving in the late afternoon, and revived inside the rhino stockade that once housed little Morani..

Sadly, however, all our efforts to save his life proved to no avail, for the calf was already suffering not only from severe psychological and physical trauma but also advanced septicaemia coupled with pneumonia – a deadly combination. He died on the 23rd, having been with us just two nights and l day.

We received this calf too late to be able to save his life. He was also orphaned at a difficult age, too wild to handle and insufficient time to be able to be calmed. He had obviously been without his mother’s milk for some l0 days and had lost a lot of condition – in all a hopeless and very distressing case, which left us all deeply saddened and furious with those thugs from the tribe that professes a great love of wildlife and yet perpetrates such dastardly and cruel acts in the name of “courage”..

On a happier note, the four Nursery Elephants remaining in the fold have all been thriving. It has been very gratifying to see little Naserian, who also suffered severe psychological trauma and terror as an orphan in Samburu National Reserve, gradually settle down and transform into a much more gentle and affectionate elephant baby who is part of both the human and junior elephant “family”. Ndomot remains the very demanding one, his trunk constantly clamped to the Keeper’s face or neck, and very choosey about which Keeper has the privilege of sharing his nights. Any protest bellow at night is sure to be Ndomot who has woken up, and demands to be fed or would rather have someone other than the Keeper whose turn it is to be with him.

Madiba is a tough and self-sufficient little bull, who has suddenly shot up in height, and has turned into one of the most playful of the four. His lymph infection, which is a chronic problem he arrived with all those months ago, and which has stubbornly resisted two courses of injectible antibiotic, seems to be improving slowly with lymph drainage homeopathic pillules given twice daily. Other than causing some irritation, prompting him to scratch his leg, it doesn’t seem to be worrying him unduly, and he is certainly romping around, gaining weight and height, and acting like an elephant!

Sunyei is rather partial to her role as the mini-Matriarch, and likes to pretend to be independent sometimes, venturing away from the others with ears out to survey the forest as though taking on a protective role. Naserian will probably share the Matriarchal duties in time.

It has been unusually sunny and warm for this time of the year, when normally it is misty and cold, so the four Nursery babies have been romping in the mudbath during the one openVisiting Hour, charming all the spectators with their antics. The BBC have been here again filming “Elephant Diaries” and were astonished at the improvement in Naserian, whom they had not seen since her capture and arrival in the Nairobi Nursery. Therefore, aside from the tragedy of the little Amboseli elephant we named Ol Tukai, it has been a good month in the Nairobi Nursery, but a busy one, for both the rhino stockades and Staff houses have had to be rebuilt, having suffered from termite damage.

Rhino Orphans:- KWS has been moving six Nairobi Park rhinos to a Private Ranch in Laikipia, so we have been keeping a close eye on our two now independent rhino orphans, 7 year old Magnum and 5 year old Makosa, having pleaded that they be exempt from translocation, which, for a rhino, is an extremely stressful and traumatic event. It is sad that surplus rhinos from the small fenced breeding sanctuaries cannot be released back into Tsavo, a National Park which at one time was home to the largest and most successful Black Rhino population on the entire continent and a place where the tenure of the land is, hopefully, secure. This, in itself an indictment on the Government which does not place sufficient emphasis on its wildlife heritage by providing sufficient funding to ensure adequate security within the Protected Areas, Meru National Park being the exception, not thanks to the Kenya Government, but thanks to an injection of funding from IFAW and the French Government. The inability of KWS to provide adequate protection for the rhinos of Tsavo has forced us to think twice about returning our two old orphans of the sixties back home. Stroppie is now 35 years old and Pushmi 30, and they have been sheltered in a 50 acre enclosure on Solio Ranch since 1976. They are magnificent specimens, and still capable of breeding given the right conditions – those conditions being rank and status earned through combat and the ability to secure and hold a prime territory. They must surely be amongst the last of Tsavo’s indigenous Mohicans, although some are thought to have appeared out of hiding since several imports from the breeding Sanctuaries were free released in Tsavo East.

Shida:- Shida grows apace, and is a sturdy and rotund little bull, with great spirit. Like Makosa he promises to be a feisty fellow when grown. His days follow a rigid routine, which some may think monotonous, but which is what every rhino aspires to, since they abhor change! However, changes there soon must be, for he will soon outgrow his little Nursery Stable and must graduate to one of the brand new Rhino Enclosures abutting those set aside for the use of Magnum and Makosa, should they ever feel the need for shelter and care following an encounter with the wild bulls. Fighting for status and territory is all part and parcel of rhino life, and all we humans can do, having hand-reared them and introduced them to the resident wild rhino community, is to be here for them to pick up the pieces, and plug the holes when needed!

Most gratifying is the fact that on our two large rhino orphans, the lesions caused by the filarial parasite specific to rhinos have all healed, thanks to a mixture of Neem and T-Tree Oils mixed to a paste in Vaseline with a little Paraffin added. Although fungicides such as Negasunct have suppressed these lesions in the past, never before have we been able to eliminate them entirely – another first for the Trust!

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