Keepers' Diaries, July 2014

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

It has sadly been a busy month for DSWT with five orphaned elephants rescuing due to terribly unfortunate circumstances. The first to arrive was young Kono. The DSWT and KWS teams in Tsavo having first heard reports of her searched for three days before she was finally located again and rescued. She had obviously been without her mother for a significant amount of time as her condition was extremely poor and her stools full of worms. The blood works we did on arrival showed she had serious bacterial infection which very sadly she succumbed to and passed away in the early hours under the love and care of the Keepers.

It has sadly been a busy month for DSWT with five orphaned elephants rescuing due to terribly unfortunate circumstances.
The first to arrive was young Kono. The DSWT and KWS teams in Tsavo having first heard reports of her searched for three days before she was finally located again and rescued. She had obviously been without her mother for a significant amount of time as her condition was extremely poor and her stools full of worms. The blood works we did on arrival showed she had serious bacterial infection which very sadly she succumbed to and passed away in the early hours under the love and care of the Keepers.

The very same day that DSWT lost Kono yet another call from KWS Veterinary Officer Dr. Mutinda came in about a tiny calf in need of help. This time the team was off to rescue a two month old baby bull who had fallen down a well in Namunyak Conservancy in Northern Kenya. Murit is presently part of the baby group at the Nursery headed by Kamok.

Sadly, the two rescues that followed Murit had a terribly sad ending. The first was a spirited strong willed young bull the keepers nicknamed Rasasi; the Swahili word for bullet. He came into the nursery fighting despite what appeared to be a bullet wound to the head and a severely injured forelimb. He was full of energy and gave the keepers a real run around which left everyone with high hopes for him. Unfortunately, an X-Ray of his injured leg revealed a severe and complete fracture of his femur. The location and extent of the break meant there was simply no chance he could live a normal life. With a heavy heart, the Vet made the decision to put Rasasi to sleep and end his suffering.

The very next day another call came in regarding yet another rescue this time from the Kerio Valley. A female elephant carcass had been found riddled with spear wounds. It was obvious she had been lactating so a search was immediately underway for her infant. A young female calf, just two months old, was spotted nearby and rescued by KWS. Sadly she was fed cows milk well meaningly. She was named Kerio. Poor Kerio arrived with a severe bacterial infection that she battled for over week. Despite round the clock care and constant medical attention Kerio had chronic diarrhoea and eventually lost the fight for her life.

On the very last day of July another rescue happened; this time to Malindi where members of the community had found a lone male baby elephant stuck in mud. This little boy was named Arrabuko and though he had no obvious wounds he was very thin and had clearly ingested huge amounts of mud which passed through his gut for days after his arrival. Oltaiyoni, who was in the stable next door gave little Arrabuko the much needed comfort he craved but sadly we could never get control of Arrabuko’s stomach and he passed away amidst much heartbreak.
All the orphans that come into our nursery are embraced. They are all cherished and remembered no matter how short a time they spend with us. The whole DSWT team, keepers and elephants alike grieve for all the individuals lost at the nursery, just as wild elephants mourn for their departed family members. Sadly these orphans come to us in extreme circumstances which never makes the job of retrieving them easy.

Elephant herds in the wild are built on strong social relationships and are led by one matriarchal female. It is her job to keep the herd safe and all its members, especially the young bulls, out of trouble. As a herd is comprised of many individuals a certain social etiquette is expected which, just like in human society, are lessons learnt in early life. The keepers at the nursery have to replace the elephant family and sometimes they have their work cut out for them trying to teach them how to behave, especially when dealing with some of the more mischievous members of the Nursery herd!

Naughty young boys are usually the most rambunctious and occasionally need more discipline than the others. Matriarchs will often chase off young bulls that get too rough and a little time out is an effective punishment. The keepers do their best to replicate natural wild behaviour and will often separate an individual that has misbehaved for some time out. Kithaka is one of the naughtiest young bulls, but this month it has been Lemoyian who has had to be reprimanded the most. Lemoyian is becoming very cheeky and particularly likes to target unsuspecting individuals that are in compromised positions, such as rolling in soil – he then makes his move and disturbs proceedings.

It’s not just the keepers that are in charge of maintaining the peace within the Nursery herd. It’s important for the younger babies to spend time with the older elephants so they can learn from them. Some orphans are natural leaders or mother figures which becomes very evident early on, but since the recent move of Murera, Sonje, Lima Lima, Zongoloni and Quanza to Umani no one female orphan has obviously stepped in to take the role of matriarch. There are a number of young females who are showing signs, Aruba being one of them. It is common place for the female elephants to show the strongest leadership skills within the orphan herd. As females form the "backbone" of the elephant family it is only natural for them to feel protective over the youngest members of the herd.
Most of the orphan females show this to varying degrees, all that is except little Lentili. Poor Lentili seems to lack any maternal instincts and has absolutely no concern for the younger more vulnerable elephants. She doesn’t like the little babies suckling on her ears and has no patience for their clumsiness or playful behavior. She rarely plays with the babies or lets them climb on her for fun like so many of the other older elephants do. She will even resort to giving them a hard push if they bump into her which quickly alerts Arruba who will rush to protect them from grumpy Lentili. No doubt Lentili will develop a maternal nature and will one day take care of her own wild born babies, but for now she is quite happy being a baby herself and is in no hurry to grow up!

Arruba, however, is quite the opposite of Lentili and has taken it upon herself to watch over the youngest babies. She is always quick to come to their aid, whether protecting them from a pushy elephant or from troublesome warthogs. Last month, Oltaiyoni’s world was changed when her foster mothers were moved to Umani Springs. She has become extremely maternal herself and has adopted little Mbegu as her very own baby which is enchanting to watch.

Oltaiyoni and Mbegu are completely inseparable and Oltaiyoni takes care of her as a mother would despite being so young herself. She stands over her to give her shade, wraps her trunk around her for comfort and protects her from danger. Mbegu is tiny but full of character, and is gaining confidence every day. Little Ashaka is capably of jealous bouts, particularly if any of the other babies start sucking on the keepers fingers. Ashaka tries to push the others out of the way so she can have the keepers all to herself, but she got quite a shock one day when little Mbegu decided to push back! Luckily, Oltaiyoni was as attentive as ever and rushed to Mbegu’s side before the disagreement could escalate any further.

When Oltaiyoni is not shadowing Mbegu, she seems to be getting into trouble with Sokotei. When Sokotei was rescued, Oltaiyoni was the baby of the older elephant group and was mothered by all the other elephants. Sokotei was a similar size to Oltaiyoni and suddenly she had to compete for Barsilinga, Murera and Sonje’s affections. He also took over Oltaiyoni's old stockade. Clearly, Oltaiyoni has never forgotten these feelings of jealously and now the two get into fights for no obvious reason, just like bickering siblings! Despite Oltaiyoni being a lot smaller than Sokotei she refuses to give in to him and often the keepers have to intervene. Her plucky courage and determination is yet another indication she will make a great matriarch one day herself.

Ashaka and Oltaiyoni are not the only ones who have been getting jealous. Kauro has also showing a jealous streak particularly of poor little Kerio. As Kerio was very ill she required round the clock medical care. Kauro clearly felt very left out and wanted more keeper attention for himself so took it out on Kerio. He is growing fast and becoming quite a strong little bull within a mini herd of females and so is not babied as much as the others. Hopefully Murit will soon be strong enough to be a sparring match for Kauro so he has another bull his size to play with.

Ngasha and Rorogoi remain the most difficult orphans to control during feeding times, especially at the 11am public viewing. These two naughty and greedy elephants are exactly like children; they seem to misbehave when guests are present, but the minute they are in the bush they are as good as gold. Rorogoi and Ngasha often try to steal milk from the other elephants and from the milk wheelbarrow. These naughty games can become such a nuisance to the keepers and the other elephants and often results in someone having to take a time out.
The keeper's job is never done, and the mischievous behaviour doesn't end at the milk feeding hour! Every evening when all the elephants return to the nursery there is always a lush collection of branches in every stockade, but for some reason many of the elephants believe that his or her neighbor’s branches are far tastier than their own. Lemoyian will steal from his neighbour Balguda whilst Balguda steals from Lemoyian and so it goes on. Oltaiyoni attempts to steal from Sokotei which never goes down well. The quote of ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ is clearly a saying that elephants live by too.
Luckily for the keepers, not all elephants have a mischeivious nature and gentle giant's like Tundani bring calm to the herd. He is such a sweet boy that even during feeding time instead of barging through everyone, like some of the greedy boys, he waits politely until the keepers are ready for him. Best friends, Faraja and Jasiri rarely get into trouble, even though Jasiri has recently taken to biting tails, and they are bonding more with other elephants boys such as Nelion.

The orphans have a coconut oiling once a week to keep their skin soft and in good condition. Everyone seems to love the coconut oil except little Kamok and Mbegu as well as Rorogoi, Oltaiyoni, Ngasha and Arruba. They try to hide and wiggle their way out of the coconut session. After the oiling all the elephants play in the dust and mud, with renewed playful energy. Despite the dramas and odd disagreement most of the orphan's time is spent this way; browsing or playing happily together as one big happy elephant herd.

Solio is returning home more often recently and she loves to hang around the premises at night eating all the flowers and shrubs that she can find in the forbidden places that she squeezes herself into under the cover of darkness. She even bumped into Angela’s glass patio doors when she ventured up so close to give a quick mow of the potted ferns. The keepers always make sure to check she is happy and healthy with her stockade well stocked with her favourite browse, copra cake and Lucerne. While close at hand Solio always makes sure to say hello to Maxwell.

Maxwell loves all the attention bestowed on him by everyone that visits the nursery as well as the keepers and office staff. However, he doesn’t always love the attention that some of the more mischievous elephant orphans give him. They just love to sneak up on him in the morning and steal his Lucerne, if they can catch him sleeping that is. However, a sleeping Maxwell is far too much of a temptation for naughty elephants and they often tease him by pushing his gate and playing with his ears. Once Maxwell is up he soon sends the offenders running back to the bush and goes back to his peaceful life within his stockade. Shabby a Sacred Ibis raised by Angela’s son Roan and he is a permanent fixture around the compound, free to come and go as he pleases. Shabby recently has chosen to spend most of his days sharing Maxwell’s stockade. They are a most unlikely pair of best friends nut clearly are extremely fond of each other.

July 2014 day to day

01 Jul

After the first little group of babies had finished downing their milk at the public viewing hour Balguda and Barsilinga decided to get into a pushing game. Lemoyian saw this and immediately took the opportunity to try and mount Balguda who would not tolerate such behavior so quickly head butted Lemoyian. Lemoyian was in complete shock at Balguda’s reaction so he took all his frustration out on little Kauro who was minding his own business gnawing on a stick. Lemoyian pushed Kauro to the floor which gained all the keepers attention and they quickly intervened to stop Lemoyian’s bad behavior. The keepers chased Lemoyian into the bush for some alone time to teach him that this behavior was unacceptable and little Kauro went back to gnawing on his stick like nothing had happened. Lemoyian tried to return to the group, but the keepers chased him away again. He trumpeted out his frustration because he hated being on his own, so eventually the keepers ushered him back to the others. He didn’t dare go near the babies again and he must have been very embarrassed after his rude behavior.

Balguda and Barsilinga after head pushing

Lemoyian acting very fustrated