Keepers' Diaries, June 2008

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

Invariably, it always seems to happen on a Sunday, when it is most difficult to mobilize what it takes to airlift a desperate orphaned elephant from the back of beyond! However, during the morning of Sunday 8th June we were faced with no less than two rescues, both from Laikipia.

Invariably, it always seems to happen on a Sunday, when it is most difficult to mobilize what it takes to airlift a desperate orphaned elephant from the back of beyond! However, during the morning of Sunday 8th June we were faced with no less than two rescues, both from Laikipia.

Laikipia, in Northern Kenya, encompasses an area of some 8,700 sq. kms comprised of small farms, large ranches, privately owned conservancies and Government land. It is largely arid country but home to Kenya’s second largest population of elephants – some 5,000 in number, who shelter in splinter groups within remnant patches of forest and the small ele friendly conservancies where they are protected. However, whenever they set a foot beyond such borders to fraternize with others further afield, and find green pasture, they are constantly in trouble from an expanding human population now settled and cultivating what used to be their empty migration routes. The nomadic lifestyle of elephants demands a great deal of space, space that is now denied them so Laikipia is one of the worst areas for human/wildlife conflict as farmers and elephants struggle to coexist. It is also one of the areas most at risk from poaching, being both close to the chaos of Somalia and also suffering periodic droughts. Here the odds for survival are heavily weighted against elephants.

Sadly, only one of the two orphans that had been reported that Sunday made it to our Nairobi Nursery, the other having evaded capture by leaving the side of its dead mother and running off into the bush never to be seen again as KWS Rangers approached. Furthermore, the 9 month old calf that did make it to the Nursery had obviously been without her mother for some time, and was too far gone for us to be able to retrieve. She died 2 nights later, but at least passed away in a safe environment, having been comforted and embraced by all the other Nursery inmates. She left us surrounded by the empathy and love of both caring elephants and humans alike. We had named her “Namolok”, the word for “sweetie” in the Samburu dialect, and a sweetie she was who would have grown into a gentle and wonderful Matriarch. But, it was not to be.

The 16th June saw the departure of Makena, Lenana and Chyulu to Ithumba, there to embark on the next phase of life’s journey back into the wild elephant community of Northern Tsavo East National Park. All three of these Nursery orphans are now over 2 years old, and it was time for them to begin the rehabilitation back into the wild herds of Tsavo. After 5 days of practice being enticed into the large trucks parked against the loading ramp in order to have their milk, Lenana and Chyulu were prepared to go in, but Makena flatly refused. When the morning for the move arrived, she had to be given an injection of Stressnil so that she was calm enough to actually push physically into the truck, which was then towed away from the ramp so that she could not quickly reverse out. By 5.15 a.m. on the morning of the 16th June, the trucks drew away carrying that precious cargo in order to travel during the cool hours of the morning, and hopefully avoid traffic congestion on the main Nairobi/Mombasa road which has some very dusty and corrugated deviations.

By 12.30 p.m. they were at their destination where they were enthusiastically and warmly embraced by their peers, especially those who had shared Nursery time with them when they were tiny.

The 22nd June brought a 20 month old orphan into the Nairobi Nursery who had been spotted all alone on the Irima plains just behind the Voi Safari Lodge by our Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit. The calf was monitored for a long time and had tried to attach herself to a passing bull, who repeatedly tried to gently push her away. As it happened, however, it was fortuitous that he just happened to turn up at the opportune moment because a nearby pride of lions had their eyes on her and would definitely have made a meal of her had he not arrived to act as a deterrent. When nightfall was approaching, and because at 20 months old she was still milk dependent, the decision was taken to rescue her and take her overnight to the Voi Stockades where she would be safe pending the arrival of a rescue plane the next day to transport her to the Nairobi Nursery.

Having been overpowered twice, initially out on the plains where she was found and then at the Voi Stockades when the Rescue plane arrived, this calf has proved extremely difficult to calm, her mistrust and hatred of humans so profound obviously having been witness to some tragic event involving her elephant mother and family. Over and above this, having had to endure two captures, has not helped (it being vital not to sedate an elephant of that age for a plane journey, having learnt from experience that this results in life threatening bloat which puts excessive pressure on vital organs, and in the past has resulted in death).

We named this young female calf “Wasessa”, the name of the hill on which the Voi Safari Lodge is sited. After a night in the Nursery’s “Taming Stockade” she accepted milk from a bucket, but several days passed before she would take it from a hand-held bottle, and then only if it was offered through the bars of the Stockade. By the end of the month she was still extremely mistrustful of the Keepers; far too “wild” and unpredictable to be allowed out with the other Nursery elephants. Although Wasessa has proved extremely difficult to calm, we know that with patience and a great deal of t.l.c. she will eventually, like others, gain confidence and learn to love the new human “family” to whom she owes her life. We keep reminding ourselves that there have been others equally as problematical in the past - Rapsu, Kenze, and Challa, being just a few, all of whom are now gentle and trustworthy around their Keepers and the foster-parents who visit them at Ithumba.

With the departure of Lenana, Chyulu and Makena, and the arrival of wild Wasessa, elephant “musical stables” were a necessity again. Lesanju and Lempaute, who are inseparable, went to share the stockade that used to be occupied by Makena and Chyulu, while Siria was moved into Lenana’s erstwhile Stockade and Sinya was moved in with Dida. However, this did not suit Sinya at all, who made it quite plain that the arrangement was not to her liking, so she took Siria’s place in Lenana’s stockade and Shimba was moved in with Dida! Kenia is happy sleeping with her Keeper and does not seem unhappy by Shimba having been moved in with Dida. So far, so good!
Other Orphans:- The 12th saw the arrival of a tiny loan zebra foal from the Kitengela plains bordering the Nairobi National Park whose presence was reported to us by a passer-by. The baby stallion who is about a week old was rescued and brought to the Nursery, there being no sign of any other zebras in sight. Wire indentations on his face indicate possibly having been snagged in a barbed wire fence, which could be the reason he became separated from his mother, if, indeed, she is still alive. We named him “Rongai” since he was found near the town of Ongata Rongai.

He was sent to Tsavo on the plane that went to bring Wasessa to the Nursery, there to be raised with Serena, the Trust’s orphaned zebra mare who instantly loved him and where, together, hopefully, they will enjoy a quality of life in wild terms when grown. Previous zebra stallions hand-reared by the Trust have not been a great success, becoming exceedingly dangerous to humans whom they view as competitors for their mares. But as Rongai has been “adopted” by Serena, we hope she will take him with her into a wild herd as a foal once he is independent of milk. We will just have to wait and see. However, should he show signs of becoming aggressive to humans, he will be gelded at about the age of l0 months, and as a gelded zebra stallion, like a gelded horse, will still be able to enjoy living which must surely be better than being dead!

Little “Shungi” the duiker is now out and about, no longer confined even at night, although during his first few days of freedom he chose to return to his previous night quarters to sleep during the hours of darkness. However, now he is very happy where he is, and being a crepuscular creature, is active only in the late evenings and early hours of each day, when he emerges from hiding to play with Daphne’s grand-children, enjoy a banana or an apple and take a bottle of milk, still something he relishes, despite having sprouted tiny horns!

June 2008 day to day

01 Jun

The older elephants, namely Lenana, Makena and Chyulu rushed to the babies’ Night quarters hoping to see Kimana, the new baby, but the babies’ stables were still closed, it being a cold morning. Out in the field the older elephants were restless, running up and down and breaking small bushes until they ran back to the stables, by which time the babies were out. They remained with them for some time, after which they settled down.

Kimana and his keeper