Keepers' Diaries, June 2009

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

On the 4th June, yet another orphaned elephant arrived in the nursery, bringing the total in the Nairobi Nursery to a record 19! This 5-6 month old female calf was found by Samburu tribesmen down a well near Archer’s Post in the Kalama Conservancy of Samburu and was rescued by the Kalama Conservancy Scouts, who immediately got in touch with us. The calf arrived in good condition, and has been named “Kalama”.

On the 4th June, yet another orphaned elephant arrived in the nursery, bringing the total in the Nairobi Nursery to a record 19! This 5-6 month old female calf was found by Samburu tribesmen down a well near Archer’s Post in the Kalama Conservancy of Samburu and was rescued by the Kalama Conservancy Scouts, who immediately got in touch with us. The calf arrived in good condition, and has been named “Kalama”.

On the 9th, there was another alert, which filtered through to us via a tourist who had been on Mpala Ranch in Laikipia, where apparently there was an orphan in need of assistance. We got in touch with the Manager, who informed us that a lot of elephant calves had been dying of late on the ranch, and the KWS Vets had been alerted. An extremely emaciated young bull aged about 3 years or just under, and as such still milk dependent during what has been a devastating and prolonged drought in the North, was brought in to us, heavily sedated, and never came round, dying during the night. The body was taken to Kabete for a post-mortem, but by month end we had not been informed of any conclusions concerning the actual cause of death, other than an overload of stomach parasites obviously coupled with milk deprivation.

The arrival of this fairly large calf involved yet another re-shuffle of the sleeping arrangements, which led to a very disturbed night, Tassia bellowing his head off because Kenia and Kimana were not next door as usual, and Kenia, Dida and Baarwa transferred to the stockade vacated by Lesanju, Lempaute and Sinya. The disturbance upset Suguta, who joined in the chorus of protest! This, in turn triggered the resident Hadadas and Tree Hyraxes who also joined the nocturnal cacophony, making matters even worse!

Having disinfected the Stockade where the new baby died, the sleeping arrangements returned to normal, but not for long, because another 1 ½ year old female calf, located by the Amboseli Researchers outside the Park, having just come from the Tanzanian side of the border, was flown to the Nursery on the 12th. This calf had a fresh spear wound between the chin and neck, so her elephant mother was likely to have been killed in Tanzania where poaching for ivory has escalated sharply of late, large illegal hauls originating in Tanzania having been intercepted recently en route to the Far East. At the suggestion of the Amboseli Researchers this calf has been named “Naimina” meaning “lost” in the Maa language. Aside from her injury, she arrived in reasonable condition, although lean, the cheekbones prominent. Her arrival brought the number of infant elephants in our Nairobi Nursery to a record 20, and necessitated yet another re-shuffle and upset among the Nursery residents, the stockade occupied by Chaimu and Kilaguni having to be partitioned, since Chaimu kept bumping into Laikipia’s tail stub, which was still healing. This triggered the hurried construction of more Stockades to accommodate others bound to come in, since failure of the rains in Northern Kenya and Tsavo means that drought conditions will prevail until at least October or November when the next rains are due.

Two more yearling plus calves were brought into the Nursery, one from Mugi ranch, who died within hours, too calm for comfort upon arrival - never a good sign in a calf of that age. The faeces was literally heaving with parasites, although the calf itself was not in too bad shape, so an overload of parasites coupled with milk deprivation is thought to have been the cause of death, although the post-mortem results (which, at the request of KWS be undertaken at the Kabete Nairobi University Veterinary facility), have yet to be made known. Yet another yearling calf from the Chyulus was found in a state of collapse by our Chyulu De-Snaring team on the 25th, but died before the plane landed to bring it to Nairobi and yet another of similar age, this time from Ziwani in Tsavo West National Park, who narrowly escaped being hacked to death by tribesmen bent on making a meal of it on the 26th, and who was saved only by the timely intervention of some ele-friendly souls, died during the early hours of the morning of the 28th, having collapsed soon after arrival, beset by similar problems as the previous casualties.

Nor did it end there, for soon after the death of the Ziwani calf, there was yet another elephant rescue alert on the 28th , this time from Tsavo East. A yearling female was found all alone near the Mombasa Pipeline opposite Ndara, and because of the proximity of lions in the area, and no sign of any wild elephants nearby, the calf was rescued and held overnight at the Voi Stockades. She was flown to Nairobi the next day, and collapsed during the night, with signs of watery diarrheoa, suggesting possible Rota virus. Immediately she was put on intravenous life support, plus a course of broad spectrum injectible antibiotic and after 8 hours she rallied and began feeding. We are hopeful that this yearling calf will live. She has been named “Melia”- for the African Mohogany Melia Volkensi trees that are prolific over the area in which she was found.

The very next day on the 29th we were told that the baby of a mother who fell into a lodge swimming pool, (the accident severing one of her lactating breasts), was becoming ever weaker, and needed rescuing. The mother’s remaining lactating breast had failed following repeated sedations by our mobile Mara Veterinary Unit to treat her horrendous wounds. Happily, the mother’s wounds are healing well, but sadly her calf died the night of the alert, which had come far too late, as it is such a difficult decision to make with the mother still alive.

Eight infant elephant rescues in just l month is an indication of the elephant tragedy that is unfolding in this country, for there are reports of dozens of others being found already dead out in the bush in the Northern Conservancies and no doubt also in Tsavo. This is proof, were any needed, that Kenya’s elephants are in dire straits – jeopardized by having to share pasture with hordes of domestic livestock, who have cleaned up almost every blade of grass so essential to elephants in order to bulk up at the beginning of a wet season after prolonged drought. Illegal grazing even in the National Parks, has impacted seriously on the Park’s wildlife, with hippos, impalas, zebra and giraffe also dying, particularly in Tsavo West. The immune systems of the elephants are depressed through stress caused by the escalation in poaching (poachers are now being paid K. Shs. l0,000/- per kilo. Harassment from an expanding human population cultivating ancient elephant migratory routes causing mounting human/wildlife conflict, and the affects of drought conditions exacerbated by global warming. All these are issues that cannot be denied. Temperatures during the month of June are apparently the highest on record since records first began in the late l800’s. Kenya’s rivers are drying up caused by the deforestation of the country’s water towers, a growing charcoal trade (condoned by the Government) and water levels of the country’s lakes, Naivasha, Nakuru, and even Victoria, falling rapidly. Lake Baringo is already dry which l00 years ago was a crystal clear lake surrounded by a wealth of wildlife, crocodiles and fish clearly visible in its depths. It is a grim scenario, and a portent of things to come. Urgent measures need to be introduced to at least rid the Protected Areas of the illegal livestock that is taking such a heavy toll of wildlife, not to mention the bushmeat scenario which is totally out of control.

One of our Nursery babies who has long been a cause for concern ever since his arrival on the 4th April 2009, is our little Isiolo, who has never thrived, or gained condition, but continued to display signs of mounting emaciation and weakness, despite feeding well with no obvious signs to indicate the cause of his troubles, other than bellowing whenever he lies down or gets up. Having originated in an area shared with hordes of cattle, he was given an Ivomectin injection to counter possible liver fluke and other parasites, but this has had little affect. Then during the morning of the 27th he collapsed out in the forest, and had to be carried in on the rescue tarpaulin and immediately put on a Dextrose/Saline intravenous drip. In spite of this, he continued to feed well, rallied in the afternoon, but collapsed again during the night, so once again the Dextrose/Saline drip had to be re-attached. The cause of Isiolo’s decline has baffled us all, including the Vets.
Currently, he is undergoing a further course of a very broad spectrum antibiotic and he does seem to be regaining at least a little strength.

The Nursery Keepers are having a very busy time trying to wrangle 21 infant elephants, embark on endless elephant rescues, and endure the disappointment and sorrow of more losses than the Nursery has ever known before just in one month. Not all of the Nursery infants are compatible with one another, many still suffering from the stress of being orphaned at an early age, manifested in being “pushy” towards established members, and needing time out alone to come to terms with their loss. The Nursery herd has had to be separated into two groups; the older group includes our two oldest Nursery babies, Kenia, who is the Matriarch, plus Dida, (who simply would rather not get involved) plus some fairly pushy little boys like Tassia (the main “pusher”) and Taveta who comes a close second. Shira is classified as the “pushy” girl of the group, obviously determined not to be out-done by the boys and still suspicious of human contact. Kilaguni and Baarwa are the small boys of the group who indulge in pushing each other, Baarwa being extremely attached to Kenia which generates animosity from the others in the group. Also included in this group is the newcomer from Amboseli named Naimina, plus Kimana, Ndii and Chaimu, who seems to get a kick out of making Kilaguni cry by pushing his tail stub that is yet to heal. “Melia”, the last yearling orphan to come in during June, and the only yearling survivor of new arrivals, will join this group when she regains sufficient strength.

The Mini Matriarch of the Baby Group is Suguta , assisted by Nchan, who is beginning to show promising signs of caring, focusing her attention on the smallest babies of the group such as Kibo, Isiolo and Olkeju. Mawenzi remains still somewhat pushy, while Sabachi has the unenviable reputation of being the pushiest bully baby boy and also the most vociferous, invariably first to complain with loud bellows should the night-time feed be delayed by even a few minutes or the doors to his stable not be opened as early as he would like, due to a misty and cold morning! Also noisy is Kudup who in competition with Sabachi, also makes her wants known loud and very clear!

The Rhinos:- Maalim is now a picture of good health, playful, mischievous, bouncy and fast becoming quite a handful, especially at the noon mudbath, when he deliberately puts on a “show” for all the visitors, running up and down the rope (and sometimes through it, dispersing them squealing and laughing) and generally enthralling all his many admirers. It is difficult for us to believe that this tiny premature calf who could have fitted into a lady’s handbag when found, has more than quadrupled his size with very little input from us, (who have been preoccupied with the elephants), apart from his regular milk feeds and massages with milking salve to soften what was once very dry and flaking skin. One can always tell the health of a rhino by the texture of its skin, and today Maalim’s skin looks like soft polished leather.

Shida continues to turn up on a regular basis, although this month he has been absent for several days at a time. As always, his arrival revs up blind Maxwell, who is also now a picture of good health, and as big, if not bigger in body than Shida. Rhinos are again in the sights of poachers throughout Africa, their horns fetching a fortune in the Middle and Far East, with eager Chinese buyers now close at hand.

June 2009 day to day

01 Jun

It was a very hot day, so the baby group enjoyed their noon mudbath today, Kudup being the first to get in, soon followed by the rest.