Keepers' Diaries, March 2003

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Nursery Elephants:- In the evening of the 21st March 2003, we welcomed another tiny orphaned elephant into the Nursery, again from Sosian Ranch in Laikipia, the same privately owned Ranch that yielded the two year old orphan called "Sosian", now in Tsavo. This latest tiny newcomer, as usual, was airlifted to Nairobi by East African Air Charters, attended by a K.W.S. Veterinarian and two of our Staff members. Because she was so young with no fear of humans, we were able to avoid the risk of sedation for the journey.

Nursery Elephants:- In the evening of the 21st March 2003, we welcomed another tiny orphaned elephant into the Nursery, again from Sosian Ranch in Laikipia, the same privately owned Ranch that yielded the two year old orphan called "Sosian", now in Tsavo. This latest tiny newcomer, as usual, was airlifted to Nairobi by East African Air Charters, attended by a K.W.S. Veterinarian and two of our Staff members. Because she was so young with no fear of humans, we were able to avoid the risk of sedation for the journey.

Apparently, this baby was found just wandering alone on one of the ranch tracks, suggesting that the mother had either perished, or the calf became separated during a stampede. There can be no denying that the Laikipia population of elephants have, and do, suffer intense harassment as a result of poaching for ivory and also as a result of human elephant conflict, since the burgeoning human population has cut ancient migration routes and isolated small pockets from one another. Furthermore, many elephant mothers of today are young and inexperienced, giving birth to a first calf when still little more than children themselves, as the experience of Malaika taught us. This, too, is a result of disruption of the natural family structure through poaching and the absence of older female relatives who would normally keep over exuberant young, and often badly behaved, teenage bulls in line.

We estimated her age to be between l and 2 weeks old, for the hind side of the ears were still the telling petal pink, the umbilicus not entirely dry and also slightly infected. However, upon later inspection, we were presented with a puzzle and another dilemma, for it turned out that the umbilical cord had been tied with thread from sacking. This would seem to indicate that the calf had been newborn when found by tribesmen - possibly by the same people that killed her mother. Now we have to face the possibility that we might be confronted with another "Wendi" scenario i.e. the necessity for a plasma transfusion to kick-start the immune system, but time will tell.

Since the calf hails from Samburu country, we consulted our Samburu Keepers regarding a suitable name, and they chose "Selengai" which means "beautiful girl". Immediately upon arrival, little Selengai settled in, drinking copious quantities of rehydration and during the course of that first night downing 15 pints of SMA Goldcap milk - not a bad start, although 18 would have been better. She was exhausted and slept well, cuddled up beside a Keeper and covered in a blanket. As usual, she was given the usual prophylactic injectible course of antibiotics.

The welcome from the others the next day was very touching. They were all delighted to see her, Seraa acting as a little "mother", but Wendi also eager to play that role, pushing Seraa aside in a determined way. Tomboi looked a little confused confronted by another of exactly his size, despite the fact that he is now three months old! Mpala became immediately protective, facing outwards with ears out, warning all and sundry to keep their distance! That first morning Selengai spent with the others, and even delighted the visitors by appearing at the noon mudbath, but began to show signs of weakness soon afterwards, so was removed to rest nearby.

A bout of diarrheoa from newcomers is usually anticipated. Trauma of being orphaned and captured, the journey and different milk, all take a toll. With Selengai, sure enough, the diarrhoea set in, which entailed a course of oral Sulphadimidine to bring it under control, but we were totally unprepared for what followed -seven full days without any sign of a stool, even though the new baby was downing 24 pints of milk each day. We wondered where on earth 21 gallons of milk could possibly be in such a miniature body, but as there were no sign of discomfort, or loss of appetite, we resorted only to the old fashioned remedies of brown sugar, olive oil and eventually a very mild laxative supplied by our friendly chemist. Finally, on the eighth day, it happened to great applause all round! Our Keepers wishfully ondered why all the other elephants could not be like Selengai! Now we wait to see what other surprises this little elephant might have in store for us!

Seraa and Mpala are growing apace, and both now have tiny tusks that have broken through the lip and are visible when they proudly raise their trunks to show them off. Wendi is a very assertive little elephant, not unlike Mweya, who has a mind of her own and enjoys displaying her strength by charging the visitors, revelling in the raction! Tomboi obviously admires such antics, and hesitantly sometimes tries to do the same, but is a much gentler personality, and also a diminutive elephant. Wendi adores little Selengai, and wants to be her "mother", shoving Seraa aside whenever she tries to take control of the calf! Seraa is placid and long-suffering, and allows this precocious baby to get away with it and, of course, the time will come when she will have to be disciplined for charging the visitors!

Tsavo Elephants:- March is always the hottest month of the year in Tsavo, with temperatures in the 40's (centigrade), the country at the height of the dry season, thirsting for rain, and altogether a trying time for all. There has been only one interaction with a wild herd this month which took place on the 27th, when the youngest orphans, Mweya et al were allowed to touch a wild calf in the midst of the herd, but Emily and Aitong were denied this privilege! Ndume appeared on the 20th, scaring the babies, who are not so familiar with him, but Emily and Aitong insisted that they meet, and greet him, which they did. That evening he reappeared at the Stockades along with 15 year old Dika, another Big Boy, and it was noticed that Ndume had a small wound on his shoulder, which the Keepers were able to treat.

Aitong's love of Edo is again evident. When he appeared at the Stockade one evening, she refused to go in with the others, choosing instead to remain outside with him until he left at 8 p.m. Our Keepers suspect that she may be pregnant by Edo, something that worries us a great deal, in view of what happened to Malaika!. If Aitong is, indeed, pregnant, she will be only 10 years old when she gives birth, and could have birthing difficulty.

Sosian, the biggest of the Baby Group, continues to throw his weight around, and should probably join the older age group where he will have stiffer competition from older boys such as Laikipia, Lolokwe and Salama who will definitely put him in his place. Now, however, the little girls gang up on him, and present a united front. Mweya remains a very mischievous character, a naughty little Schemer who never misses a chance to charge at visitors, particularly those of European origin. We have never been able to rectify this habit and she goes out of her way to have a chance to "down" them!

The maternal instinct of Emily and Aitong is again very evident, with Nasalot also concerned about the welfare of the younger orphans, and Mweiga allowing Solango to suckle her ear. Mweiga still displays signs of chronic weakness and we fear she may have a heart defect, though not as serious as what afflicted Maungu. We are hoping that she may outgrow it. Scarey encounters this month include Kinna with a millipede and a passing rat scaring everyone at the mudbath, along with the usual buffalo, impala and waterbuck interludes, but overall, it has been a fairly quiet month. Obviously, at the height of a very hot and very dry period, being able to fill a hungry stomach takes precedence over other activities, although competition amongst the young bulls is still evident, as is the odd prank played on one another.

Up in the North, Imenti is in good hands, with his favourite Keepers housed in a tent beside a brand new Electrically fenced Night Stockade near the Ithumba Airfield awaiting the arrival of some of the other youngsters after the rains. This will be the beginning of the Northern Area Relocation Centre further from minibuses and problems posed by tourists, and we are also investigating being able to have a mobile Stockade, so that the orphans can move to where elephant concentrations happen to be following rain. We are told that Imenti remains glued to his Keepers, but is often on the periphery of the many wild herds that pass by on their way to water at a nearby dam, but he has not yet had the courage to actually fraternize closely with them. Moving him away from his friends has certainly dented his confidence and been a set-back to the reintegration of this young Bull, but in the fullness of time, we are confident that he will be able to take his rightful place amongst his own kind again. Making elephant friends, like making human friends, is not something that comes automatically or easily to one of his age, and he needs the company of others he knows to repair his dented confidence level. When they join him, I have no doubt that he will be overjoyed to have some elephant friends as well as his human family around him.

March 2003 day to day

01 Mar

At the noon mudbath Solango and Sosian had a wonderful time, Sosian allowing Solango to climb over him as he lay in the mud. This made Solango very happy. A tough tussle broke out between Icholata and Lolokwe over a branch they both wanted. Icholta had the advantage, since the fingers of her trunk are intact, whereas Lolokwe's were damaged before he came to us. In the end Natumi arrived to reinstall the peace by touching their mouths with her trunk and the Keepers lowered the branches for them so that both could have their share. In the evening Edo was at the Stockades, and Aitong refused to go inside, wanting to spend time with Edo outside. It was 8 p.m. before she went inside, and only when Edo decided to leave.