Keepers' Diaries, March 2004

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Nursery Elephants:- Do elephant’s dream? Now, we know that they definitely do, for normally a baby elephant cannot trumpet properly until the age of 9 months – 1 year, and even then, the first trumpet simply happens unexpectedly when in a high state of excitement! Moreover, it usually startles them, coming as a complete surprise! Suddenly, one evening at dusk, as Daphne was walking around the yard, there sounded a full-blown very adult trumpet, which amazed her, and by questioning the Keepers, she was able to establish that it was little Ndomot who had trumpeted in this way, an infant of only 5 months old, who has never managed a trumpet before, or since! Furthermore, he was sound asleep, and never woke up! The first trumpet of all our Nursery elephants has happened when they are excited, usually chasing the warthogs who hang around the mudbath, or anything else that will oblige by running away. That Ndomot managed this very grown-up trumpet, when fast asleep is surely proof that elephants do dream, although those of us who know that one has to think “anthropomorphically” when dealing with elephants, it would be very surprising if they did not!

Nursery Elephants:- Do elephant’s dream? Now, we know that they definitely do, for normally a baby elephant cannot trumpet properly until the age of 9 months – 1 year, and even then, the first trumpet simply happens unexpectedly when in a high state of excitement! Moreover, it usually startles them, coming as a complete surprise! Suddenly, one evening at dusk, as Daphne was walking around the yard, there sounded a full-blown very adult trumpet, which amazed her, and by questioning the Keepers, she was able to establish that it was little Ndomot who had trumpeted in this way, an infant of only 5 months old, who has never managed a trumpet before, or since! Furthermore, he was sound asleep, and never woke up! The first trumpet of all our Nursery elephants has happened when they are excited, usually chasing the warthogs who hang around the mudbath, or anything else that will oblige by running away. That Ndomot managed this very grown-up trumpet, when fast asleep is surely proof that elephants do dream, although those of us who know that one has to think “anthropomorphically” when dealing with elephants, it would be very surprising if they did not!

For us the month of March has been very rewarding, but for one tragedy towards the end, when a poor little Mara baby of about 2 weeks old, was brought in suffering from horrendous wounds, probably inflicted by an attack from a pride of lions. The mother and herd obviously managed to save the calf, but were unable to prevent it being savaged first. Most elephants, and particularly a young and inexperienced mother, are very fearful of lions, and, in fact, most things, as is illustrated through The Keepers’ Diary. The Vet who normally handles Mara cases flew in, immobilized both mother and baby, assessed the extent of the injuries, and made the decision that without further veterinary intervention, the calf had no chance of recovery. We therefore mounted the usual airlift to bring it back to the Nursery, but under anaesthesia, our own Vet, Dr. Dieter Rottcher, saw that it was a hopeless case, with the bladder and colon ruptured, and a lot of flesh and tissue missing altogether. The calf was therefore euthenased whilst “under”, but at least its end was peaceful and merciful, and it was surrounded by warmth and love from a grieving human family. Great sadness always accompanies the humane ending of a life that should have spanned three score years and ten, but it was especially so with this tiny bull, who suffered so stoicly, and in the few hours that he was with us, displayed a strong will to live. Unfortunately, this was not to be, so rest in peace little “Lemara”, a name that reflects the dappled light and shadows of his beautiful birthplace.

The month of March saw the rapid recovery of Selengai, who had been suffering from a nasty leg obscess, and Madiba who suffered both diarrheoa and a lymph infection, whilst little Ndomot gained all the weight he had lost whilst so ill previously. Now all our Nursery inmates sport the fat little cheeks of a healthy baby, but most rewarding, has been the psychological recovery of Madiba who now understands that he is an elephant! He has forged a very strong friendship with both Ndomot and Sunyei, and all three spend hours playing and romping together. Madiba is a precocious and forceful little bull who more than holds his own despite being still much smaller than his little friends. All his first molars are safely through now, and he is no longer so bonded either to his blanket or the Keepers, preferring trunk wrestling sessions with Ndomot and romping around with Sunyei in between whiles. It is Ndomot who, of all of them, is still the “clinging vine” and never far from a Keeper. He has always been a very insecure little elephant, who demands constant attention whereas the others are much more independent.

Napasha looks splendid with his tooth-pick tusks, proud to show them off to all the visitors by raising his trunk so that they are very visible. He, Taita and Olmalo are sufficient unto each other, all very gentle characters, whereas Wendi, Tomboi and Selengai tend to be more assertive, and even “pushy”, Wendi and Tomboi having learnt a few tricks from “Mweya” with whom they shared time in the Nursery. Taita is no longer afraid of the rain on the roof, and every evening, he, Olmalo and Napasha eagerly await the arrival of the orphaned rhino Makosa, who, although now fully independent of his Keepers, returns to his erstwhile Stockade every evening to enjoy a hand-out of copra and kitchen peelings. Mokosa will be 5 on lst August and is feisty, avoided even by 7 year old Magnum, but he never fails to stand by the Stockades occupied by the bigger elephants, to have his face tickled by their trunks.

All our Nursery inmates, except Ndomot, Sunyei and Madiba are now ready to make the transition to Tsavo, there to begin their gradual reintegration back into full-blown wild elephant society. We plan on moving them after the current rainy season, when it will be cooler in Tsavo, but still green. Once the older elephants leave, the mantle of “Mini Matriarch” will fall on little Sunyei, but all female elephants accept this responsibility eagerly, irrespective of age.

Nursery Rhino “Shida”:- Like the elephants, little “Shida” has had a happy month, doing what rhinos enjoy most, which is an uneventful daily routine, a mudbath nearby, regular milk feeds (and as much as is needed, now with a little boiled barley added), a comfortable stable and the all important coat ever at hand, worn by a different Keeper during the day as together they do the rounds of the dungpiles and urinals, and hung within his reach in his stable at night. Both Magnum and Makosa have now become used to his scent and no longer become excited by the presence of “a stranger” close to home. Similarly Magnum and Makosa now have their comfortable routines, Magnum returning home in the mornings and Makosa in the evenings. Makosa was enjoying an early morning mud-dip the other day when a very large wild mother and her half-grown calf came to take salt from the lick. Rhinos are usually very myopic, but not so Makosa, who spotted their arrival immediately when they were at least 200 yards distant, even with the wind blowing the other way. After a quick appraisal, up went his tail (denoting alarm) and the mudbath was hurriedly vacated! Magnum’s normal beat takes him down onto the plains, rather than up into the forest, so he is already very friendly with the wild pair and is often seen in their company from the elevated position of Daphne’s home.

Tsavo Orphans:- The 8 inch rainstorm that fell last month resulted in bountiful greens for our orphans, which was a very welcome relief both for us, and for them. Periodic showers continued, which have kept the area around the Stockades green and growing, so the month has been devoted to feeding and fattening, gaining the weight they all lost during the long dry season of last year that unusually went on into January. Heavy rains have also fallen further afield, particularly in the Northern Area, so there have been no wild herds around with whom our orphans could interact. However, two of our Big Boys have appeared briefly. Edo, who spent time with the orphans on the 21st and 22nd, when the younger set, namely Tsavo, Ndara, Mpala, Morani, Thoma and Burra touched him gingerly, according to the Keepers “tossing their trunks in order to do so!” The next day, he joined them all in the mudbath, which would have been a huge treat for the orphans, who have a special reverence and fondness for the “Big Boys”. Dika has also been seen at the end of the month down near the KWS Airfield.

The friendships that are illustrated in this month’s diary are between Laikipia and Solango, Sosian and Morani and Burra and Morani, who were best friends during the time they shared in the Nursery. All the elephants are very fond of little Morani, who is the smallest in the current Tsavo family, but who is also a very gentle and loving little elephant, extremely popular with both elephants and humans alike.

Graphically illustrated on the 19th is the fact that elephants are capable of drawing water through their trunks from their stomachs in order to cool their bodies, when overheating, or stressed. This fact was first known by the late David Sheldrick 60 years ago and was initially greeted with disbelief by the Scientific community. However, rearing the orphans enlightens people to facts that others will never know or fully understand through observation only. We are proud to have been in such a privileged position for so long.

This month’s Diary illustrates, yet again, the many human traits of young elephants. Competitiveness as to who will be the leader when the orphans leave their Night Stockades, particularly between females aspiring for a Matriarchal role. Mulika and Icholta were involved in such a competition, but Ilingwezi surreptitiously stepped in to secure pride of place. There have been the usual boy tussles of strength, between Burra and Solango when Ilingwezi intervened to restore peace. Jealousy is illustrated when Tsavo tries to suckle Emily, squeezing himself between Emily’s legs, and Loisaba pushes him away. But, whilst Loisaba is jealous of anyone who gets too close to Emily, nevertheless she steps in to help Tsavo when he is losing a tussle with Nyiro, both Tsavo and Loisaba being Emily’s favourites.

Games are illustrated, such as pushing an old tree trunk about in the mudbath, tugs of war with an elephant at each end of a branch and Sweet Sally blocking Nyiro passage out of the Stockade, which infuriated him! Compassion is illustrated when Aitong pushes Sosian because he was interfering with Mweiga taking her noon milk feed, and then standing guard beside her so that Sosian keeps away! Mweiga, will be 6 years old in October, and as such should be weaned, but she needs all the help possible to try and gain strength and condition, having always been essentially a very feeble elephant with an obvious heart disorder. Again we see Aitong and Edie rushing to help Mweiga to her feet when she was accidentally pushed over during a rush and we read about Burra, who has recently been weaned off milk, begging the Keeper who was giving Mpala his bottle, to allow him just a little. Then we read about Aitong digging up the compacted soil around the mudbath with her tusks, not for herself, but so that the babies not so well equipped can enjoy a dust-bath.

A sense of humour is again illustrated with Laikipia surreptitiously picking up and tossing a pebble at unsuspecting Tsavo, scaring him so that he runs to Emily for protection! Encounters with other animals involve, as usual, the resident Stockade Monitor Lizard, who cares not one whit about elephants or people, and who thrives on the beetles coming for the dung. He is so tame now that he has a name – “Maximilian Lizard”! Then there is the terrapin that touched Natumi’s leg in the mudbath, prompting aa mass exit! Two waterbucks were the target to trigger a marathon run initiated by the bigger girls, Natumi, Edie, Ilingwezi, Mvita and Nasalot, with Mukwaju at the rear, soon to be joined by all the others. This was a long distance run that must surely have taxed the two targets, and left the elephant group spent! However, 40 impala were allowed to pass by peacefully.

Not mentioned in this month’s Diary are the middle boys, namely Salama, Lolokwe and Irima, who have obviously been concentrating on enjoying the delayed festive season spread out in a buffet before them and who have been behaving impeccably, (unusual for Salama!) The middle group of boys will be amongst some of the older females who will be in line for the move North in June. Currently identified by the Keepers and ourselves for this change are Salama, Laikipia, Lolokwe, Nyiro, Mukwaju, Sosian, Solango and Irima, with the female contingent being Natumi’s group of middle sized females, namely Natumi, Icholta, Edie, Mulika, Nasalot, Ilingwezi, Kinna and Yatta. Hence 16 elephants will be leaving the Voi group for the North, and if the Nursery babies are moved to Voi, Emily will be welcoming another 6! At least that is the idea at the moment, cognizance being taken of friendships, leaving Emily and Aitong with their favourite calves and the younger set.

March 2004 day to day

01 Mar

Laikipia spent most of the day browsing close to Solango. He tried to mount Solango, but Solango managed to avoid him, so they continued feeding close to one another.
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