Keepers' Diaries, May 2009

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

The demise of elephants during the recent very severe drought period, combined with a marked and shocking escalation of poaching throughout the country, is an extremely worrying trend, which is real and a fact and therefore should be taken extremely seriously by the relevant authorities. This month, at least 3 young elephants were found dead in the Milgis area, the rescue of another had to be aborted on the 3rd because the orphan died before the plane could land, and on the 12th yet another never happened, again the calf dying before it could be rescued. Thankfully, three lucky little elephant elephant orphans were saved during the month, bringing the total in the Nairobi Nursery to a record 18.

The demise of elephants during the recent very severe drought period, combined with a marked and shocking escalation of poaching throughout the country, is an extremely worrying trend, which is real and a fact and therefore should be taken extremely seriously by the relevant authorities. This month, at least 3 young elephants were found dead in the Milgis area, the rescue of another had to be aborted on the 3rd because the orphan died before the plane could land, and on the 12th yet another never happened, again the calf dying before it could be rescued. Thankfully, three lucky little elephant elephant orphans were saved during the month, bringing the total in the Nairobi Nursery to a record 18.

On the 14th (thanks to the work of the Samburu community and the Milgis Trust) a 3 month old female calf was rescued and on the 22nd a 6 month old bull was found alone near the Chyulu Gate into Tsavo West National Park and was flown to the Nursery. This calf had been mauled by predators, possibly a lone hyaena for all that remained of his tail was a raw stump at the base, with evidence of tooth punctures around the buttocks, 2 large chunks bitten off each ear and a deep bite on one hind leg. This calf is likely to be a victim of poaching, which is prevalent in the area. On the 30th another 5 week old female calf was retrieved from a well near Archer’s Post in the Kalama area of Samburu district, rescued by Samburu tribesmen first thing in the morning, having fallen down the well known as Likwasi Oibor (meaning “the white well”). This calf arrived in good condition, and was united with the rest of the orphans that very afternoon, desperate for elephant company. She has been named “Kalama”, the origin of where she was orphaned.

The rescue of the Milgis baby was yet another dramatic event. There had been a recent heavy downpour of rain on the 13th May, so there was surface rainwater readily available, meaning that there was no need for the herdsmen to visit the wells dug in the Milgis Lugga on that day. However, most opportunely, a passerby just happened to hear a calf bellowing, and upon investigation found that a baby elephant was, indeed, at the bottom of a deep well. There was evidence that the mother had spent a long time trying to extract her calf, for the sides of the well had been dug out with her tusks, but the ground was too hard, so as dawn broke the mother elephant had given up all hope, and moved off with the herd. Scouts from the Milgis Trust managed to extract the calf by throwing a rope loop around her torso. She was still strong, and having been hauled out, she gave them quite a runaround before they could subdue her and tie her legs. A search was then mounted for the mother or any other elephant herd nearby which might include the calf’s mother, but sadly, by nightfall, there was no sign of any elephants in the area. The Scouts settled down for another uncomfortable night, keeping vigil over the calf, since there were many hyaenas around hoping for a free meal, and praying that the mother might return to claim her noisy baby. However, only a lone bull turned up during night, but paid little attention to the bellowing baby, and simply went on his way, splashing across the shallow water trapped in the lugga. During the morning of the 14th a wall of flood water came rushing down the lugga as a result of heavy rain further upstream, so had the calf not been found in time, she would most certainly have been drowned by that flash flood.

The search for the elephant mother continued during the morning of the 14th, but when by afternoon there was no hope of finding her, or any other elephant herds nearby, we in Nairobi were alerted that a rescue was necessary and the calf was flown to the Nursery. She arrived in good shape, but in spite of having been down a well, was desperate for water, kneeling down to mouth up any moisture she could find which had spilt on the ground from the rehydrants she was offered. She was taken to the mudbath to appease her yearning before being taken to a stable, but from the onset she was amazingly trusting of the Keepers and very calm, so was able to join the other Nursery elephants the very next day. At the request of her rescuers she was named “Kudup”, the name of the place where she was found.

The Milgis Trust have accomplished wonders with the community of that area, all of whom are now fully committed conservationists who have assured us that irrespective of curious illogical directives from KWS, we can be assured of their full cooperation. When an infant elephant is orphaned, its survival is precarious at best, and every moment counts. Every elephant is an individual in its own right, just as is every human, and every individual, irrespective of species, is worthy of compassion, especially from the authority charged with its protection and preservation for the benefit of future generations.

From the onset “Kudup” was desperate for muddy water, throwing herself down into any puddle to mouth up what she could, which, of course, was not conducive to stabilizing her stomach! It was as though she had never actually seen water before, which could be the case, because Laikipia has experienced a very severe and prolonged drought. Although she was retrieved from a deep well, we believe that it could have been dry.

The wounded baby bull was flown to the Nursery from Kilaguni Airfield in Tsavo West National Park, the Trust having been alerted by the KWS Community Officer at Kilaguni Lodge. Astonishingly, this little bull, although about 6 months of age, was just so relieved to be saved that at no time did he show any sign of aggression, hungrily sucking the Keepers fingers, desperate for milk. He arrived in the Nursery just after dark on the 22nd, and by torchlight we cleaned and dressed his wounds, fed him rehydrants and milk and placed him in the partitioned stockade with Tassia next door for company.

There was deep anxiety when Dida, one of the Nursery’s Senior babies, suddenly became very listless, off her food, with signs of blood in the urine. Another long course of injectible Nuroclav antibiotic plus alternative remedies sorted her out, much to our great relief. Dida has long been a nagging worry, and has obviously been fighting the kidney infection for some time. By month end she was fit again. Then Kibo, who is a well victim, showed signs of a wet trunk, which is something we take very seriously, and is usually a precursor to pneumonia. He was given a 3 day course of a different antibiotic, having already had the Nuroclav, and although the trunk is still sometimes damp, he seems fit enough in himself, and is gaining weight. We are hopeful that his immune system is now powerful enough to weather any respiratory defect, but one can never be sure that a baby elephant is going to survive until it has past its third birthday, something that we have learnt the hard way over the years.

In order to cater for l8 baby elephants, existing stables had to be partitioned with removable poles, and the inmates doubled up. We still have the large Stockade recently vacated by Lesanju, Lempaute and Sinya in reserve, but may have to hurriedly erect some more elephant accommodation in order to cope with the escalating numbers that are sure to come in.

Kenia and Dida are now the main Mini Matriarchs of the Nursery. Because the group is now so large, and rather unwieldy with so many tiny infants who are not always well behaved, it was decided to separate the smaller orphans from the older ones, with Kenia and Dida taking charge of the older ones, namely Kilaguni, Kimana, Taveta, Shira, Tassia, Ndi, Mawenzi and Baarwa, (who is very attached to Kenia) leaving Suguta in charge of the smaller babies such as Sabachi, Kibo, Isiolo, Nchan, Olkeju, Kudup and Kalama. Suguta, even at the tender age of just over one year, promises to become a very proficient and caring little Mini Minor Matriarch while Kenia and Dida have stepped into the role previously occupied by Lesanju, Sinya and Lempaute.

All the new arrivals were recovering well by month end, although little Olkeju is still extremely emaciated with a gaunt appearance and prominent cheekbones. Nchan, Isiolo and Baarwa are all gaining weight nicely and Tassia, and Shira are now well, happy and thriving. Kilaguni’s hyaena maul wounds are recovering well, his stomach has stabilized, after a shaky beginning, and he is feeding well, so we think he is over the worst. The skin damage on Shira’s back resulting from her fall down the Meerschaum well at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro is healing well, the necrotic tissue gradually being pared away as new skin replaces it. Kudup is turning into a very responsive and obedient little elephants, who always comes when called.

The Rhinos:- Maxwell, who is now 2 ½ but for his blindness, is a fine specimen who, were he able to see, would be able to give 5 year old Shida a run for his money, because he is equal in size to Shida, if not slightly bigger. Max has proved his strength by downing quite a substantial tree in the midst of his compound, which astonished us all! Shida continues his routine home-comings usually twice daily to coincide with visiting hours, planting himself back in his old Stockade to enjoy the attention of spectators and a hand-out of lucerne. Little Maalim continues to thrive and enthrall all onlookers. With a bump now on his nose, he is shedding his reptilian appearance and beginning to look more like a rhino! He is a plump and sturdy now and is a great entertainer at the mudbath, enjoying the attention of all the visitors as he patrols up and down the cordon. He has also taken to running under it, and through the visitors’ legs, which always causes quite a stir and much hilarity

May 2009 day to day

01 May

As the new Nursery Mini Matriarch, Kenia is having a tough time trying to control so many very small babies, some of whom are a bit un-disciplined. The Keepers had to assist her to control the naughty ones such as Kimana, Tassia, Bhaawa, Taveta and Ndii. We did this by tone of voice and waggling of a finger as well as giving the wrong-doer a shove! It was a great help to Kenia.

Kenia & Abdi

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