Keepers' Diaries, May 2010

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

We have long been extremely anxious and puzzled by the condition of Sian, which has deteriorated radically of late. Her problem began with what we thought was a growth on her feet, which was examined under sedation by Dr. Ndeereh, the Vet attached to our Tsavo Mobile Unit, who said that it was not a growth, but calcification of the toenails. That condition was also evident in the deterioration of her teeth which appeared riddled with cavities and so brittle that they were breaking up. However, since elephants have 6 sets of molars in a lifetime, we hoped that perhaps the incoming replacements might be more normal but no such luck, so the reason for this condition remains a mystery, unless it has something to do with the highly mineralized soil of her Amboseli origin!

We have long been extremely anxious and puzzled by the condition of Sian, which has deteriorated radically of late. Her problem began with what we thought was a growth on her feet, which was examined under sedation by Dr. Ndeereh, the Vet attached to our Tsavo Mobile Unit, who said that it was not a growth, but calcification of the toenails. That condition was also evident in the deterioration of her teeth which appeared riddled with cavities and so brittle that they were breaking up. However, since elephants have 6 sets of molars in a lifetime, we hoped that perhaps the incoming replacements might be more normal but no such luck, so the reason for this condition remains a mystery, unless it has something to do with the highly mineralized soil of her Amboseli origin!

Despite having extra nutrition, and with the natural browse at Ithumba still lush and nutritious following wonderful rains, Sian’s condition has not improved and recently has worsened, leaving her feeble and barely able to drag herself around. Thinking that perhaps stomach parasites might be a contributory factor, she has been de-wormed several times, and with different de-wormers, but there has since been no improvement, although she did pass a few dead worms. Recently she has undergone a course of antibiotic Nuroclav injections which do not seem to have had much affect either. We fear that this orphan has a mysterious chronic problem and, like Mweiga, will definitely not make old bones.

What is extremely touching is the concern all the others have for her, especially Zurura, a young bull, who is her best friend, keeping her company as she lags behind the others and who always watches out for her, just as Burra and Morani used to look after weakling Mweiga. However, all the orphans are visibly anxious and understand her misfortune. They demonstrate their concern by laying their trunks lovingly across her back, and standing beside her to give her comfort. It is quite obviously distressing for them to see Sian ailing, as it is for her Keepers and all her human family, especially as there seems to be nothing we can do to help her. Yatta’s Senior Ex Orphans are equally as concerned about her and just as demonstrative whenever they join the Juniors which this month has been on an almost daily basis. An example is how Wendi and Galana remained all afternoon next to her, having joined the Juniors at the noon mudbath, walked back with her in the evening at her slow painful pace, and were even anxious to accompany her back into the Night Stockade, except that the Keepers barred them. Wendi then stood outside watching Sian intently for a long time before leaving to join the others. It is at least some consolation that Sian during her short life has never been short of a great deal of love and concern from both her human family as well as her orphaned elephant one.

Yatta passed by the Stockades on the 1st on her own accompanied by the boyfriend, probably at the end of her honeymoon. On the 3rd her wild recruit, “Mgeni” (a young bull of about 14) met Loijuk’s Keeper Dependent group near the Stockades in the morning and led them out to join Yatta’s group of ex orphans out in the bush. Mgeni was again part of Yatta’s group on the 20th , this time along with another young wild bull of his age.

Yatta and her group have kept in very close touch with the Keeper Dependent Juniors this month, sometimes waiting for them first thing in the morning at the Stockades, at other times meeting them out in the bush and spending time with them, sometimes joining them at, of after, the mudbath, and frequently escorting them back home in the evenings. Sometimes Yatta has all the ex orphans with her, including those who are normally in Wendi’s splinter group. At other times Wendi comes with her splinter group, and without Yatta and her group, and one day Yatta turned up by herself and remained with the Juniors all day, escorting them back to the Stockades in the evening.

On two occasions this month members of Wendi’s group have come to join the Juniors without either Wendi or Yatta being with them –for instance on the 14th it was Lualeni, Kora, Naserian, and Challa and the next day the same four were joined by Rapsu.

On the l0th Wendi’s group took Kenze off with them for a night’s outing, having met up with the Juniors as they were making their way back in the evening. That evening, Kenze would not go into the Stockades with the others as usual, but waited with Wendi’s group, and once the Juniors were all settled inside, went off with Wendi and her entourage. His transition to the Senior group leaves just 2 young boys still Keeper dependent – Zurura (Sian’s helper) and little Meibai, the youngest member of the Ithumba dependent orphans, and the darling of them all.

Meibai basks in the adoration of all. Whenever the Seniors meet up with the Juniors, the older elephants lavish upon him their undivided attention and love, Nasalot choosing to feed beside him one day, Yatta herself being near him on another, and Kinna on yet another. Loijuk, who is the Junior Matriarch is very possessive of Meibai and certainly does not want to loose him to the Seniors. When he did not want to leave the Seniors at the mudbath on the 13th, and ignored Loijuk’s rumbled summons, she had to return into the wallow and try and push him out! Finally, assisted by the Keepers, who backed up Loijuk, Meibai relented and did as he was told, but clearly he enjoys his time with the Seniors greatly. Loijuk (and all the Ithumba orphans) will be delighted to receive the next batch from the Nursery in June – 2 boys mellow Kilaguni and feisty Sabachi and a baby girl, Chaimu. That event will be recorded by IMAX for the big screen!

Apart from anxiety of Sian, May has been a very happy month for the Ithumba elephants, with all the Senior Ex Orphans, remaining in exceedingly close touch with the seven remaining Keeper Dependent Youngsters. With all the natural waterholes still holding water, and the vegetation still lush, the wild elephants have had no need to visit the Stockade water trough, which is just as well!

May 2010 day to day

01 May

Upon leaving the Stockades, led by Sian the orphans headed to the Kalovoto seasonal river to browse. At 9 a.m. Yatta passed by the Stockades, accompanied by her boyfriend. Since it was a cool day, none of the orphans opted for a mudbath, Makena spending time scratching her body against a tree. During the afternoon they happened upon a small puddle that was warm, and decided to roll in that.

Sian leading the way

Makena scratching

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