Keepers' Diaries, May 2012

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

This month Barsilinga has been unwell with the usual teething problems which trigger diarrheoa, and which has necessitating an oral antibiotic. Blood analysis indicated that his white blood cell count was down following the antibiotic treatment, but that a viral infection lingered, which was treated homeopathically. During all this, he had to undergo several intravenous drip sessions to boost his strength and appetite, but happily by month end, he was on the mend, although at the cost of a loss of body condition.

This month Barsilinga has been unwell with the usual teething problems which trigger diarrheoa, and which has necessitating an oral antibiotic. Blood analysis indicated that his white blood cell count was down following the antibiotic treatment, but that a viral infection lingered, which was treated homeopathically. During all this, he had to undergo several intravenous drip sessions to boost his strength and appetite, but happily by month end, he was on the mend, although at the cost of a loss of body condition.

A chance visit from a South African Veterinarian Elephant Specialist has been a Godsend for us, in that he took blood samples from little Kithaka, (who has never grown as he should), along with samples from two of the healthier elephants, (Orwa and Ishaq-B) for comparison. Kithaka’s sample indicated an absorption problem through a mal- functioning pancreas (possibly after having been so low with his teething problems) but which could be corrected by the addition of a Pancreatic enzyme supplement. Once we had managed to source this supplement, and add it to his milk, there was an instant improvement in both appetite and energy levels, so he, too, is now on the mend. We thank Dr. Clay Wilson enormously for his help, which has undoubtedly saved the life of little Kithaka and probably Barsilinga as well, who is now also on the same supplement following his teething. Yet again, something new has been leant about rearing the orphaned elephants, even after 50 years of being at it!

Intermittent rain fell throughout the month, with many cold, wet mornings when the three small elephants (Barsilinga, Balguda and Kithaka) had to remain indoors due to the weather. The Big girls, especially Tano and Mutara, insist on running back to the Stockades to check on them periodically. Ishanga, who is not usually known for her “motherly” qualities, surprised the Keepers by sneaking away to do the same one day, escorting little Kithaka out to join the others where he was welcomed with unbridled joy.

Kilabasi has developed enormous fondness for Balguda, allowing him to suckle her tiny teats, or her ears, and keeping him close throughout the day. Shukuru would have liked to share him, also allowing him to suckle her breasts, but was discouraged by Kilabasi, triggering a Shoving Match between the two Big Girls which had to be broken up by Mutara. Following this intervention, Mutara obviously decided that Balguda remain with Kilabasi, but comforted Shukuru by intertwining her trunk with that of Shukuru, as though to say “Sorry, but….”. The close bond between Kilabasi and little Balguda has amazed the Keepers, since Kilabasi has always been somewhat remote both towards her human as well as her elephant family. Mutara shares the Matriarchal responsibility for the Orphaned herd with Makireti, who is another very “motherly” and gentle elephant, but also with Tano, Turkwel and Shukuru.

Amongst the Orphaned Elephants, as in humans, there are always one or two “problem children. In the case of the Nursery elephants, these are the relative newcomer, Kanjoro who, like all who have suffered severe emaciation from milk deprivation after the loss of a mother, is very greedy and “pushy” towards others at milk feeding times. This has not endeared him to the others, especially Ishanga (another “problem child”) who behaves badly towards Kanjoro, nipping his tail stump whenever opportunity presents itself, and also likes to shove Turkwel and Kainuk around at milk feeding times, two others who are closely bonded. (Turkwel and Kainuk originate from the same remnant elephant population of the South Turkana Reserve, and could perhaps have known one another when living wild.) They are inseparable and have always amicably shared Night Quarters, not so Orwa and Sonje, who were put together to free up space. However, Sonje was pushing Orwa who is very gentle and peace-loving around, so Orwa has been moved back to his original Stable, next door to Sities, leaving Sonje next door to Murera at night. The huge lump on Sonje’s back leg, which was there when she came in, has not softened into an abscess like that of Murera, but remained hard. It does not seem to impair her movement, or pain her, although she does favour that leg. We are hoping to acquire a digital X-Ray machine which will be capable of penetrating elephant skin and flesh (unlike the ones available locally), and will then be able to know more about what has caused this injury to Sonje. No doubt it will be a bullet from the Somali poacher who probably killed her Elephant Mother for the tusks. Badly behaved members of the Nursery Orphans risk disciplinary action from Mutara and the other Big Girls, who drive the guilty party out of the herd to spend “Time Out” – the way Elephants discipline offenders.

Murera’s partially paralyzed back leg, which has long puzzled all the Vets as to exactly what has been damaged internally, is lowly improving. The swelling has subsided and she can now put it to the ground, but at the beginning of the month, a lump on her back close to the anal opening ripened to an abscess, which had to be lanced by the Vet. Copious quantities of clotted blood and foul smelling pus was released, and the wound has since healed completed. She can now move further from the Stockades to browse, and thoroughly enjoys interacting with the other Orphans, usually accompanied by gentle Orwa, who has been a “Murera – Sitter” ever since the same in with severe disabilities. All the other elephants look out for her, diligent about coming to see her before going off into the forest to browse every day.

Elephants, just like us humans, have a definite sense of humour. Mischievous Sities thoroughly enjoys plastering the visiting public with mud, running up and down the Visitor cordon touching whoever she can with her muddy trunk, and every now and then dashing back to apply more mud to the tip. Similarly Kainuk has a trick during the Public Visiting Hour. She plants herself in a buddy patch close to where most of the visitors congregate, and when a good crowd has assembled, sucks up muddy water to spray over them, always causing confusion and much laughter! Shukuru is a star Footballer, and she enjoys the reaction she gets when she displays her kicking skills to an appreciative audience, who laugh, cheer and clap!

On the 28th as the Orphans were being led to their Mudbath Venue, the lead Keeper spotted a large python lying beside the path and was, apparently, literally struck dumb with fear! Trembling and shaking with fear, all he could do was to point the snake out to the others, who changed direction instantly!
The Rhinos:- Solio continues to demonstrate her confidence by escaping her two Attendants, leaving them floundering around trying to track her footprints. Alternatively she merely turns up back at the Trust compound, sometimes calling for them! Every approach does not, however, escape the notice of blind Maxwell who mysteriously knows that she is coming long before she appears within human sight. He alerts everyone by rushing around his enclosure excitedly with his tail up eagerly anticipating another sparring bout through the separating poles of their respective Stockades! On one occasion when Max happened to be fast asleep, Solio charged his Stockade to wake him up so that they could interact, something both rhinos truly relish!

Maxwell’s Enclosure has been enlarged this month. As soon as the new extension was opened, he carefully smelt the old boundary limit before hesitantly venturing into the new area. Thereafter he inspected every inch of it carefully to engrave the new dimensions in his mind before racing around it with amazing confidence and appreciation. One tree stands in the middle, which we have had to protection by a timber encirclement to avoid Max demolishing it entirely, as he has all others in his original enclosure, leaving just one dry stump which he needs as a rubbing post! But for his blindness, Max is a magnificent specimen at 6 years old, who has taught us a great deal about his species and how their minds work!

May 2012 day to day

01 May

Mutara escorted the three little boys (Kithaka, Barsilinga and Balguda) as they followed the Nursery elephants to the forest to browse early in the morning. Kithaka seemed reluctant to accompany the other two little boys, so Mutara pushed him ahead. Once in the forest she spent time aside with him, in the Keepers’ words, “as though giving him a talking-to about not wanting to fraternize nicely with the other two”!

Mutara

Balguda and Barsilinga

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