Keepers' Diaries, November 2004

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

It has been an exceptionally busy, not to mention stressful, month, with the arrival of three new Nursery babies, one just 4 days old, one of 3 weeks and one of 3 months. Little Seyia, so named after a lucky reed that grows in the Mara marshlands, was flown into the Nursery on 7th November, and from day one we were embroiled in a desperate struggle to try and save him. His mother had no milk due to a severely infected abscess on her belly, which a Vet managed to clean and partially treat before she woke up from the immobilizing drug ahead of time. By the time little Seyia came into the Nursery at 4 days old, he was already very emaciated, and even an infusion of plasma taken from the blood of “Galana”, who was immobilized for this purpose on the 26th, could not pull him round. This blood plasma transfusion is always a last ditch attempt to save a Colostrum deprived calf with a deficient immune system, due to the very real risk involved in jeopardising the life of a healthy donor elephant for the sake of a very sick recipient, who may not make it in any case. However, there was no way we could stand by and just let him die, so we simply had to try. It was, however, a nerve-wracking event, because “Galana” took longer than normal to come round, and even the Vet was getting anxious! We, of course, were basket cases! Then it was the turn of little Seyia who likewise almost passed away whilst under the anaesthetic as the plasma was being transferred through a vein in the leg, the Vet being unable to raise one in the ear because by now he was so dehydrated!

It has been an exceptionally busy, not to mention stressful, month, with the arrival of three new Nursery babies, one just 4 days old, one of 3 weeks and one of 3 months. Little Seyia, so named after a lucky reed that grows in the Mara marshlands, was flown into the Nursery on 7th November, and from day one we were embroiled in a desperate struggle to try and save him. His mother had no milk due to a severely infected abscess on her belly, which a Vet managed to clean and partially treat before she woke up from the immobilizing drug ahead of time. By the time little Seyia came into the Nursery at 4 days old, he was already very emaciated, and even an infusion of plasma taken from the blood of “Galana”, who was immobilized for this purpose on the 26th, could not pull him round. This blood plasma transfusion is always a last ditch attempt to save a Colostrum deprived calf with a deficient immune system, due to the very real risk involved in jeopardising the life of a healthy donor elephant for the sake of a very sick recipient, who may not make it in any case. However, there was no way we could stand by and just let him die, so we simply had to try. It was, however, a nerve-wracking event, because “Galana” took longer than normal to come round, and even the Vet was getting anxious! We, of course, were basket cases! Then it was the turn of little Seyia who likewise almost passed away whilst under the anaesthetic as the plasma was being transferred through a vein in the leg, the Vet being unable to raise one in the ear because by now he was so dehydrated!

He was a fighter, and in the three weeks we had him, he put up a spirited struggle, but we simply could not stem the diarrheoa, although he rallied briefly after his transfusion. For two full days we had hope, but then suddenly the diarrheoa was back which drained him of all his strength overnight and he passed into a coma and died in the morning of the 28th – a very sad days for all of us in the Nursery, and especially for the Keepers who had worked so hard and been in constant attendance, day and night.

There was no time to grieve, however, for no sooner had we disposed of Seyia’s tiny body, than we found ourselves involved in yet another rescue, that of a 3 month old female from the Taita Hills Sanctuary near Tsavo West. She was spotted asleep under a tree, with no other elephants in sight – obviously an orphan and still fully milk dependent. She was airlifted in, arriving at noon, and so far, is doing well, although in deep grief for her lost mother and elephant family.. We have named her “Lualeni” the name of a place near to where she was found.

Earlier in the month, on the 12th, a tiny 3 week old female was rescued from the flooded Uaso Nyiro river which was in high spate when her herd attempted to cross. The floodwaters swept her from her elephant family, leaving them distraught on the opposite bank. However, as darkness set in, they fled, accepting that the baby had been lost to them forever. Very fortunately, however, there were human bystanders nearby who witnessed the entire tragedy, and noticed that the calf had fetched up further downstream hurled against some rocks at a place where the river took a turn.

Because night had closed in, it was not easy to retrieve her, and the men themselves risked being swept off their feet by the swift current. However, all is well that ends well, and little “Nalitu”, named for the savannah flowers that appear after heavy rain in Samburu country, was pulled out of the river and taken to spend the rest of the night at Loisaba Headquarters, safely wrapped in a blanket and with someone beside her for company and comfort. The next morning she was airlifted to the Nursery, and apart from one ear damaged at the top, is not in bad shape, although being a river victim, precautionary measures against pneumonia are a must.

The Nursery Diary chronicles in a graphic way the rivalry between the three older Nursery females, each wanting to take charge of the latest, and smallest baby. Previously Naserian had won the right to “mother” little Jipe, (now about 8 weeks old) and Sunyei seemed to accept this. However, the arrival of Seyia and Nalitu caused dissention – Naserian and Sunyei contesting Matriarchal responsibility, further complicated when Galana, for the first time ever, began to take an interest in the role. Previously, she had been so focused on food that she avoided close contact with the others, - not surprising, since she was so starved and skeletal when she came in and could not even stand unaided. Thankfully now she has made a full recovery, with plump little cheeks, bright eyes and a soft, supple skin – all indicators of good condition. As the oldest female in the Nursery, she seems to have won the contest for Nalitu as “her” baby, and happy to let either Naserian or Sunyei have a “go” now and then, which turns Jipe green with jealousy. Having been “the baby” for so long, basking in the adoration of Naserian, he has not taken kindly to suddenly playing second fiddle to Nalitu. He was probably very relieved, therefore, when Galana stepped in to take the baby from the other two females, meaning that he had the full attention of both Naserian and Sunyei, except it hasn’t quite yet worked out like that, because now they are jealous of Galana and are still wanting custody of tiny Nalitu, who, incidentally, is turning into something of a spoilt, brat!

Madiba and Ndomot remain competitive, with daily pushing contests. Whilst Madiba has a very soft heart, always looking out for the under-dog and concerned about newcomers, Ndomot is self-centred and demanding, constantly wanting contact with a Keeper in between tussling with Madiba – in other words, a “clinging vine”. Buchuma is a very friendly, very mellow and very sweet little elephant, not at all “pushy”, which cannot be said of little “Nalitu” who looks like turning into another “Mweya” or “Wendi”, and although still just pint-sized, is not beyond knocking unsuspecting onlookers for six!

Lualeni, as a newcomer to the Nursery, is still a very quiet little elephant, undoubtedly very traumatised and old enough to recall the tragedy that left her an orphan, whatever that was. She reminds us of “Dika” (now one of our independent “Big Boys”) who was orphaned at about the same age, and “wept” for 4 full months, 16 long years ago! As in humans, only time can heal the psychological trauma of bereavement.

November 2004 day to day

01 Nov

Jipe and Naserian had a wonderful mudbath. Galana has greatly improved, and is now taking an interest in greens, rather than just the next bottle of milk. However, she is still not friendly towards Jipe and Buchuma.

Jipe

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