Keepers' Diaries, November 2009

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

The Nursery has suffered three tragedies this month, the demise of tiny Mara on the 4th, the death of little Pesi on the 13th and baby Sala on the 30th, all of whom were extremely endearing and precious to us all. Pesi was very much a favourite amongst the Baby Group of Tano, Shukuru, Mutara and Chaffa while Mara and Sala had always been frail little elephants who never seemed to pick up, and who needed extra “mothering” from us all as well as the other elephants. Pesi and Sala displayed similar symptoms, initially spots of blood in the stool, but otherwise the stool of a good consistency, one back foot appearing to turn upwards, as though suffering some mineral deficiency, then rapid weakness overcoming them overnight, followed by death. Both deaths were unexpected, because up until the weakness set in, the little elephants were feeding well, and appeared to be holding their own. Both had extensive treatment for the blood spotting, injectible and oral antibiotics which gave the illusion of having had the desired result, until the sudden weakness set in a day before death. Both were put on life support drip, and appeared to rally, but only briefly. Tiny Mara died from the dreaded pneumonia. She suddenly started breathing very rapidly with tell-tale fluid exuding from the trunk, and we knew instantly that the battle for her life was lost. She died within an hour, and was buried in the forest, but the bodies of Pesi and Sala went for autopsies.

The Nursery has suffered three tragedies this month, the demise of tiny Mara on the 4th, the death of little Pesi on the 13th and baby Sala on the 30th, all of whom were extremely endearing and precious to us all. Pesi was very much a favourite amongst the Baby Group of Tano, Shukuru, Mutara and Chaffa while Mara and Sala had always been frail little elephants who never seemed to pick up, and who needed extra “mothering” from us all as well as the other elephants.

Pesi and Sala displayed similar symptoms, initially spots of blood in the stool, but otherwise the stool of a good consistency, one back foot appearing to turn upwards, as though suffering some mineral deficiency, then rapid weakness overcoming them overnight, followed by death. Both deaths were unexpected, because up until the weakness set in, the little elephants were feeding well, and appeared to be holding their own. Both had extensive treatment for the blood spotting, injectible and oral antibiotics which gave the illusion of having had the desired result, until the sudden weakness set in a day before death. Both were put on life support drip, and appeared to rally, but only briefly. Tiny Mara died from the dreaded pneumonia. She suddenly started breathing very rapidly with tell-tale fluid exuding from the trunk, and we knew instantly that the battle for her life was lost. She died within an hour, and was buried in the forest, but the bodies of Pesi and Sala went for autopsies.

All these tiny calves meant a great deal to all of us, but especially to their baby peers, all of whom missed them sorely, lining up outside their stables every morning waiting for the door to open and for them to appear. The autopsy on Pesi could find no obvious cause of death, all the vital organs healthy, including the intestinal tract, so we are none the wiser. Sala’s body went to the main Kabete Veterinary Laboratories, and we still await the results, but we would not be surprised to receive the same. We can only surmise that the babies who come in during this very severe drought year may be lacking some vital nutrient as a result, because, for the first time ever, more have died in the Nursery than we have been able to save. The symptoms exhibited by Pesi and Sala are new to us and something we have never encountered previously during the 50 years that we have been dealing with the orphaned elephant babies. The weird foot problem is especially puzzling.

Meanwhile another very small Nursery baby is also causing us concern, namely Shaba, who has shown signs of weakness during the month, although he is feeding well, and his stools are normal.

Yet another cause for concern in the Nursery has been Bhaawa, who seemed to be thriving until he began passing black stools. Laboratory tests could find nothing untoward or abnormal, blood tests revealed nothing either, liver and kidney function normal. However, like Pesi, he has been suffering from chronic weakness that we cannot explain, since he is feeding well. Turkwel began to show similar stool symptoms, but the colour soon returned to normal, although she is still somewhat weak. (It was interesting to hear from our Voi Keepers that Emily’s baby, little wild-born Eve, whom Emily returned to the Voi Stockades in a weakened condition during the drought, was also passing black stools, so we can only assume that this must be something drought related, because we have never encountered this before).

It was a very early start on the 4th for the move of Kenia, and Shira to the Voi Rehabilitation Stockades, whilst Naimina, Enasoit and Meibai were destined for Ithumba, never having shared Nursery time with Lesanju’s group, as had Kenia and Shira. The loading of these five elephants went exceptionally smoothly, since they had been practicing going into the parked trucks for the past 2 months, awaiting rain in Tsavo before departure. Elephants have mysterious powers of perception, which we can only explain by telepathy, because the behaviour of the elephants who were about to leave suggest that they picked up on the unusual event planned for the next day, paying unusually extra special attention to their younger peers the day before departure. Kenia knocked on the stable door of each, using her head, so that the Keeper inside would open up and allow her access. She and Shira then went into each, rumbling and laying their trunk lovingly across the little one’s backs. Out in the bush that day, they were particularly attentive to those who would have to remain behind, as though they anticipated having to part company with loved ones.

It is interesting that all the elephants know exactly where others are housed for the night, and go knocking on the doors of their stables, using their head, to prompt the Keeper in with them to open up and let them out!

That said, adjusting the sleeping arrangements always causes an upset, but never more so than the furor caused by Sabachi when he was moved to the stockade vacated by Shira.
He bellowed all night, stood on his head, tried to climb up the door and even kicked his Keeper with a back leg, keeping the whole establishment awake! In the end, we had to capitulate and move him and Olare back to where they had been before and by so doing peace was restored!

We are very pleased with the progress of Kilaguni, a dear little character, whose anal opening has been constricted by scar tissue following the hyaena mauling he suffered prior to being rescued. Initially, this made it difficult for him to defecate, but this month, helped by a little molasses in his milk, he has managed well without the help of his Keepers as before. He and Kibo are best friends, who enjoy playing together on a daily basis, Kibo now a healthy and strong baby having come close to death some months ago.
Kilaguni is a very gentle and friendly elephant – a great favourite in the Nairobi Nursery. He is very protective of Kibo. Whenever Sabachi tried to bully him, Kilaguni instantly comes to his rescue.

With the departure of Kenia, it was expected that Dida would automatically step into the role of Mini Nursery Matriarch, but instead Ndii and Olare are competing for that position, while Dida seems uninterested and remains relaxed! The Senior group is comprised of Melia, Mawenzi, Olare, Kilaguni, Chaimu, Kalama, Kimana and Ndii, but is often joined by Kibo and Sabachi from what is known as Suguta’s group of younger orphans which normally comprises Kibo, Sabachi, Nchan, Turkwel, Tumaren, Kudup and Bhaawa. Melia and Mawenzi are best friends, Melia happy to “mother” Mawenzi, allowing her to suckle on her ears endlessly. The Baby group, led by Tano, includes Mutara, Shukuru, Shaba, and Chaffa, and sometimes Bhaawa and Turkwel when the weather is too cold or wet to risk these two older orphans being exposed to the cold, since both are still weak.

Amongst the Baby Group, Chaffa and Mutara are great rivals, very competitive over both the milk and the hung blankets against which the babies like to feed. Very often these two miniatures clash, especially because Chaffa tends to be greedy and pushy over her milk, determined never to be hungry again, but Mutara, Shaba and Tano all get along well. Mutara is very caring of little Shukuru.

The Rhinos:- Shida continues to return twice a day, returning to his old Stockade and being shut in whenever visitors are about. Being now a full grown wild rhino, he often turns up in a bad mood, huffing and puffing to assert his dominance over all and sundry, so he is given a wide berth by everyone until he is locked in his stockade. That said, we do like to see him on a daily basis just to ensure that he is still around, because the poaching of rhino has again become a serious problem in this country, both inside and beyond the Protected Areas. He and blind Maxwell always enjoy interaction through the separating poles of their Stockades. This month one such encounter took place at the Gates of Max’s stockade and lasted a good half hour until Shida infuriated Max by lying down outside as though impervious to any battering! At 3 years old Max is actually larger in size than Shida, and strength-wise would prove a worthy opponent were the odds equal, although with a less impressive weapon on his nose!

Maalim continues to grow apace, following the same routine on a daily basis – walking round the dungpiles and urinals of other rhinos to add his contribution and leave his scent trail by way of introduction, a milk feed every 4 hours, a mudbath after all the visitors have left at noon, (now of a size when he might easily knock someone down whilst racing about), and then re-united with his beloved mattress in a comfortable stable near the Canteen at night, with the Night Milk Mixer based next door for the elephants’ 3 hourly feeds throughout the night. Max’s love of the mattress is all consuming. He heaves it around until it lands on top of him like a blanket, and then he settles down on his hay bedding for a good night’s rest!

November 2009 day to day

01 Nov

Shida returned from the bush earlier than usual today, obviously in a bad mood. At first he didn’t want to go into his Stockade, and was aggressive, but the Keepers calmed him with a handout of Copra and Lucerne, and then he settled down and went in.

The orphans

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