Keepers' Diaries, November 2012

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

The death of little Rukinga on the 7th as always was a tragic loss that left us all exceedingly depressed, frustrated at seemingly unable any longer to get our very newborn orphans through the teething of their first four molars which always nowadays seems to prove life threatening. Teething is invariably accompanied by diarrheoa, fevers, loss of condition which results in bacterial infections necessitating antibiotics, which generally don’t suit elephants. Rukinga was rescued from Rukinga ranch on the 27th September, his mother gunned down by ivory poachers in what has become an elephant killing field now overrun with people who are totally intolerant of wildlife.

The death of little Rukinga on the 7th as always was a tragic loss that left us all exceedingly depressed, frustrated at seemingly unable any longer to get our very newborn orphans through the teething of their first four molars which always nowadays seems to prove life threatening. Teething is invariably accompanied by diarrheoa, fevers, loss of condition which results in bacterial infections necessitating antibiotics, which generally don’t suit elephants. Rukinga was rescued from Rukinga ranch on the 27th September, his mother gunned down by ivory poachers in what has become an elephant killing field now overrun with people who are totally intolerant of wildlife.

Lemoyian, rescued from a well in the Amboseli ecosystem, (thankfully with his first molars through) also showed signs of being unwell at the beginning of the month, but recovered following a penicillin jab. Turkwel and especially Kainuk have been paying him special attention this month, leaving Mutara and the other Big Girls to wrangle all the recent arrivals many of whom are still grieving.

The 17th saw the rescue of another Amboseli orphan, this time the calf of “Tatalbamba” from the Researchers’ TD Elephant Study Group, found dead near the Kimana Swamp a day or two later, believed to have been poisoned. The orphaned calf which had been spotted by the Scouts of the Big Life Foundation had originally been named Oltipesi but turned out to be Tatalbamba’s baby born on the 27th October 2012 named Tikondo. He was airlifted to the Nursery that afternoon, two of his first four molars, thankfully, already through the gum, but with two more to come, we knew that we would be in for the usual teething problems, especially as he had been without his mother for several days, and by the look of his stools, had been ingesting mud and dirty water to try and satiate hunger.

Sure enough, the usual teething problems then took hold within days of his arrival, necessitating oral anti-diarrheoa medication, rehydration fluids by mouth, and intravenously, as well as long acting penicillin injections over and above the usual prophylactic Nuroclav given to shield newcomers from the dreaded pneumonia that is another very real threat when the immune system is compromised through stress.
Our recently acquired Blood Diagnostic kit was an enormous help in keeping an eye on his white blood cell count which was high. A long acting Penicillin brought that to normal, but we simply could not get control of Tikondo’s diarrheoa, even resorting to Immodium, which at first looked hopeful, but it was not to be. For some reason his blood sugar count continued to drop despite infusions of Saline and Dextrose, until the 28th, when he refused his milk and passed away at 7 p.m. in the evening, surrounded by his distressed human family. Tikondo will be missed sorely by both his human and elephant family, and especially by little Lemoyian who was his companion for the entire time he was in the Nursery. Sonje also loved him dearly, she and Kainuk paying him special attention.
Quanza, who came in at the end of October, and who proved difficult to calm down having witnessed the brutal assassination of her mother and aunts by gun-toting ivory poachers from Tanzania, and worse still their tusks hacked from their faces with axes, was eventually allowed out to join the other orphans on the 5th, sandwiched between Nursery Matriarch Mutara and the other Big Girls. Although still reticent about fraternizing too closely with her human Keepers, she approaches them hesitantly to take her milk feeds, but by month end she had joined Narok in becoming pushy and what the Keepers call “Naughty” at milk feeds. This is indicative of the usual post traumatic stress in the older orphans who have seen terrible mutilation of their loved ones. Quanza has become very close to Kihari, Ishaq-B and Sities, all of whom are her special friends.

Changes have been necessitated at the Nairobi Nursery now that so many infants are in situ. We have had to recruit additional Keeper trainees to relieve the Night duty of the more established workers, whose Night Duty pay demands were unreasonable, and wean the Bigger Orphans like Mutara, Shukuru, Tano, Kilabasi, Turkwel, Murera and Sonje off the three hourly milk feeds. They now get just three a day, at 6 a.m., 12 noon, and 6 p.m. in preparation for their upgrade to the Rehabilitation phase. Furthermore they no longer have a Keeper in with them at night, and are quite O.K. with that. Rain had not yet fallen at Ithumba even by the end of November, something that hitherto has been unheard of during the end of year rainy season. Only isolated intermittent light showers have relieved the drought that has again gripped the Tsavo region this year, and while some parts of the Park have had rain, many others remain a dry dust-bowl. Hence, the planned transfer of the Bigger Nursery Orphans to Tsavo has had to be delayed and we are considering moving them instead to the Kibwezi Forest, where both food and water is abundant. However, this involves establishment of the necessary infrastructure first, which will be planned over Christmas when we will be down there for a few days. Even in Nairobi the hoped for “El Nino” rains turned out to be sporadic isolated storms rather than overall rain. Global Climate change is putting all wildlife under enormous environmental pressures, over and above all the poaching which is taking another heavy toll. Its knock-on effect for the human population will also have an impact.

Happy news has been the remarkable recovery of Murera, who is now out and about with all the other Big Girls, walking confidently as part of the herd, albeit left with a limp and one back leg shorter than the other. But, she is extremely lucky to at least be mobile, free of pain, and alive, and is a happy and contented elephant who is gentle and always well behaved. She and Sonje are inseparable, Sonje also being lame from what is obviously an old fracture where possibly a bullet is still lodged in calcified bone. These two will definitely be candidates for a gentler environment than Tsavo, and will end up at Umani. Sonje, who hitherto had the reputation of being Pushy towards the smaller elephants, is a reformed character since being among the Big girls along with Murera.. Orwa, who came in skeletal, is now the picture of health, up to challenging Kanjoro in the usual tests of strength that dominate the days of growing bulls, while all the more recent arrivals, which include Bomani, Faraja, Teleki, Ngasha, Narok and Quanza are also gaining weight and doing well, the wound on Teleki’s shoulder now almost healed.

The Rhinos:- Solio, now rising 4 years old, is a confident member of the Nairobi National Park Rhino community, making it quite plain that she no longer needs the presence of her human attendants. Having given them the slip on a daily basis for many months now, they have been relieved of that duty, and she is allowed out and about at dawn un-attended to enjoy an independent rhino life, it being evident that she is comfortable that she has been accepted as rightfully “belonging” in the area.

On the 24th she went out as usual at first light, but unusually failed to return in the evening and was absent throughout the entire night, which left everyone extremely anxious in view of the price on her nose! A search the following morning proved fruitless, and with concern for her safety mounting, we were enormously relieved when she strolled back into her Stockade unscathed at 5 p.m. the next evening, having enjoyed her first night out in Nairobi National Park. As a survival tactic most of the remaining Black Rhinos in the Park are turning secretively nocturnal, so perhaps Solio has decided that if she wants to fraternize with them, she must do the same. What is obvious is that she would rather not have humans with her, which prove a deterrent to the others.

Max missed her just as sorely as all of us, pathetically “mewing” when she failed to turn up. He was over the moon when she reappeared the next evening, immediately tearing around his stockade with tail erect, before engaging her in their usual horn-to-horn contact between the Stockade poles. This month Max has also taken to expelling the resident warthogs who like squeezing themselves through the stockade gaps to get at his greens and mudbath. Whereas he used to tolerate them, now he prefers to give them a good run-around, hot on their heels at every twist and turn as they try every evasive tactic at their disposal, but to no avail. Eventually, they have to rapidly squeeze themselves out again to avoid being hoisted aloft on the tip of his horn! Any outside observer would not believe that Max was, in fact, stone blind, so surely does he follow them through hearing and scent. One is left marveling at these amazing powers that compensate his blindness.

November 2012 day to day

01 Nov

Poor little Rukinga remains unwell and is spending his time most in his Stable and within the Stockade compound. The other small orphans return periodically to check on him, which will help heal him psychologically. He has been on and off intravenous life support to keep him hydrated and restore some energy but so far we have not been successful in halting the diarrheoa, which is very life threatening during the teething process, despite the presence of a Veterinarian who is overseeing him.

Rukinga

The orphans walking in the Park

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