To describe November as yet another hectic month is to put it mildly, for we have felt overwhelmed, both by so many tragic losses and new orphans coming in on an almost daily basis! Due to escalating numbers in the Nursery, new Stockades have had to be hurriedly constructed, and new Keepers recruited and (thrown in the deep-end, as it were) learning by experience rather than by tuition! Never before has the old saying been more relevant – “To hear is to know, to See is to believe, but to Do is to Understand”! This month there have been six rescues bringing us six new elephants for the Nursery, plus the loss of four, with six of the older Nursery elephants transferred from the Nursery to the Ithumba Rehabilitation unit to free up much needed elephant accommodation for new arrivals.
3rd:- The rescue of the 2 ½ month old baby girl “Ashaka” from the Manyani area of Tsavo East National Park, extracted from a manhole on the Mzima – Mombasa in which she was all but submerged (not a good prognosis for the survival of a baby in the midst of teething upon arrival).
8th:- The rescue of 1 ½ month old baby boy “Olodare” who had fallen down a well near the Amboseli National Park – also a teething candidate..
Also on the 8th we were having to come to terms with the death of baby Shujaa who (along with Mshindi) had been with us since he 26th September, and a day later the loss of baby “Mshindi”, both of whom were deeply cherished. Samples of blood indicated liver failure, something that seems to happen to newborns fed on artificial milk formulae during the teething process.
9th:- Saw the rescue of 8 month old “Bissemballa” from the Galana Ranch who was in a state of advanced malnutrition on arrival, and had a suppurating wound on her thigh, likely to have been as a result of a poisoned arrow. This calf died on the 13th having been on and off Life Support ever since arrival. We believe that the poison from the arrow had already been absorbed into her blood.
11th:- Brought the rescue of 2 year old Kiramon from Loisaba Ranch, whose mother and entire family is likely to have been the 7 adult elephants gunned down in the nearby Kiramon valley by gun wielding Pokot poachers. This orphaned elephant was one that simply did not want to even try and live, having obviously been witness to extreme human savagery. Finding himself in the midst of a human “enemy” caused him to give up all hope so he consistently refused to feed, and having been on and off life support plus an infusion of nutrients, lay down to die during the night of the on the 16th . Under normal circumstances, we believe that “Kiramon” should have survived, had he wanted to.
14th:- The rescue of 8 month old “Tarhi” from the Voi River Circuit in Tsavo East National Park was particularly poignant, since this an orphan who simply walked up to the car of a visitor and inserted a trunk inside the vehicle as though in supplication! She, like many other of the month’s rescues, was already so emaciated and weakened having been without her mother’s milk for some time, that we expected a collapse that night, and were surprised when it did not come about! (The fate of the mother is not known, but the calf is likely to have been either a poaching or problem animal control victim.) She appeared to be doing well in the Nursery over the next 10 days, taking milk and out and about with the others until the 24th when she collapsed and had to be revived by an infusion of Life Support. This brought her round, and she seemed better the next day until but collapsed again on the 26th, her breathing laboured and her stomach blown. Before Buscopan could be administered, to relieve the bloat, she died, too late for an autopsy that night. We believe that it was a combination of pneumonia and bloat that took this precious life.)
25th:- A 2 week old baby bull named “McKinnon” was found alone near the roadside town of McKinnon Road, rescued by Scouts from nearby Rukinga Ranch and flown to the Nursery. By month end he was doing well.
This month six of the older elephants were moved from the Nursery to the Rehabilitation facilities in Tsavo East National Park – on the 10th Kihari, Ishaq-B and Naipoki were sent to the Voi Rehab Centre, and on the 17th Larigai, Narok and 3 ½ year old Big Boy Bongo went to the Ithumba Unit.
Bongo had been incarcerated in his Stockade since his arrival on the l0th September, all the Nursery Keepers unanimous in the belief that, due to his size, and one long tusk, he would prove un-trustworthy if allowed out. In their defense he had come in extremely “wild” and aggressive having long been harassed by the human occupants of settlement at the foothills of Mt. Kenya, who insisted that this 3 ½ year old bull calf be moved, or else they would kill him themselves.
Kihari, Ishaq-B and Naipoki had been habituated to going into The Elephant Moving Truck in preparation for their move, so their move went off without a hitch. They were on their way long before dawn and at the other end by noon to join the 20 Youngsters still Keeper Dependent at the Voi Unit under the joint leadership of Lesanju, Lempaute, Wasessa and Sinya.
The move of Larigai, Narok and Big Boy Bongo was more challenging, due to Bongo’s size, and the fact that he had not been trained to the Truck. KWS Vet Dominic (previously headed our Mara Mobile Veterinary Unit) was at hand before dawn to immobilize him in his Stockade, after which he was dragged recumbent on a tarpaulin into his compartment on the Truck, where he was revived and back on his feet again within a few minutes. Amazingly, he was as quiet as a lamb, took some milk, and immediately began feeding on cut greens, leaving us all feeling pretty bad about having kept him in for so long rather than allow him out to join the others browsing in the bush during daylight hours. However, the up-side was that he had regained all the weight he had previously lost as an orphan, and was in fine fettle to embark on the next stage of his journey back to a wild life bringing Mt. Kenya genes into the wild elephant population of Tsavo! During his lengthy incarceration, he had become quite a favourite once he understood that the humans around him meant him no harm, and were the providers of milk, greens and water and even a mudbath in situ! He would approach anyone standing at the Gate to his Stockade to try and greet them in a friendly manner, hesitatingly offering his trunk. However his size and one long dagger-like tusk daunted the Nairobi Keepers who feared that their lives would be on the line were he free!
Having got Bongo into the Elephant Mover, Larigai and Narok went in without a hitch, and all three were soon on their way to the Northern Area of Tsavo East National Park, where they would be joining the 25 remaining Keeper Dependent Youngsters at the Ithumba Stockades.
Back at the Nursery, as soon as the resident elephants emerged from their Night Stockades, they rushed to inspect the Stockades vacated by Larigai, Narok and also that of Big Boy Bongo which they inspected with great curiosity. Larigai and Limalima, who came into the Nursery round about the same time, had long been firm friends, even doubled up in one Stockades when space became scarce, so the Keepers were astonished that Limalima did not seem to be overly concerned about the departure of her best friend, which was unusual. In fact, she seemed quite relieved, perhaps because Larigai could be quite a bully during milk feeding sessions.
Older orphans who have suffered life threatening milk deprivation and malnutrition tend to become that way at milk feeds, something of which some of the Nursery Bulls (Vuria, Nelion and Ngasha) are particularly guilty. Vuria especially bellows in protest whenever this share is finished, and then takes to shoving the others around trying to snatch their bottles, even sneaking off during the public viewing slot (which entails 3 milk sittings), to come in with the next batch hoping that the Keepers won’t notice! Then when his share is not there, he throws his weight around all over again!
The condition of orphan “Asanja” remained of ongoing concern this month. (She was rescued from the Mara on the 8th October and suffered a mysterious life threatening anaphylactic reaction out in the bush at the end of last month, which robbed her of her eyesight). Throughout the first half of the month she collapsed on several occasions necessitating Life Support to bring her back, mysterious swellings appearing under her chin and neck. We can only surmise that she had been bitten by a snake with neurotoxin venom that had caused the temporary blindness due to internal swelling behind the eyes and of the brain. Mercifully, the sight of one eye gradually began to return and we are hopeful that the other will do likewise given time. By month end she was becoming stronger, up to spending half days out with the others, rather than convalescing on her own confined in her Stockade, but still with swellings beneath her chin and underbelly, and body condition fragile.
Balguda appeared “dull” this month, his blood sample revealing a heightened white cell count, so he underwent a course of injectible antibiotic, which put him right again. He, Ngasha and Teleki are good friends often joined by Barsalinga when he has had enough of naughty boys Kithaka and Lemoyian who are prank-partners!
Post traumatic stress symptoms in grieving newcomers usually involve coming together to spend quiet time apart from others whose exuberance and happiness newcomers find disconcerting. Oltaiyoni gravitated towards Lentili as her special grieving companion while Suswa befriended Tarhi, all four spending time apart from the main herd when browsing out in the forest. By month end Suswa was much happier and turning into a very gentle little girl. Meanwhile Sonje has chosen Oltaiyoni as her special favourite, usurping the privileged status that once belonged to Lemoyian, who has shown signs of jealousy towards Oltaiyoni. Every morning Sonje goes to wait outside Oltiayoni”s door, and as soon as Oltaiyoni emerges, she is allowed to suckle Sonje’s ears and neck.
Ringleaders of the naughty Junior boys are Kithaka and his best friend, Lemoyian, (occasionally joined by Barsalinga, who is not quite as pushy as the other two and disciplined Lemoyian when he sat on Arruba’s head in the noon mudbath). These Junior boys get a buzz out of trying to “bully” weakened nervous newcomers in a display of Junior dominance, but Lemoyian overstepped the mark when he approached the foursome of Oltaiyoni, Lentili, Suswa and Tarhi, intending to target newcomer Tarhi by pretending to only harbour benign intentions! However Suswa read his motive accurately, and punished him by forcibly sending him packing!
According to the Keepers, the title of “Politest” Nursery boy remains with “Tundani”, who is always obedient and well behaved and a huge favourite of everyone, besides being the chosen foster-elephant of Kenya’s First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta. The gentlest and best behaved Junior Girls are Masharkiki and Oltaiyoni while Orwa and Bomani enjoy advertising their Big Boy status by separating themselves from the main group so that they can indulge their favourite Pushing Games without intervention from the Big Girls. Faraja and Jasiri, our two pale “Mzungu” Amboseli elephants, remain close to one another, while Ngasha and Teleki are often joined by Garzi.
The departure of Kihari and Naipoki has left the Matriarchal Nursery slot somewhat as yet unfulfilled, but Sonje (who has hitherto been firmly attached to Big Girl Murera) is beginning to display special caring, especially for the tiny babies, Kamok, Olodare and Ashaka who are still not up to walking far afield with the others. Sonje tends to slip away from the main herd after the public viewing hour to seek out the three little ones for special “loving”, laying her trunk tenderly across each one in turn, before lying down to encourage them to climb all over her – something they relish. So obsessed is she with the tiny calves that the Keepers often have difficulty persuading her to leave them and instead go out and feed with all the others or join her best friend, Murera, who remains an independent loner, although the biggest and oldest female in the Nursery. Murera has never shown any interest in taking on a Leadership role, perhaps because she is aware that with her stiff back leg she would have difficulty in leading her family the great distances involved in the elephant quest for space. Instead, besides Sonje, Quanza, Limalima and Arruba are all candidates for the Leadership role, having been in the Nursery longer than the batch of more recent female arrivals. Nursery Matriarch with so many mischievous boys to keep in line is quite a challenge and not one that the females seem overly keen to contest!
The four tiny Nursery babies, Kamok, Olodare, Ashaka and MacKinnon are always fed beside a hanging blanket against which their trunks feel comfortable. Recently Ashaka has been overly possessive of the blanket, trying to push the others away, but Olodare was having none of that, and has taken over as the Chief Blanket Pusher, while Kamok (Senior tot now with her 4 teeth) tries to keep the peace, the self-styled mini Prefect of the pint sized lot!
The Rhinos:- Solio is now fully integrated into the Nairobi Park resident Rhino community, but returns periodically to keep in touch with Maxwell, sparring with him between the poles of his Enclosure before returning to her old Stockade to enjoy a hand-out of Lucerne and Dairy Cubes. Max always anticipates her arrival long before any humans even spot her. Up goes his tail, as he runs excitedly around his enclosure before preparing himself for their usual interaction. It is possible that Max also enjoys sparring with visiting wild rhinos under cover of darkness. Such encounters keep Maxwell supremely happy in his dark world and he also enjoys the attention of the visiting public, when he presses his body up against the Gate where the visitors stand, hoping that they will give him a rub! To be able to get so close to a Black Rhino in this day and age is a very special privilege for the many visitors who have never had the opportunity to even see one. Both Max (but for his blindness) and Solio are magnificent specimens of their endangered wild brethren.