Keepers' Diaries, October 2003

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Nursery Orphans:-

Nursery Orphans:-

A Newcomer: On the morning of the 30th October, a 2 month old baby rhino came into our care, his mother apparently an extremely old and emaciated Nairobi Park cow named “Stella”, whose teeth were worn completely flat. Having come to the end of her life, she lay down to die near the Ivory Burn site in Nairobi National Park, her calf desperately trying to suckle her recumbent body. Hyaenas circled her and her baby all night, the calf having caused a wound on her udder, which is probably what attracted the attention of the hyaenas. He must have put up a spirited struggle to spare him and his mother a savage mauling by the hyaenas.

K.W.S. euthenazed the dying mother when the pair were discovered in the morning, bringing the baby to us. Baby rhinos are amazingly resilient, and, unlike the elephants, always want to survive, and since this calf, though thin, was unscathed, his chances of survival are good. It is, however, necessary always to give a rhino that has been subjected to trauma and stress a course of injectable broad spectrum antibiotic to circumvent tick-borne diseases and pneumonia brought on by a lowered immune system through stress.

We have named this orphan “Shida”, the Swahili word for “problem” reflecting the problem both he and his mothered suffered during his short time on earth. He is feeding well, and although still grieving for his lost mother, has settled down, and should soon be able to begin the rounds of the dungpiles and urinals, in order to become accepted by both the rhino residents of the area as well as our other two orphaned rhinos, “Magnum” who will be 7 at the end of January 2004 and “Makosa” who was 4 years old on lst August 2003. Both these orphans are now unaccompanied by their Keepers, but return to what is, after all, Home Base on a daily basis, Magnum usually in the morning, and Mokasa in the evening, returning to their erstwhile Stockade where they feel most secure, and when any abrasions and wounds can be treated. Bull rhinos have to fight for territory and status, so when one takes on a rhino, one must expect the unexpected!

Nursery Elephants:- The month began on a dramatic note, with the rescue of little “Taita” from the sceptic tank at Salt Lick Lodge, which abuts Tsavo West National Park. This 9 month old male calf had apparently fallen through a rusted manhole cover into the large tank, and had to, literally, “tread water” for some 6 hours, without being able to touch the bottom or hold onto anything, until our Rescue Team arrived from Voi, some 60 miles distant. Thereafter, a hole had to be cut in the side of the concrete tank in order to get the calf out, and by the time this had been achieved, he was almost completely spent, his tiny trunk floating feebly on top as he gasped for air. All his strength had been expended, so he was able to be loaded into the plane and flown to Nairobi without sedation, which is just as well, because he would probably not have survived otherwise.

However, he had regained strength by the time he arrived in Nairobi, and once free in the Stable that had been prepared for him, he was unapproachable and completely unmanageable, desperately trying to escape by climbing the door, and charging all who attempted to calm him.

Elephants need a p a c e and we have found that older calves such as “Taita” suffer from claustrophobia in a confined place. Whilst Morani’s erstwhile Rhino Stockade was prepared for him, with a platform for the Keeper to be able to remain safe, the Vet was summonsed to sedate “Taita” so that he could be steered to his new quarters. This was accomplished, and with gentle handling, and a great deal of t.l.c., he was soon taking milk from a bottle and accepting offerings made by hand.

The next day, the other Nursery elephants were introduced to him, viewing him through the bars of the door. One by one they were ushered in to physically meet him, amidst great excitement. Napasha and Olmalo were curious and friendly, but Wendi, Tomboi, Selengai and little Sunyei were a bit wary of the newcomer. They were brought to pay their respects in the morning, after the noon mudbath and in the evening until “Taita” had calmed down sufficiently to be able to join them, which happened on the fourth day after his arrival. It soon became apparent, however, that he was very fearful of not having elephant company in the Stockade at night, particularly when it rained, when the noise on the tin roof terrified him and rather than remain under shelter, he took to rushing out to stand in the rain. Because he is a pneumonia candidate, in view of being almost drowned in the sceptic tank, this was not acceptable, so we decided to bring his friend “Napasha” in with him to keep him company. However, Napasha is a very assertive and “pushy” little bull, so the Keepers suggested that gentle little Olmalo would be a better Stockade-mate, and this strategy has worked wonders. Taita is now settled, and very much part of the Nursery gang, enjoying the noon mudbath along with the others, and quietly unaggressive to humans. He is feeding well, putting on weight, and so far, shows no signs of the pneumonia that we dread amongst candidates who have almost been drowned.

His arrival brings the Nursery component of elephants to 7, so we have just one more spare stable! Naturally, should others come in between now and when Napasha, Taita and Wendi are ready to join the Tsavo group, we will simply have to “make a plan”, as we did when suddenly we found ourselves with 12 Nursery inmates!

Wendi, like Mweya, tends to be a bit “pushy” with strangers, probably having copied this trait from Mweya. Tomboi has taken up the cue, and now also enjoys throwing his weight around visiting humans, and Selengai is beginning to do the same! This, the elephants view as “amusement”, but it is, of course, unacceptable behaviour that has to be checked while still young. Now that all these orphans are bigger, the “cattle prod” may have to be produced in order to re-establishl discipline! Little Sunyei still needs the comfort of a hung blanket in order to take milk, Napasha is a glutton who bellows when the last bottle is empty, and tries his luck at trying to snatch that of others, Tomboi and Wendi are mischievous, playful rascals and Selengai thinks mostly of food! At this point in time, “Taita” wins the award for good Nursery behaviour and Olmalo for the most gentle and friendly member of the group!

Tsavo Orphans:- The end of a very hot, and very dry, dry season is drawing to a close, with storm clouds gathering heralding the onset of the main rainy season for the low country of Tsavo, and elephant festive months when food and water becomes plentiful, and there is time to cast aside the serious business of survival, meet family and friends, and play. It also brings the danger of poaching closer, when armed Somali bandits take advantage of filled rainwater pools to enter the Park and carry out their nefarious killing activities, targeting both elephants and rhinos, thanks to the ongoing Ivory trade and the demand for rhino horn. The Trust has dug deep into its coffers to enable KWS to lay in stocks of fuel at strategic places, in order to be able to counter this threat, and deal with any poachers before they even get into the Park.

Our Tsavo orphans have coped admirably with the dry season, and all look in fine fettle, although Mweiga remains an essentially fragile youngster, although even her condition is not critical. On the 8th another needy orphan was rescued from the vicinity of Voi Safari Lodge, emaciated and weak, obviously a calf that has lost its mother and been deprived of milk. He is, indeed, fortunate to have been rescued before making a meal for the lions that habitually patrol the lodge waterhole. This little bull calf, aged about two years old, was taken directly to the Elephant Stockades where he received a particularly loving and warm welcome from little Morani, who probably remembers well when he was in a similar plight. His empathy for this orphan, named “Irima” after a nearby hill, has been deeply touching.

The orphans have enjoyed a lot of contact with wild herds this month, on the 3rd when they joined a herd of 7 wild elephants, and a wild cow took a shine to Morani, cuddling him between her forelegs, something he enjoyed immensely. They joined the group led by Eleanor’s friend named “Catherine” the next day when Laikipia and Salama enjoyed playing with wild friends of their age, but Aitong pulled Morani away. On the 5th Emily and Natumi spent time away from the other orphans with 4 handsome bachelor bulls, rejoining the group at the noon mudbath. On the 9th, the orphans fraternized with l0 wild elephants, and Emily played with a wild boy of her age, but the others kept their distance, fearful of the wild Matriarch who had very long tusks. On the 14th Aitong and Seraa left the other orphans to join 4 wild friends who had a small 3 month old calf and the next day the orphans joined a wild group of 5, and Burra was left behind with them playing pushing games with a wild calf, and had to be rounded up by Aitong, who was alerted to his absence by Natumi. On the 19th Salama, Mukwaju and Sosian enjoyed games with wild friends, ruined when Sosian pushed a wild calf down, and the Matriarch homed in on them, sending them fleeing!

On the 14th, a startled herd of wild elephants ran past the orphans, who could not catch up with them. What had disturbed this herd is not known. On the 26th Emily again left the group to mix with 5 wild elephants, probably the bachelors, joining the orphans when they returned to the Night Stockades. Is Emily falling in love? It is unusual for her to leave her adopted family for the company of bulls, and now that she is in her eleventh year, she may well be finding the opposite sex quite a catch! On the 27th, whilst amongst a wild group of 9, Mweya enviously watched a wild calf taking milk from her mother. Mweya closed in on the calf and tried to pull it away, but the mother kicked her to warn her off. The next day, Emily and Aitong again ganged up to try and hijack a wild calf from a group of 7 wild elephants, which brought the mother along in a rush to rescue her baby! Lissa, her two wild born calves, and her group, amongst whom is Uaso and Mpenzi, came to the stockades in the evening of the 31st, greeting the orphans very fondly. Emily spent time outside with them playing with Uaso, but returned to be let into the Stockade later.

Evident in the Diary is the enduring special affection that Emily has for little Ndara, and the fact that Morani is still a hot favourite, kept close when in amongst wild elephants, who also find him irresistible. Mweya, as usual, features as a front-runner and encounters with other species have included games with guineafowl, chasing zebra and baboons, thwarting two old buffaloes who wanted a drink from the mudbath, and fun with two warthogs who also came to drink. Displaying ostriches scared the younger set, who rushed to their Keepers for protection, but the greatest fright they got was from Solango, who popped unexpectedly round a bush and sent those in the mudbath fleeing to Emily and Aitong for protection! This must have made little Solango very proud!

Not mentioned in the Diary are Lolokwe, Mvita and Nasalot, who have obviously been fully occupied finding sufficient food and have kept themselves out of mischief. Disagreements at the milk hour are common amongst those still milk dependent, but once the vegetation is abundant and green, many who have now past their second birthday will be able to be weaned off milk.

October 2003 day to day

01 Oct

The orphans chased a group of 6 zebra that came to drink at their noon mudbath, Mweya heading the chase. It was cold so they avoided going into the mud, instead enjoying trying to mount one another during a dust-bath.