Keepers' Diaries, October 2005

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

It has been a month overshadowed by tragedy – the tragedy of losing one of our most dedicated and popular Elephant Keepers who unwittingly walked right into 6 year old Rhino Orphan, Makosa, in thick bush on his way out to join the orphaned elephants early in the morning of 21st, not even having noticed the rhino’s presence. When a rhino is startled at close quarters, its natural means of defence is attack, and Makosa did just that, killing Patrick Dokata instantly. Later, when KWS Rangers came to guard Patrick’s body, Makosa was still in a state of “auto-mode”, not in physical control of his actions, and went for them, sending them up a flimsy tree. Despite three warning shots in an attempt to drive him off, he continued to batter the tree, and when it looked like coming down, putting two more lives at risk, the rhino was shot at close quarters and killed with one bullet. Hence, within the space of just an hour, on that fateful day’s dawning, we lost one of our most loyal Staff members, and a rhino that we had lovingly nurtured from day two into adulthood, and successfully integrated back into the wild rhino community of Nairobi National Park. This terrible tragedy has been painful in the extreme, and has cast a dark shadow over an extremely busy month that has also seen the arrival of two new Nursery inmates, bringing the Nursery total to eight.

It has been a month overshadowed by tragedy – the tragedy of losing one of our most dedicated and popular Elephant Keepers who unwittingly walked right into 6 year old Rhino Orphan, Makosa, in thick bush on his way out to join the orphaned elephants early in the morning of 21st, not even having noticed the rhino’s presence. When a rhino is startled at close quarters, its natural means of defence is attack, and Makosa did just that, killing Patrick Dokata instantly. Later, when KWS Rangers came to guard Patrick’s body, Makosa was still in a state of “auto-mode”, not in physical control of his actions, and went for them, sending them up a flimsy tree. Despite three warning shots in an attempt to drive him off, he continued to batter the tree, and when it looked like coming down, putting two more lives at risk, the rhino was shot at close quarters and killed with one bullet. Hence, within the space of just an hour, on that fateful day’s dawning, we lost one of our most loyal Staff members, and a rhino that we had lovingly nurtured from day two into adulthood, and successfully integrated back into the wild rhino community of Nairobi National Park. This terrible tragedy has been painful in the extreme, and has cast a dark shadow over an extremely busy month that has also seen the arrival of two new Nursery inmates, bringing the Nursery total to eight.

The first one arrived on the 17th and was named “Ndololo”, the name of a point on the Voi River in Tsavo East National Park close to where he was found by visitors. When seen first by the visitors, he was already almost dead, and the adult elephant that was with him, which may or may not have been his mother, had given up all hope for him and was actually covering him with leaves and earth in an act of burial. Amazingly, when the Rescue team arrived to retrieve him, she stood by at close quarters displaying no sign of aggression whatsoever, calmly allowing the men to take the calf, obviously understanding that these were ele-friendly men who meant no harm. In fact this adult elephant was so calm that the Rescue Team thought she must have been an ex orphan, but we have been unable to identify her from the photographs. The baby was unconscious by the time he arrived up at the Voi Stockades, but rehydration and a little milk revived him, and he was held overnight there and flown to the Nairobi Nursery the following morning.

He arrived in an extremely emaciated condition, his age estimated to be about 1 month. His condition has led us to believe that the elephant with him was probably not his mother, for he was a starvation case. Since then, he has weathered a bout of diarrheoa, which we never thought he would be strong enough to overcome, and sprouted a few more teeth, BUT it has become increasingly apparent that he is also blind in both eyes, although we thought that he had slight vision in one when he first came in. Now, however, both are cloudy, and this presents us with an unusual challenge that we have never had to cope with before! He is, however, a little fighter, and with each passing day demonstrates the incredible sensitivity and mysterious abilities of those blind, responding to his Keepers with such an outpouring of affection and confidence and manoeuvring himself confidently around his stable. Each morning he is taken out for a short walk alongside his Keepers and often accompanied by both Makena, and another tiny 6 week old newcomer, named “Zurura”who was flown in on the 29th, having been rescued from a ruby mine within a migration route between Tsavo West and East. This new baby arrived in fine fettle, with no obvious injuries, so he has a fighting chance.

Everything possible is being done to try and restore little Ndololo’s eyesight. The top Eye Surgeon visits him on a weekly basis, as does our Vet, and he is having Cortisone drops in both eyes at 2 hourly intervals throughout the day and night. In addition, we are washing out his eyes with milk in which a wild root has been steeped overnight – a remedy by which the up-country farmers and tribal people swear as having cured many cases they believed to be hopeless. We keep our fingers firmly crossed for this very brave little elephant baby.

Little “Zurura”, is another extremely brave baby, who never cried even when surrounded and prodded by hordes of curious tribesmen once had had been pulled free of the ruby mine. Neither did he protest when loaded into a car, or the plane, nor when unloaded at the other end. Even his prophylactic injectible antibiotic jab was endured stoically. He was so fearless that he was allowed out to meet the other elephants within hours of arrival. Immediately he homed in on Naserian who is the mother figure of tiny Makena, who although some 3 months old, is still far smaller in stature than both Zurura and Ndololo

Little Makena is Naserian’s “baby” in every sense of the word. She spends hours trying to attach herself to Naserian’s tiny teats, and Naserian places a foreleg forward as would a natural mother. Lualeni would love to take a turn being “mother” to Makena, but Naserian is far too obsessed with her new baby to share her. Zurura would also like to become attached to Naserian, but is repulsed by both Naserian and Makena, so he will have to make do with Lualeni, who is eager to take him over. Meanwhile, Rapsu now has the measure of Buchuma, and keeps him in line. However, Buchuma is a very courageous little member of the group, the only one to face intruders such as giraffe and baboons, and see them off, when all his peers have taken to their heels! This has endeared him to the Keepers, who proudly attest that “he is a real bull”! Kora and Lualeni are inseparable, spending time feeding next to one another “as though twins”. Naserian also reprimands Buchuma whenever he tries to test his strength against Kora, separating the two before the contest takes place. This disappoints Kora, who is eager to have a go! It is, indeed, heart-warming to see Naserian, Lualeni, Kora, Buchuma and Rapsu now healthy, healed and happy – in short a very contented little unit that makes all our efforts worthwhile. All have undergone a very difficult beginning, with horrendous psychological and physical damage, but one would never guess so now. That is the good news this very sad month of October, 2005 which has dealt us such a painful blow. Now we look forward to rain and the advent of the green festive season for all things wild, our orphans included. We pray that the coming months will return the gift of sight to our blind baby, Ndololo and that Zurura will continue to thrive.

The Rhino Orphans:- Makosa was viewed as one of the Trust’s successes. Grown at aged 6, and fully integrated into the wild community of Nairobi Park, he was a fine specimen of whom we were very proud, living free and wild and totally independent of his Keepers. His death on the 21st October, following the fatal tragedy of Keeper Patrick, has affected us all very deeply. He is sadly missed, not just by those of us who reared him from two days old, but also by the wild rhinos who had accepted him as “belonging” within their Home Range. Many have been tracing his last footsteps, and turning up at the place where he is buried, deep in the Park forest.

Magnum has also been looking for him, dogging the trails he used, and visiting his erstwhile Stockade. Little Shida, likewise, has been very subdued since. Like elephants, rhinos have remarkable memories, and Makosa will long be remembered by all who knew him, two legged and four.

October 2005 day to day

01 Oct

Today, confidently, Lualeni took little Makena from Naserian’s side. Naserian flapped her ears in irritation and went to retrieve her favourite baby from Lualeni.

Naserian & Makena at the noon mudbath

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