Keepers' Diaries, October 2008

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

The month of October 2008 is one that will remain in human memory for a very long time – in our case, not so much for the Global Credit Crunch that has rocked the entire world, but for deep sorrow at having to weather the death of 3 of our Nursery elephants and 4 others who went directly to the Voi Stockades in just one month. After each and every death, we think long and hard, analyzing what perhaps we could possibly have done to save that particular calf.

The month of October 2008 is one that will remain in human memory for a very long time – in our case, not so much for the Global Credit Crunch that has rocked the entire world, but for deep sorrow at having to weather the death of 3 of our Nursery elephants and 4 others who went directly to the Voi Stockades in just one month.
After each and every death, we think long and hard, analyzing what perhaps we could possibly have done to save that particular calf.

First to die on us was little Kungu on the 13th, whilst we were in Tsavo, following a bout of gastro enteritis that was treated with Ciprofloxacine. (Perhaps that particular antibiotic cannot be tolerated by such a fragile system). This loss was followed by that of the minute newcomer named “Wanjala” (alias “Beetle” because she was so tiny), who was brought into the Nursery on the 14th, having wandered into a Mining Camp abutting Tsavo West National Park. She died from bloat on the 19th as a result of having been fed cows’ milk by her mining rescuers. Then just two days later, on the 21st, we lost precious little Barseloi from the dreaded pneumonia which has accounted for so many of our water and well victims, since elephants are physically unable to cough. We have learnt the hard way that there is very little that can be done about that. Not even the essential oil of garlic, which is a powerful natural antibiotic) staved off the inevitable. But, perhaps had little “Beetle” been fed less and more often, that might have helped, and perhaps the tiny Nursery babies were not getting enough exercise to stimulate their metabolism more. All these factors go down in the book of learning, which never seems to end, not even after Daphne’s 50 years of hands-on experience.

We were shattered by so many tragedies each hot on the heels of another, for there were others that died at the Voi Elephant Stockades – calves who were 2 years or older and therefore too large to be transported by air. These are covered under the Voi Unit news.

The good news is that so far all the other Nursery inmates (13 in number) are doing well, though one can never be sure a baby elephant is going to make it until it has passed its third birthday! Hopefully, however, the run of orphan bad luck has ended and we will be spared more tears during the coming months. Never before have we had to weather 7 orphan deaths in just one month, 3 if whom were Nursery inmates whom we knew intimately, and four other older elephants who were taken directly to the Voi Stockades in Southern Tsavo, whom we never had a chance to even meet.

Besides the arrival of little Wanjala on the 14th, another orphan was brought into the Nairobi Nursery on the 10th having been extracted from a manhole on the Mombasa pipeline near the railway siding of Ndii prompting her to be named “Ndii”. Extracting her from this hole proved an ordeal that left her with extensive bruising, so we expect quite a lot of dead tissue to slough off. However, she seems to be a strong calf, big for her age, estimated to be about 6 – 8 weeks old, since the first molars had not yet erupted, something that normally happens between the age of 6 weeks and 4 months. However, her teething began at the end of the month, something that often triggers diarrheoa, so we will be keeping a close watch on her.

So many new orphans in the Nursery has necessitated yet another adjustment in the sleeping arrangements, so Lesanju, Sinya and Lempaute now share the new Stockade. Sinya is extremely fond of Lesanju, eager to always be very close, and this has led to a lot of jealousy from Lempaute who perceives this as her prerogative. Poor Sinya has had to be pretty long-suffering, for Lempaute is a handful at the best of times!

Following the death of Wanjala, we feel that the infant elephants may not have been getting sufficient exercise to stimulate proper metabolism, so directions have been given to the Keepers that they must be allowed to accompany the older group and be taken on long walks further afield on a daily basis.

While Mzima is the orphan keenest on his milk, Taveta is a very independent little fellow, prone to wandering off on his own, and quite happy feeding apart from all the others. It is interesting that on the 7th Lesanju alerted the Keepers to the fact that he was again taking himself off, on this occasion to the milk venue ahead of time. She ran first to them and then back from whence the group had just come, pointing her trunk to alert the Keepers who then went to investigate what she was trying to tell them. Sure enough, they came across Taveta taking himself to the milk venue way ahead of time! On this occasion Lesanju was a “hands-on” mini Matriarch, but on other occasions, particularly when it comes to disciplining Lempaute, she is very much “hands off”! Suguta is a clinging vine who prefers to spend time close to the Keepers rather than mingle with the other elephants. According to the Diary, she obviously felt the death of both Kungu and Barseloi keenly, both of whom were her special friends. This surely indicates that the emotions of even an infant elephant are far more developed than that of a human of a similar age.

The Rhinos:- Shida is roaming further afield these days, and does not always return in a good mood, possibly having had an altercation with a wild peer! The 6th was one such occasion when everyone gave him a very wide berth! It amazes us at how constant Shida’s daily routine is. Almost without fail, the noon Open Visiting Hour will find him back in his old Stockade, when he is locked in while the visitors are at large, basking in all the attention he receives from them. Then usually again at 5 p.m. when the Foster-Parent visitors arrive to see their fostered elephant, Shida puts himself back again, let out for the night only when the last visitor has left.

Maxwell is growing apace. He also likes to be fondled by visitors through the bars of his Stockade, and enjoys being greeted and touched also by a host of little trunks when the elephants leave for the bush in the morning. Max treated some evening visitors to a shower of urine, which, for some cultures who believe that anything to do with a rhino is medicinally magic, would have been a real treat, but for those evening Western foster-parents was something they would rather not have had to endure! (Rhino urine is extremely pungent smelling!) Both rhinos are in good health, Shida’s twice daily visits the highlight of Max’s dark world for he relishes a sparring bout through the separating bars of their respective Stockades. We can always gauge when Shida is on his way back home for Maxwell is in a high state of anticipation and excitement!

October 2008 day to day

01 Oct

The adjustments to the infant elephants’ sleeping arrangements has caused some problems for Sinya, who now shares a Stockade with Lesanju and Lempaute. Although Sinya loves Lesanju, and would like to be close to her all the time, Lempaute resents this and keeps pushing her away.

Lempaute near the mudwallow

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