Keepers' Diaries, October 2009

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

The month began with 28 orphaned elephants in our Nairobi Nursery, 6 of whom were newborns of just 2 or 3 weeks old, went up to 31 and ended with 30 following the loss of little Kavu on the 26th. Three large Safari trucks were positioned at the Loading Ramps, awaiting the first rains in Tsavo, when 5 of the older Nursery inmates will be heading to one of the two Rehabilitation Centers in Tsavo East National Park.

The month began with 28 orphaned elephants in our Nairobi Nursery, 6 of whom were newborns of just 2 or 3 weeks old, went up to 31 and ended with 30 following the loss of little Kavu on the 26th. Three large Safari trucks were positioned at the Loading Ramps, awaiting the first rains in Tsavo, when 5 of the older Nursery inmates will be heading to one of the two Rehabilitation Centers in Tsavo East National Park.

There have been another 4 elephant rescues this month. On the 13th a two year old orphan was flown to the Nursery from the Chyulu hills, but arrived too far gone for us to be able to retrieve, and died un-named several hours later. On the 14th 6 week old Sala was flown in having walked into Buffalo Camp situated just beyond the Sala Entrance Gate to Tsavo East National Park the previous evening. Unfortunately, the camp staff had already fed the orphaned calf cows’ milk, to which elephants are totally intolerant, so she arrived threatening serious diarrheoa which became progressively worse, entailing life support despite being immediately put on a course of anti-diarrheoa medication. However, she managed to pull through, and by month end was much better. Just two days later, on the 16th 6 week old Mara was flown in from the Masai Mara Sand River area, having been found wandering alone by the early morning Rhino patrol. Upon arrival it was noticed that she was blind in one eye and partially so in the other, so Dr. Schwendermann very kindly came to assess the condition of her eyes, and suggested the antibiotic that should be used to heal what was obviously a bacterial infection in both. She also came in threatening diarrheoa, so like Sala was instantly put on anti-diarrheoa medication. We then enjoyed several days break until the 20th when 2 month old Chaffa was flown in from Shaba National Reserve, again having been found wandering alone the previous evening by KWS personnel, who rescued her and held her overnight. This calf arrived in good condition, having been fed only water, and settled on remarkably well, even playing with the other Nursery babies the very next day.

The 26th brought the death of poor little Kavu, taken from us by the dreaded pneumonia having been in the Nursery for a full month. He suddenly became weak and obviously unwell on the 25th, so was returned to the Stockade compound and immediately given an antibiotic injection, but it was already too late. By the morning he was on life support and died at 3 p.m., deeply mourned by baby Shaba, who immediately noticed his absence, and who was his best friend. Little Kavu came into the Nursery extremely emaciated, but was a fighter, and struggled to live. Just as we were beginning to believe that he would win the battle for life, pneumonia stepped in and took his life. (Pneumonia has taken the lives of so many of our Nursery infants over the years and strikes with no warning, since elephants cannot physically cough. Often it is the creeping variety which can prove fatal many weeks, and even months later.)

Other Nursery elephants rescued during the very severe drought that has gripped the country this year have begun to show what the Vets believe is a calcium deficiency affecting the tendons of the feet, which manifests itself by the feet beginning to turn in an unnatural way. The calcium and mineral intake of all these calves has been adjusted, hoping that this will reverse the worrying trend, which, again, is something new that we have never experienced previously. Other elephants who have shown signs of being unwell this month have been Mawenzi and Bhaawa. By month end Mawenzi had recovered but Bhaawa remains weakened and an ongoing worry despite having had every kind of treatment we can think of.

2009 has truly been a terrible year for elephants, who have suffered tremendous losses due to the drought, exacerbated in the Protected Areas such as Tsavo by the illegal intrusion of thousands of diseased and starving domestic livestock that have competed with the wild animals for both pasture and water. This has driven many of Tsavo’s elephants beyond the Park boundary, placing them at risk from both human/wildlife conflict and poaching for ivory on community ranchlands. Now there is the danger that CITES might sanction not only the sale of the Tanzanian and Zambian stockpiles, despite evidence of increased and rampant poaching in those countries, but also the legal culling of the so-called over-population of elephants claimed by the countries of Southern Africa, including Zimbabwe, where everything on 4 legs is simply up for grabs! The decisions taken at next year’s Conference of the Parties will definitely dictate the survival or otherwise of Africa’s remaining elephant population.

The Rhinos:- Maalim is now a healthy, strong and somewhat boisterous yearling now, and has been banished from making his usual appearance at the noon public viewing hour, where he becomes very frisky, racing amongst the visitors, after having been anointed with mud! Having inadvertently barged into a visitor during one of his playful sessions, we felt it prudent to shield the visiting public from what used to be a pocket-handkerchief sized premature that could fit into a handbag just a year ago!

Shida continues to turn up twice daily, putting himself back in his Nursery Stockade beside that of blind Maxwell, to be “viewed” by an admiring public during the noon open visiting hour and in the evening when foster-parents arrive. Maxwell eagerly anticipates Shida’s presence, becoming very excited even before Shida comes into view, illustrating yet again the exceedingly sharp sense of hearing and scent of his species. Max is, if anything, now taller than Shida, who is quite a squat rhino, but what he lacks in size, he makes up with a very stout forward pointing appendage on his nose! All our rhinos couldn’t be healthier or happier.

October 2009 day to day

01 Oct

Mawenzi noticed Suguta and Melia playing together, and came to join in, mounting on Melia, who is not yet very strong. Melia bellowed, and all the games came to an end.

Mawenzi (left) sucking Melia's ear

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