Keepers' Diaries, October 2013

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

The International March for Elephants, organized by the U.K. arm of the Trust, which took place in 15 cities across the world on the 4th October, was marked in Nairobi by a Vigil at the Orphans’ Mudbath at noon, the proposed Nairobi March having been cancelled in deference to those who had lost loved ones in the terrorist attack on West Gate Mall last month. The Elephant Vigil was a well attended and moving event commemorating also the suffering of Elephants throughout Africa, who lose their loved ones on a daily basis due to the appetite for their ivory tusks in the Far East, particularly in populous and increasingly affluent China where ivory is viewed as a status symbol. Elephants mourn loved ones just as deeply as do we, so the orphans represent the few lucky enough to be found in time who are the living representatives of hundreds of others who die in lonely isolation on a daily basis out in the bush. (Baby elephants cannot live without access to milk if orphaned under the age of 3 years and those that manage to survive if orphaned between the age of 3 and 5 years are few and far between).

The International March for Elephants, organized by the U.K. arm of the Trust, which took place in 15 cities across the world on the 4th October, was marked in Nairobi by a Vigil at the Orphans’ Mudbath at noon, the proposed Nairobi March having been cancelled in deference to those who had lost loved ones in the terrorist attack on West Gate Mall last month. The Elephant Vigil was a well attended and moving event commemorating also the suffering of Elephants throughout Africa, who lose their loved ones on a daily basis due to the appetite for their ivory tusks in the Far East, particularly in populous and increasingly affluent China where ivory is viewed as a status symbol. Elephants mourn loved ones just as deeply as do we, so the orphans represent the few lucky enough to be found in time who are the living representatives of hundreds of others who die in lonely isolation on a daily basis out in the bush. (Baby elephants cannot live without access to milk if orphaned under the age of 3 years and those that manage to survive if orphaned between the age of 3 and 5 years are few and far between).

An indication of the seriousness of the situation is reflected in the number of orphaned elephants again rescued this month bringing the total in the Nairobi Nursery to a record 38, falling to 35 following the sad demise of baby Empaash on the 8th, that of Bahati on the 28th and the passing of Kwale on the 29th.

First to come in on the 7th was 14 month old “Lentili” from Laikipia; the 8th brought the rescue of 18 month old “Asanje” from the Masai Mara and the l0th the rescue of 14th month old “Rorogoi” from Kwale at the Coast. The 19th saw the rescue of 1 month old baby Bahati from Buchuma, TCA., (who sadly died during the early hours of the 28th) while the 23rd saw the rescue of yearling “Oltaiyoni” from Ziwani, Tsavo West National Park. The 26th brought us the tragic 2 year old Amboseli Lion mauled victim, who died the night of arrival, before even being named.

Like many such babies rescued from wells and mudholes, it was pneumonia combined with teething that took baby “Empaash” from us who was rescued last month. (With no diaphragm elephants cannot cough, and any water inadvertently ingested into the lungs normally seals their demise). His loss was a sad blow to the Nursery Baby Group of Kamok, Mshindi and Shujaa who were later joined by another month old infant from the Tsavo Conservation Area, saved just in time from speeding traffic as he was heading for the busy main Nairobi – Mombasa highway. He was given the name “Bahati” (lucky in Swahili) but sadly, he turned out to be one of the “unlucky” ones, since he passed away during the early hours of the 28th October, the onset of teething hot on the heels of the trauma of capture and losing his elephant mother proved too much for this baby compromising any chance of weathering the teething process.

The condition of Kwale who came to us aged about l0 months in July 2012 had long been of concern, for he appeared to be suffering from some mysterious chronic ailment that defied all medication and whatever else we could think of that might help him recover. Others with the same “wasting” symptoms have responded well to a change of milk, but even this did not help Kwale. The skin texture of an elephant is a good indicator of health and the texture of Kwale’s skin continued to deteriorate, coupled with occasional loose stools, stomach pain and a slightly elevated white cell count in his blood. There were moments when we were hopeful that he might have turned the corner and be on the road to recovery, when he ran for his milk, downing it with gusto, and even joined the other orphans in the noon mud wallow, but the texture of his skin never differed, a reminder that things were not as they should be in this precious orphan.

By the 26th he was refusing all milk, and taking only very small quantities of soft greens. He was put on Life Support, but rapidly weakened to the point when he could not even stand. On the 27th we knew that we had lost the battle to save him and that the Life Support was only prolonging the agony of the inevitable end. He then lay down quietly to die and the end came during the evening of the 28th surrounded by a grieving and tearful human family who loved him dearly and who had done everything in their power to heal him. As Kwale breathed his last, the Vet was standing by to perform the autopsy and take body tissue samples so that from Kwale we might perhaps learn how we might be able to save others with similar symptoms in the future. However, the autopsy proved beyond doubt that Kwale did not die from some mysterious virus or bacteria, but that there was absolutely nothing we could have done differently to try and save him. A previous early trauma to the large intestine had resulted in immense bleeding and tissue damage, probably as a result of his fall down a deep well in Far Off Kwale and this, coupled with what might have been a rough rescue at the hands of the notoriously un-ele-friendly Coastal community who extracted him from the well, could perhaps have caused the damage that ultimately took his life. The wall of the intestine was covered in thick black necrotic tissue that inhibited the absorption of nutrients and it was this that led to Kwale’s long and slow decline.

At least we now knew what we had been dealing with, and there was comfort in knowing that there was nothing we could have done differently to save this precious life. Kwale was a gentle and loving elephant, who bore the blow that had been dealt him stoically. He now rests in peace, relieved of all pain, and hopefully reunited with others in an Elephant Heaven devoid of human greed and cruelty, which certainly must exist for such noble creatures such as Elephants who are “Just Like Us but only Better than Us” in so many ways. Kwale will be sadly missed by us all, both two legged and four.

Another huge sadness involving newcomer “Asanje” from the Masai Mara remains a mysterious puzzle as to what could have actually happened on that fateful day near month end. She left the Stockades in the early morning a perfectly normal and healthy elephant, but suddenly out in the bush, began walking in circles and in a sudden state of collapse, with swelling around the neck area coupled by an apparent loss of sight in both eyes. Had this been caused by spitting cobra venom, they would have turned cloudy, but instead they remained clear, yet unseeing. The Keepers only just managed to get her back to the Stockades, where she was given an infusion of cortisone, which reduced the swelling and saved her life, but did not restore her sight. The prognosis from an Animal Eye Specialist who has been several times to examine Asanje’s eyes is that the sight will return when internal swelling subsides, so all we can do is now hope and pray. We can only assume that it might possibly have been a bite from a Cobra (although no puncture marks were visible), or a violent allergic reaction to some insect sting, or ingesting something extremely toxic to trigger such violent shock so rapidly.

So many new arrivals this month have necessitated a lot of adjustments within the Nursery, which is never popular with the orphans who, like human children, enjoy an established regular routine. Additional Stockades have had to be hurriedly constructed; elephants doubled up at night in existing ones which always necessitates putting good friends together, since milk feeding times are always competitive). Additional Keepers have had to be recruited and trained, drawn from within Kenya’s 47 different tribal groupings.

Whereas “Oltaiyoni”, (like Tundani and Mashariki) was unusually trusting of her new human family for an orphan of her age, not so Rorogoi, who proved difficult to calm. Having been let out to join the others, she has led the Keepers a veritable dance on several occasions, running away, especially during the midday Public Viewing Hour, and the 3 p.m. Private Visiting slot. It has taken hard-pressed Keepers many hours to locate her again, with a struggle to get her back home for the night, so she had to be incarcerated for a while longer to try and settle her down.

Oltaiyoni on the other hand, was out and about with the others the very next day after her arrival, and has not looked back since, and last month Mashariki was the same. Newcomer Lentili, who arrived on the 7th, was only calm enough to be able to be let out 5 days later on the 12th. Since then he has teamed up with other relative newcomers such as Suswa and Zongoloni who are prone to separating themselves from the established orphans, to spend quiet time apart - all part of the usual grieving process while Nelion, Vuria and Garzi who are also still grieving, do the same.

Poor Big Boy Bongo from Mt. Kenya who came in over a month ago (on the l0th September) remains still confined. Armed with one sharp long tusk, (the other having broken half way down) and being a whopping 3 ½ year old, he is quite capable of inflicting serious damage should he decide on retribution and skewer someone, which he might well do, having also proved very difficult to calm! Hence the Keepers are reluctant to get in his Stockade to mix with him and who can blame them! Getting him back in the evenings might prove even more problematical added to which he is likely to want to throw his weight around smaller Bulls who are currently dominant in the Nursery, such as Orwa, Bomani and Balguda. We await the onset of rain in Tsavo, when Bongo will be immediately moved to the Ithumba Rehabilitation Centre where he will be amongst others more his age, and Big Females who will keep him in line. At his age he will remember his previous wild life clearly, and is likely to become a wild elephant again sooner rather than later. (Unhappily, the Weathermen predict that this year’s rains are going to be poor, and this is yet just one more worry for us!) Bongo, like others who come in emaciated from milk deprivation, is greedy! He relishes his milk and mountain of hand-cut greens provided for him on a daily basis, has his own private mudbath in his Stockade, and a bed of soft straw under shelter upon which to sleep and he now looks a picture of good health, having regained the condition he was lacking upon arrival!

All the newcomers are, as usual, touchingly welcomed by all the Big Nursery Girls, Kihari, Narok, Ishaq-B, Naipoki, Arruba, Lima lima, Laragai, Quanza, Sonje and sometimes even Murera, all, or some of whom, never fail to rush and greet them the moment they exit their own Night Stockades. Established orphans are fed their milk within sight of a newcomer, who can see them enjoying it, and also understand that the Keepers do not pose a threat, as did the poachers who deprived them of their elephant family. Then, when the Keepers decide a newcomer is sufficiently calm for the Gates to be opened to allow him or her to join the Nursery herd during the hours of daylight, he or she is always escorted out by the Big Girls, sandwiched firmly between them, who then keep a close watch over the newcomer to prevent exuberant Nursery Boys from trying to take advantage of a nervous stranger by shoving and pushing to assert dominance, which is what invariably happens! Albino ex Amboseli half brothers Faraja and Jasiri are examples of this as are Balguda and Teleki but even the younger boy group of Kithaka, Lemoyian Ngasha and Barsilinga try to do the same, always initiated either by Kithaka or Lemoyian, who are partners in mischief as well as best friends! Meanwhile the dominant Nursery Boys, Orwa and Bomani like to appear stand-offishly superior by pretending not even to have noticed a new addition, particular when it happens to be female! They are more preoccupied with one another as best friends, who enjoy testing their strength against one another and foraging independently of the Big Girls and their attachments. Tiny tots remain segregated from the main herd to a large extent, spending just limited time with them. Kamok is the leader of this “tiny Tot” group who are encouraged to exercise by taking lengthy walks with the Keepers, independently of the main herd, and in between taking small quantities of milk fed to them on demand, to try and get them in good condition so that they can weather their teething. Kamok has one molar through on both sides of the lower jaw, and Shujaa just one on one lower jaw but has lost a great deal of condition. Mshindi’s are definitely on the way, since he suffered several days of the usual teething symptoms, and had to be on a drip, but has since recovered. His first tooth has yet to erupt. Infant elephants are particularly fragile during the teething stage. Those that make it are few, and those that don’t, sadly, many more. We wish we knew the secret of Elephant Mothers, although Mulika’s wild-born baby, Mwende, also noticeably lost condition during the eruption of her first molars.

What a month October has been! Seldom have we had such a busy and stressful time, not made any easier by events at the field level, wrangling our three Mobile Veterinary Units and the new Sky Vet initiative to try and save dozens of injured wild elephants, suffering from poisoned arrow, spear and gunshot wounds, in all corners of the country. Many have been able to be saved, but others, particularly those with spear wounds, have been beyond saving, peritonitis having set in.

The Rhinos:- Solio returned back home just on two occasions this month - on the 1st, and again on the 16th, when she enjoyed the usual interaction with Max, who was wildly excited by her return. They locked horns in a friendly sparring match through the separating poles of Max’s Stockade after which Solio enjoys time spent back in her old Stockade, feasting on a Lucerne and Dairy cube handout, with Max next door, enjoying hearing her presence in the absence of eyes to see. Solio is the highlight of Max’s dark world. He thoroughly enjoys all the visitors who come to view him, pressing his body near the railings so that they can touch him, something he loves, since rhinos are essentially sensual animals whose life is governed by chemistry and scent, rubbing and scratching their bodies against stumps and trees, a sharp territorial memory, and shaping and sharpening the horns that are their identity and protection. Deprived of its horn, a rhino is emasculated and at risk of death from another whose horn is intact still.

October 2013 day to day

01 Oct

October began well, with a visit from Solio who turned up at 6 a.m. and having greeted Murera first, went to spar with Maxwell who was waiting expectantly for her before returning to her old Stockade to enjoy a Lucerne handout. She later left again at l0 a.m. Seeing Solio healthy and so happy, fully integrated into the wild rhino community of Nairobi National Park makes us, her human family, very happy, particularly in view of the rampant poaching of rhinos that is going on throughout Africa. She is a wonderful success story.

Murera

Maxwell