Keepers' Diaries, September 2002

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Voi Reintegration Unit

Rescue of "Wendi". She is from the Imenti Forest, and, as it has transpired, was newborn, with a deep crease in one ear that stubbornly refuses to straighten. We are sure she must have been in the womb with one ear bent, and we suspect that she may even have been a twin - the weaker twin - and left behind when her mother left with the other. There is not much information about as to why she was orphaned. Only that she was found lying beside a swamp.

Rescue of "Wendi". She is from the Imenti Forest, and, as it has transpired, was newborn, with a deep crease in one ear that stubbornly refuses to straighten. We are sure she must have been in the womb with one ear bent, and we suspect that she may even have been a twin - the weaker twin - and left behind when her mother left with the other. There is not much information about as to why she was orphaned. Only that she was found lying beside a swamp.

We prayed that she might have suckled her mother so that her immune system would not be colostrums deficient and therefore unable to cope. But, just in case, we put some powdered cows' colostrums in her first bottles. However, it the colostrums milk is not taken within 24 hours, the system shuts down, and one has a problem.

For three days Wendi thrived, downing between 32 and 36 pints of milk in a 24 hour period. But then the problems began, with a severe bout of enteritis, passing blood and chunks of intestinal flesh in the stools. We now had to face the fact, that this was, indeed, a colostrums deficient baby and our minds turned back to "Imenti", who was the same. With the benefit of hindsight, we decided to do what had saved Imenti's life - take blood from one of the healthy older elephants, separate the plasma and infuse it into the baby to pass on some established antibodies and a chance to fight infection.

We chose "Thoma", who is now over a year old, and a healthy baby. This entailed an anaesthetic, which is always risky, but our Vet, Dieter Rottcher has had a great deal of experience in this field, having brought in many of our orphans under sedation, and performed several operations under anaesthesia as well. Thoma was immobilized, and whilst unconscious, surrounded by all the other Nursery elephants, who showed deep concern, about 2 pints of blood was drawn from an ear vein and taken to be centrifugally separated. Thoma was woken up, and was none the worse, and we all sighed with relief.

The next day it was the turn of tiny Wendi, which was even more life threatening, since she was far from well from the enteritis, which we had been treating with a Sulphur based oral antibiotic. She was put to sleep, and slowly Thoma's blood plasma was infused into her ear vein, which took about 20 minutes. She was then woken up, and although very wobbly, and sleeping a great deal, managed to get through the day.

However, the next night her Keeper reported that she had heavy breathing and fluid coming from the trunk. Our thoughts immediately turned to the lessons of Seraa, whom we nearly lost from similar symptoms indicative of pneumonia, and immediately Wendi had to undergo a three day course of injectible antibiotic.

After this, she seemed to be picking up. The stools were better, as was the breathing. The morning of the 30th September began well, but then she hit a crisis, and lay in a state of near collapse all day. We began to despair. She had taken no milk, and had to be lifted, unable to stand unaided. Then, suddenly, she rallied, and as I write this account, we keep our fingers firmly crossed for little "Wendi", whose name means "Hope". We do have "Hope" still and what is more, we also have hope that she will make it.

Nursery Elephants:- For this month's overview of the other Nursery inmates, I am using the actual words of Keeper Julius:-

"Elephants are truly friendly animals and they live just as we live as humans. At the Nursery we have Thoma who is the group leader of the young elephants, Burra, Solango, Seraa, Mpala and Sosian who is older than Thoma and a male. He tends to stay a bit removed from the others who tend to give him respect. If one disturbs him or refuses him his way, he just responds by pushing them, but that doesn't mean he doesn't like them, only that just like us, big boys like to be boss over the young.

Friday is hectic because it is the day they have coconut oil on their skin. Not all enjoy it, especially Buraa. When he smells coconut oil, he is off and if you call him, he goes further. Sosian got used to it much faster and his skin is now soft. Thoma, Seraa, Solango and Mpala don't have any problem, but at times they tend to refuse, so we trick them by giving them a bucket of water to play with and that way we cana get through.

Feeding time at night is full of drama, especially with Buraa, who cries, rumbles, and kneels down with front legs and head in the straw, trying to lift the Keeper from his bed! This starts as soon as he hears the first sound of buckets outside. In the next stable we have Solango waking up his Keeper by taking off the blanket and starting to suck, which carries on until the milk bottles arrive. Thoma will come right up to the Keeper's head and rest her trunk on his head while making small rumblings. Thoma has respect. She will lift the blanket up gently, not like Solango, who is much rougher. Seraa is rough like Solango. She will come directly to the Keeper, slap him several times with her trunk while rumbling and there is no response, she turns round and kicks with her back leg. But, that is a great show, because she was usually lazy, drinking slowly, but nowadays she is one of the active elephants in the Nursery.
Sosian is very greedy, and if he finished his bottles first, he runs to another Keeper who is feeding another elephant and if he is refused, both the Keeper and the other elephant will find themselves down. This happened to me, Julius, when I was feeding Thoma and Sosian came charging up and before I could respond, we were all down in the mudwallow and all the visitors laughed. It was a very beautiful mudwallow!"

Tsavo Orphans

It has been a very dry, dry season, and also a very hot one, too. Evident in this month's diary are frayed tempers, competition over browse, not wanting to share a bush with another elephant etc., etc. Also very evident is how all the females enjoy leading the group back to the Stockades, vying for first place. Even Natumi, who has the reputation of being somewhat cowardly, wants to lead the group, but would rather not be first, blocking all the others from taking her position, until one of the Keepers walks ahead!

Little Maungu, like Mweiga, has suffered ill health this month and is a qeaker calf than the others, suffering from stomach problems. We have decided to treat her with the Sulphonamide boluses that helped Mweiga and we hope that these will make a difference.

Sweet Sally obviously harbours resentment against Maungu, and has had to be moved to another Stockade, because of bullying Maungu in the night. The friendship of Sally and Mweya continues, and Sally obviously adores Aitong, as does Maungu, so jealousy probably accounts for Sally's aggression. Maungu is never far from Aitong's side, and Sally enjoys suckling Aitong's ears, since Loisaba is very possessive of Emily and does not like sharing her too closely with others.

Mvita features prominently in this month's diary, and is turning out to be quite a "toughy". She never shared the Nursery with any of the others, and was brought directly into the Tsavo group alone and without a friend. For a long time she was very much an outsider, but is now beginning to assert her authority over some of the others, and is proving to be quite a force to be reckoned with. Her name means "war" and in this month's diary she has lived up to it!

It is heartening to see Imenti spending more time away with Edo and interesting that whenever he returns to the fold, he is in a bad mood, obviously having had a hard time amongst his wild peers and venting his frustration on the Keepers. This is indicative only of being low in rank and at an age when he is not all that welcome in amongst the wild female herds. It is interesting to see the younger bull set also becoming a little more independent of the others, Salama and Laikipia spending time apart from the others, as well as those younger, namely Nyiro, Mukwaju and Lolokwe. They will form friendships for life and have one another, which is something Imenti never had. He has always grown up with the girls and has not had the luxury of a boy "of his size" to play with, which is necessary within elephant behaviour. He also had to be pampered when young, because he, like little "Wendi" was a newborn and immune deficient, and hovered on the brink of death for many months.

Again, Edo has been paying attention to Aitong, which worries us, and also seems to worry Emily. Of all our Big Boys, only Edo and Imenti have been around this past dry season, so Dika, Ndume, Taru, Olmeg and Ajok must all be happy where they are, which is elsewhere, and this must surely be good news! Edo's and Imenti's proximity can easily be explained by their close attachment to Emily, whom they adored, even in the Nursery.

Heavy showers of rain fell unexpectedly mid-month, which brought some welcome relief both with regard to temperature and also to bring on a flush of new greens which all the orphans have enjoyed, and which relieved competition for food. Fun was had when the babies had an extended game of football with a tortoise shell, in the mudbath with a "toy" log and sliding down a soft slope on Mazinga Hill.

The unfamiliar sound of water flowing down the dry Voi river scared the youngsters, and sent them running to their Keepers, and also the sight of their Keepers in unfamiliar rain-coats upset them as did a lion roaring close by, and running buffalo. Nyiro tried his luck attempting to prompt a giraffe to run away, and when the giraffe refused to oblige, tried to shove Lolokwe and Nasalot forward to do the job for him! Fortunately, they were not keen either, because a giraffe could severely have damaged them with a kick.

Salama played a cunning trick on Tsavo, who is always trying to get the upper hand of the other little boys. Tsavo took on Salama, who pretended to be "weak", allowing Salama to be shoved backwards into an open patch of ground, and then the tables were rapidly turned. Salama retaliated with his usual strength and sent Tsavo running for shelter behind Emily!

Aitong had a confrontation with a zebra that likewise wouldn't run away, knocking it down, and then getting kicked. Mweya and Kinna enjoyed treeing a mother baboon with a baby riding on its back, waiting under the tree for the baboon to come down, so that they could have some more fun!

Emily's care, as the Matriarch, is always evident in the Keepers' Diaries, as is Aitong's love of all the babies, and her assistance whenever needed, especially for little Maungu, whom was helped along positioned gently between Aitong's tusks, so that she could catch up with the others.

Encounters with the wild herds have been very frequent this month, even though they have not always appeared in the Diary. This is because, when the orphans are busy feeding in the vicinity of the Voi river, the Keepers hide so that they cannot be seen from the roads or the nearby boundary lodges, so that visitors do not know that they are looking at the orphans. Once the elephants are in their reintegration period, contact with humans has to be limited, and only the foster-parents have access to the orphans, usually only back at the Stockades in the evenings. The last thing we want is a repetition of what happened to Eleanor in the "bad old days" when corrupt Keepers kept the orphans standing by the roadside, accepting money from visiting tourists and corrupt tour drivers. For this reason, we are diligent about insisting that the elephant orphans have minimum human contact and never, never fed any junk food by hand which is a recipe for disaster. Elephants are fond of "junk" food, and once they get a taste for it, they will seek it near human habitation, and end up being shot as problem elephants.

September 2002 day to day

01 Sep

When the orphans left at 6 a.m. Mweya and Sweet Sally began pushing each other, but each one wanted to lead the group. Nasalot intervened to separate them, and then she took control and led the group! Out in the field Aitong had a confrontation with a zebra, knocking it down when it refused to run away. The zebra got up and tried to kick her, but she was not scared and chased it off. In the evening Laikipia found a baboon stealing his ration of Copra, and, trumpeting, he chased it right up to the base of Mazinga Hill.