Keepers' Diaries, September 2007

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

It has been an exciting month for the Nursery elephants, with the arrival of two newcomers, one a l0 month old baby from Amboseli National Park rescued on the 13th having been retrieved from a pit near the Tanzanian border, and then a tiny month old calf from Tsavo, rescued on the 28th having fallen down an open manhole on the Mzima/Mombasa pipeline – (as have three of our other orphans, namely Ndara, Buchuma and Maungu (who later died from an embolism that blocked an artery to the heart). The rescue of the Amboseli calf, named “Sinya” by the Researchers, was dramatic, since by the time the elephant was brought in, the plane had been forced to fly back to Nairobi. Hence the calf and the Keepers spent a very uncomfortable and cold night in an open shed at the Amboseli airfield, with a pack of eager hyaenas prowling around outside, plus a herd of grazing buffalo. No-one slept a wink that night faced with the challenge of trying to subdue the terrified baby and ward off the hyaenas.

It has been an exciting month for the Nursery elephants, with the arrival of two newcomers, one a l0 month old baby from Amboseli National Park rescued on the 13th having been retrieved from a pit near the Tanzanian border, and then a tiny month old calf from Tsavo, rescued on the 28th having fallen down an open manhole on the Mzima/Mombasa pipeline – (as have three of our other orphans, namely Ndara, Buchuma and Maungu (who later died from an embolism that blocked an artery to the heart). The rescue of the Amboseli calf, named “Sinya” by the Researchers, was dramatic, since by the time the elephant was brought in, the plane had been forced to fly back to Nairobi. Hence the calf and the Keepers spent a very uncomfortable and cold night in an open shed at the Amboseli airfield, with a pack of eager hyaenas prowling around outside, plus a herd of grazing buffalo. No-one slept a wink that night faced with the challenge of trying to subdue the terrified baby and ward off the hyaenas.

The little Pipeline victim, named “Dida” (taken from “Dida Harea”, the name of a nearby waterhole, which means “place of the zebra” in the Liangulu language) arrived in good condition but also had a dramatic rescue, having been submerged, but for the tip of her trunk, for many hours in the water pipeline. She was extracted from the manhole with great difficulty, and is definitely very susceptible to killer pneumonia, so will have to endure a long course of prophylactic antibiotic, as will the earlier one who is suffering from terrible wounds, the tip of her trunk having been chewed by hyaenas when she was down the pit. In addition she has severe body bruising, with a large swelling on top of her back, plus an infected leg wound that needs a daily cleaning. Both calves have settled in well and form part of Lesanju’s “baby group” within the Nursery.

The transfer of Zurura and Kamboyo to Ithumba is now overdue, but is something that will happen just as soon as the rains break up North, bringing on a flush of green vegetation and cooling the heat. (Elephants are very susceptible to heat stress, not having sweat glands and take time to adjust, having come from cooler climes). Both being bigger than the Nursery Matriarch Lenana, who has difficulty controlling them, as do the Keepers, they have been giving the girls (Lenana, Chyulu and Makena) a hard time by trying to mount onto them. They need now to have access to the discipline of older elephants to keep them in line and teach them manners, since bullying of youngsters is not tolerated in elephant society. Once they reach Ithumba, Yatta, Mulika, Napasha, Kinna and Nasalot will take them in hand, as will all the older boys who have preceded them through the Nursery, and whom they will remember.

Meanwhile, little Lesanju, who has always resisted being “possessed” by the older females, has evolved into a very caring Mini Minor Matriarch herself, now the leader of the smaller babies, embracing both newcomers as would a mother, and keeping Shimba (the only tiny boy) in line. Every morning she dashes to the stable of the others to greet them over the open top door and gather them into the fold to enjoy another day with her Lempaute and Shimba out in the bush with their Keepers. Her affection for the two latest arrivals has spawned some jealousy from Lempaute, who has previously enjoyed the uncontested position of “favourite”. Similarly both newcomers, (Sinya and Dida) each want to be Lesanju’s special baby, and vie for this status, pressed up against Lesanju at all times. Since Dida at just one month old is by far the smallest, little Sinya has also displayed some resentment. Meanwhile Shimba, who is a very calm character, plods along simply doing his own thing, enjoying the feeling of independence by sometimes choosing to feed apart from the four baby girls, rudely disrupted one morning when a herd of impala ran past scaring him and sending him scurrying back to the Keepers and the others in full cry!

Baby Dida has been extremely distressed when separated from the others for the night, even though her quarters abut those of Shimba and she can see him next door. Nevertheless, she made her feelings clear by crying pathetically until put actually in with him when she settled down. Obviously she is missing her mother sorely, and would like to suckle on Shimba’s ears, something to which he objects, pushing her away, so the Keepers give her their fingers as a comforter. Sometimes I feel that an elephant sized “dummy” or pacifier would relieve the situation, but then would come the problem of weaning them off it, which is never easy with human babies!

Several of the resident female warthogs have recently given birth, an event that normally coincides with the onset of the October/November rains, and one which always triggers a great deal of disturbance around the compound, for when the babies are brought out for the first time, the other resident pigs chase them around trying to kill them. Hence warthog infanticide has caused both human and elephant distress this month, as did a leopard when it seized one of the baby piglets on the 12th and took it to the top of a nearby tree, the distraught mother grunting loudly at the bottom. Hearing the piglet’s screams, the Keepers rushed to investigate, and were greeted by a loud roar from the leopard at the top of the tree, who released the now dead piglet which fell at their feet, at the same time jumping over the Keepers, sending them and the elephants fleeing in all directions!

September 2007 day to day

01 Sep

On a sunny day, as the baby group of the Nursery were heading out, Shimba pushed Lesanju, which initiated a fight between the two, in which Lempaute joined on the side of Lesanju. The fight went on for sometime, until we intervened to restore order.

Shimba at play

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