Keepers' Diaries, September 2008

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Nairobi Nursery Unit

It has been an exceedingly hectic month in the Nairobi Nursery, with another 3 infant elephant orphans having to be rescued and air-lifted to safety, bringing the total number in the Nursery to 14 – the most that we have ever had to handle at any one time. This has necessitated re-shuffling stables and doubling up elephants within all available sleeping quarters as well as having to hastily construct another new Stockade for the larger elephants. First to come in on the 7th September (invariably on yet another Sunday!) was 2 week old Kungu, a tiny male calf from the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy in Northern Kenya, extracted from a sand well dug in the steep Ngongu lugga 4 kms from the tourist Sarara Safari Camp. He arrived battered and bruised from his ordeal, but has rallied well and, so far, is thriving.

It has been an exceedingly hectic month in the Nairobi Nursery, with another 3 infant elephant orphans having to be rescued and air-lifted to safety, bringing the total number in the Nursery to 14 – the most that we have ever had to handle at any one time. This has necessitated re-shuffling stables and doubling up elephants within all available sleeping quarters as well as having to hastily construct another new Stockade for the larger elephants. First to come in on the 7th September (invariably on yet another Sunday!) was 2 week old Kungu, a tiny male calf from the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy in Northern Kenya, extracted from a sand well dug in the steep Ngongu lugga 4 kms from the tourist Sarara Safari Camp. He arrived battered and bruised from his ordeal, but has rallied well and, so far, is thriving.

Next to come in, thanks to a very dramatic helicopter rescue, was 4 week old Barseloi, discovered by tribesmen down a sand well dug in the Ndonyo lugga, also in Northern Kenya. Alerted by hyena activity at the lugga, a scout from the Milgis Trust managed to extract the calf with the help of the community and alert the Kenya Wildlife Service who kindly transported him to a remote outpost, something that took most of the day of the 12th September. Scout Lentekunye slept with him that night, keeping him warm, comforting him and keeping him hydrated with water. However, the Barseloi lugga flooded during the night which now precluded being able to walk the calf across to the nearest airfield at the Milgis Trust headquarters. Following frantic phone calls, and thanks to the help of Jamie and Phillipa Roberts, Chris Stewart, (the pilot of Mr. Halvor Astrup’s Helicopter), was eventually contacted at Shaba National Reserve where the Helicopter was operational at the time. (Mr. Astrup has long been a very generous supporter of the Trust responsible for saving the lives of several of our orphans - Lesanju, Seraa, Mweya from Uganda, Solango and now little Barseloi). We are deeply indebted to him for his generosity and assistance.

The Helicopter collected the calf from the remote Letakweny outpost but whilst flying over the forested Mathew range of hills, was forced into landing at Kitich Airstrip in the Mathews range since the calf began to struggle, fearful of the beat of the rotor blades. However, the Rescue Cessna Caravan and the Keepers were meanwhile awaiting the calf at Shaba airstrip, so this necessitated another plethory of phone calls, (never easy in Kenya) to divert the plane to Kitich, with time not on our side! There it, and the rescue team of Keepers were met by a curious crowd of colourful tribal spectators dressed in traditional garb who had come to see the unusual spectacle of a Helicopter on the ground and equally astounded by the baby elephant who was lying in Phillipa Roberts’ lap in the shade of a tree!

We are deeply indebted to Mr. Halvor Astrup, yet again for allowing us the use of his Helicopter, and to Chris Stewart, Jamie and Phillipa Roberts and the Milgis Scout Lentekunye for little Barseloi’s life. His was one of the most dramatic rescues we have ever had to undertake.

The next arrival on the 16th September was another male calf, estimated to be about l4 months old, who had been spotted over several days coming into drink always alone at the Kilaguni waterhole in Tsavo West National Park. This little calf, named “Mzima”, was exceedingly feeble on arrival and it is a miracle that he did not fall prey to hyenas or lions. He was too weak for aggression, and was unusually docile for an orphan of this age, instantly accepting the Keepers and the milk they offered. Often such calmness is not a good sign, but we are happy to report that little Mzima has rallied, and is doing well, relieved to find himself part of another elephant and human “family” the day after his arrival. Having been without milk for so long, he simply can’t get enough of it, but because he is a starvation case, caution has to be exercised in this respect. He also had to be de-wormed encumbered by an overload of intestinal parasites, something common amongst elephants who have had to share pasture with domestic stock. (Unhappily, cattle have infiltrated parts of Tsavo National Park, and the authorities seem politically unable to get them out).

Kungu’s swollen chin inhibited his feeding for several days but once the swelling subsided, he began to recover and thrive. Meanwhile, Suguta has developed an abscess on one leg and this is having treatment. The three smallest babies spend their days nearer to home, since the older elephants need to go further afield in order to browse throughout the day. Suguta is very bonded to the Keepers, always desperate for the comfort of sucking on the Keepers’ hands, but little Barseloi and Kungu hang together, Barseloi eager to show that he is “top dog” by mounting onto Kungu in a display of
One-up-manship!

Lesanju and Lempaute share the Matriarchal responsibility for those with them, backed up by Sinya but find this an exacting task, since Taveta is prone to sneaking off ahead of time in order to intercept the milk wheelbarrow on its way out to the bush, something that Kimana, Wasessa and Mzima have also begun to emulate! Lempaute is very possessive of Lesanju, and sometimes resents the proximity of Sinya. She remains the extravert member of the Nursery, always eager to show off in front of the visitors.

Wasessa is still psychologically disturbed, displaying anxiousness around strange humans, with ears up, as well as being intolerant of smaller new arrivals, something that is not usual for any female elephant irrespective of age. She guards Dida jealously, pushing Taveta and Mzima away whenever they come close. Taveta is a very friendly little elephant, always eager to walk along the cordon that separates the visitors during the mudbath hour, something that Mzima has begun to copy which has made Taveta a little disapproving, since he regards this as his privilege! Siria is a very gentle and loving character, friendly to all, but quite competitive towards Shimba. As for Shimba – he is the most mellow of all the Nursery inmates and has put on so much weight that he resembles a barrel on short legs!

The new influx of inmates has necessitated quite an upheaval in the sleeping arrangements, which is always disruptive until everyone settles down and gets used to their new allotted quarters. However, to begin with elephant trumpets and bellows intersperse the other night sounds so here the nights are often not very quiet. Sinya, Lesanju and Lempaute now share a new Stockade. Kungu, and Barseloi are in two of the three front stables, with Kenia and Suguta in the two side stables. Dida and Kimana share the larger one formerly occupied by Shimba, with Taveta next door. Siria has been promoted to the Stockade formerly occupied by Lesanju and Lempaute with Shimba and Mzima sharing the one next door. Only Wasessa and Kenia remain where they have always been.

The Rhinos:- Shida, who is now 5 years old, integrated into the wild Nairobi Park rhino community and totally Keeper independent, continues to return almost every day to check out blind Maxwell, spar with him through the separating bars of the Gate, and put himself back in his Nursery Stockade during the open public viewing hour as well as the evening viewing period for foster-parents. A “hot wire” around sensitive parts of the compound, such as the Garage, Workshops and Daphne and Angela’s homes prevents him from sharpening his horn against car bumpers, testing his strength by heaving them up, and trying to get into our houses to demolish the pot plants. But, his arrival remains the highlight of Maxwell’s dark life, and it is good to know that he is alright, especially now that poaching has escalated since the ill-informed decision of CITES to license China as a legal buyer of the Southern ivory stockpiles.

September 2008 day to day

01 Sep

Suddenly, the Nursery elephants were trumpeting and running here and there, and when we went to investigate, we found Shida (the large rhino) engaged in a play-pushing match with Lempaute and Shimba! As soon as Shida saw the Keepers, he ran off into the bush.

Shida

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