Kiko's brush with lions

Published on the 8th of March, 2019

Kiko is doing well, following an incident with a lioness. We quickly scared off his would-be assailant and while he sustained several injuries, one successful veterinary operation later, we're pleased to report he's recuperating well and even has a new home lined for the future.

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Kiko our orphaned giraffe has been lovingly raised from newborn after his mother was killed by a grisly wire snare on the boundary of Meru National Park, a victim of the bushmeat trade. Kenya Wildlife Service rangers rescued her tiny newborn baby and he was flown quite literally in a kikapu (a woven basket) to our Nairobi Nursery over three years ago now.

Kiko is very much part of the family fold, roaming free within the Nairobi National Park during the day, with the baby elephants as regular play-mates. During those times he has had the opportunity to fraternize with all manner of wild animals that live in the Park, wild giraffe included, but strangely he has shown little interest in his own kind.

Kiko has always been a contrary boy, very much marching to his own beat, and as a result he cannot be coerced into doing what he doesn’t feel like doing! We have had to put up ‘Kiko barriers’, preventing him from returning into the midst of the compound during the day, as this is where he would choose to be if left to his own devices. As he grew bigger and his precarious long limbs extended, this seemed like a bad idea, so he has been encouraged to venture further afield into the forest in the company of his Keepers.

Despite being just over three years old Kiko has grown into an imposing animal, almost outgrowing his stable, which he adores and in which shares a peep window with orphan elephant Luggard next door to him. Recently it was felt however, that the time had come to do better for his increasingly growing height, and make him a customized stockade with a raised roof for the night. This was customised with extra high wooden posts of over 16 feet tall and an elevated shaded area for him too.

He was moved into this stockade during the nights and appeared very happy in it but, weeks later at 3.00 am, in the darkness of the 23rd January, three lions circled his stockade and incredibly one managed to jump into the enclosure. How she scaled that height remained a mystery but the morning revealed that she had quite literally clawed her way up the wooden posts into the boma. Thankfully Keeper Ciprian, sleeping next door in one of the elephant stockades, heard Kiko's kicking, and immediately roused to investigate - that was it because giraffes don’t make any audible sound, so other than the thuds of his hooves there was no other noise. On closer investigation Ciprian saw two lions outside the stockade, their eyes glowing red in the torch light, and immediately summoned reinforcements. In no time the night guards and the Keepers on night duty rallied and the lioness inside the enclosure leaped from the confines and disappeared. She must have been worse for wear with the amount of violent kicking Kiko was doing.

At first glance Kiko’s injuries looked fairly innocuous in the dimmed light but he was clearly very disturbed by events. Angela Sheldrick and Robert Carr-Hartley were alerted to the drama as it unfolded and they too immediately joined the increasingly large congregating group that converged around Kiko’s stockade. The whole rescue party remained on site until day break to ensure no further drama unfolded and that the lions did not return, and most of all that Kiko had the comfort and security he needed at this most vulnerable time.

Day break revealed some nasty injuries; a bite to his back right knee, claw marks on his rump and a rather nasty claw tear of his skin under his leg on his stomach. Angela immediately coordinated efforts with the Sheldrick Trust funded Mount Kenya Mobile Veterinary Unit, headed by KWS Veterinary Officer Dominic Mjele who has great experience with darting and roping wild giraffe having been called upon often to save them from wire snares and other poaching injuries. Of all the wild animals to dart and treat giraffe are some of the more challenging and it is only those with field experience that we felt confident to entrust Kiko’s life to.

Dominic prepared to leave immediately along with his vastly experienced KWS Capture Unit Rangers who treat multiple giraffe every month in their daily duties as resident Veterinary Officers in Southern Laikipia, Mt. Kenya and the Aberdare National Park. While the team traveled down from Nanyuki, we navigated Kiko from his stockade into the larger upper compound to Maxwell’s stockade. Maxwell’s large boma provided enough space for Kiko to remain safe but the confines ensured a managed environment for this sensitive procedure.

Once Dr. Dominic Mjele and the Mt. Kenya team arrived on site, around midday, they took a close look at the area of the injuries and then wasted no time in preparing themselves for the task ahead. After darting Kiko, it took ten minutes for the immobilization drugs to take effect and he was then roped down by the KWS Capture Unit Rangers, aided by our own SWT team of Keepers.

He didn’t make matters easy by ending up in a confined corner of the stockade under a big tree, so with limited space they maneuvered him into a good position for Dominic to operate. He was then immediately revived from anesthesia using 36mgs of diprenorphine Hcl combined with 50mgs of Naltreqone Hcl administered through the jugular vein. From that moment on he was physically restrained by just using ropes tied on the front and hind legs as the treatment commenced. This is the necessary procedure when operating on giraffe due the many factors that need to be considered. Still sedated, the treatment took over twenty minutes given how carefully every wound was cleaned and the bigger tears cleaned and then carefully stitched. All the necessary drugs were administered to ensure he would make a full recovery.

The lions had injured Kiko on the stifle (knee) joints, made a large tear of the skin at the right flank under the leg, and he had several scratch marks on his back and hind legs. He had two deep and extensive wounds of about 20cms and 5cms respectively on the right flank that ripped the skin tearing the superficial abdominal muscles almost breaking the abdominal wall. The injuries were filled with antibiotics and green clay packed into them to stave off any infection.

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Kiko coped with the operation well and, once it was completed, he was freed of the ropes that were wrapped around his legs ensuring he couldn’t lash out and kick Dr. Mjele while he worked. Eventually he rose to his feet still drowsy, yet calm. For the rest of the day Kiko remained in the same stockade with all of his most favourite acacia greens cut for him to enjoy.

He was off his milk bottle and hardly fed on any milk for a few days but in time he was back to his old self. For night times Kiko has been returned to his old stable and was deeply comforted being back there, knowing full well he was totally safe from any prowling opportunistic lions in there and happy to be united with his old friend Luggard. He has been on a lengthy course of antibiotics, and has been kept in a large stockade (Maxwell’s extension) while he recovers, always in the company of two Keepers. Amazingly the lions have returned on multiple occasions in day light and without his Keepers he would be in trouble again.

Ironically, only the week before this drama unfolded Angela had traveled upcountry to Sirikoi, a beautiful protected area abutting Lewa Conservancy, to negotiate a wonderful home for Kiko for the next phase of his life - a phase that will eventually shepherd him into a wild life but one where he will remain safe and relatively sheltered to begin with. This will be a slow process as he is still young and needs to grow in confidence, before finally severing his ties with humans to hopefully preferring the company of wild reticulated giraffe. In Nairobi, the giraffe are different sub-species to Kiko, being of the Masai variety, so he cannot be reintegrated into the National Park here.

The wonderfully unique and ideal situation of Sirikoi is that they have a female hand-raised giraffe there (slightly older than Kiko) who wanders between both her worlds, and she will make a great friend for him, should Kiko choose to accept her friendship! The necessary permissions for this move to take place have to be granted by KWS and the letter requesting this approval was submitted a week before this incident. We now must wait for Kiko to heal 100% and regain his strength before considering this next phase, but we are delighted to report that he has improved enormously, is healing beautifully and we feel very fortunate that he managed to survive what could have been a terrible tragedy.

Thank you to all those whose fostering support has enabled us to look after Kiko all these years, and now more recently save him.