When he was found on the 17th October 2005, he was in a coma and as good as dead, and his elephant mother, if, indeed, the elephant with him was his mother, had given up all hope, for she was gently covering him with soft earth and leaves in an act of burial. For the first 8 weeks of life our precious little Ndololo, blind in both eyes, and living in darkness, struggled desperately to stay alive, beset by successive bouts of diarrheoa until desperately frail and skeletal, and we, his human family, conditioned ourselves to what appeared inevitable. We, too, had given up hope and braced ourselves to having to bury him at any moment. Not only was he blind in both eyes, making us wonder what sort of future he would face as an elephant bull amongst sighted and competitive peers, but his physical condition was so poor, and worsening with every passing day, that we were surprised each morning to see him still with us.
However, during those days of despair and anxiousness, his will to live and overcome adversity was demonstrated on a daily basis, and then suddenly and unexpectedly, having cut his first molars, he retreated from the jaws of death, and, amazingly, suddenly began to thrive. Day by day he taught us so much as he recovered his strength, demonstrating to us in an astonishing and mystifying way the proficiency and sophistication of the other senses with which elephants are endowed. Following just the tapping of a stick on the ground, he walked confidently close to a Keeper and soon he was strong enough to join the other Nursery babies in the forest during the hours of daylight, and even at their noon mudbath. Following cortisone and antibiotic ointment administered to his eyes at two hourly intervals, 24 hours a day, miraculously the milky covering of both eyes began to fade, and there was genuine hope and delight that one day soon, he would be able to see again.
Little Ndololo was a charmer who captured all hearts instantly and became the darling of the Elephant Nursery and the foster-elephant of hundreds of people in distant lands. He was our pride and joy and returned the love that was lavished on him by all who met him. He was the favourite of every Keeper; clever, intelligent and understanding, so very special in his dependency, and so quaint and amusing in how he made his wants and needs clear to all, in a forcibly gentle manner. He began to walk with growing confidence, even without the tapping of the stick, weaving his way through thickets, and even managing to kick the elephant’s football accurately during a game with the Keepers out in the forest one day, which left his human family convinced that the time had come when he could, in fact, see again. Mysteriously, he could detect the presence of his favourite Keeper, even when totally blind, either by scent or intuition, or perhaps a combination of the two. In short, therefore, we were overjoyed with his progress, and optimism replaced despondency. We were convinced that little Ndololo was going to become whole again, and end up as a full-grown member of the wild elephant Kingdom of Tsavo. Certainly, in character, intuition and intelligence, he had the makings of a very fine elephant bull.
But, it was not to be. Suddenly, in the afternoon of the 22nd January 2006 he missed one feed, and his Keepers reported that he seemed a little off colour. We were immediately anxious, and called the Vet, but then he rallied and seemed O.K., so we cancelled the Vet and concern faded. The next day, he fed well; his stools seemed normal but for signs of more than usual mucous, but being reluctant to turn to an oral antibiotic yet again, for in his short life he had had so many, we decided to wait and see. That night – the night of the 23rd January, his Night Keeper reported that he had not slept well, had missed a couple of feeds and seemed in pain, reluctant to lie on one side, but showing no other outward signs of exactly where the problem lay. Fearing the dreaded pneumonia, since we had just passed through an unusually cold spell for this time of the year, and having consulted the Vet by phone, we immediately gave him a broad spectrum antibiotic injection, to which he made his feelings known, nudging Angela, (who had administered the injection) determinedly from his stable, before turning again to place his head on the Keeper’s lap. Just fifteen minutes later in the morning of 24th January 2006, with one loud cry, he fell down and within the hour he was dead. Even before he drew his last breath, his favourite Keeper, knew instantly that he was gone, despite everyone else sure he was still alive. In Swahili, quietly as he approached Ndololo's head, he said, “Cover him – he has gone” and how he knew that at that particular moment, must surely be telepathy.
It seemed incomprehensible that he should be snatched from us with so little prior warning – fine one day and dead the next is a tough lesson one has to face with courage when dealing with the infant elephants, but it is something painful that never gets any easier, irrespective of the passage of time. And although it has happened to us many times before, somehow the loss of little Ndololo has been particularly painful. That day, tears flowed freely during a day that will always be remembered as one of the saddest in the Nairobi Nursery. His Keepers were especially overcome with grief and despair for they had nurtured him so diligently, and so caringly for 3 whole months, every moment of every day and every moment of every long night. They had walked beside him in his darkened world, tapping the ground with a stick, so that he could follow that signal with confidence of safe passage. They had slept with him cuddled close, administered his eye drops at two hourly intervals night and day, and joyfully watched his cloudy eyes clearing and beginning to see again. They had laughed with joy when he began to play, and smiled at his displeasure when his favourite Keeper left his side and another came on duty and took the watch. There was not a dry eye in our Nursery that day, and we know that there will be many wet eyes world-wide with the passing of our precious little blind elephant baby, Ndololo. In his short life he was deeply loved and had taught us so much, and in death he will be sorely missed, but never ever forgotten. We wish it could have ended otherwise, but right now, all we can say, is rest in peace, little Ndololo.
A Post Mortem carried out on the body of Ndololo revealed that he had died of acute Enteritis of the small intestine, due to an imbalance of digestive bacteria, possibly exacerbated by milk residue in the gut. He had obviously been battling this condition for some time because the lymph nodes were also enlarged. Baby elephants at his age would be taking greens from the mouth of a mother, which would not only provide the fibre needed to aid a more rapid passage of nutrients through the gut, but also provide adult saliva containing the correct stomach flora to aid digestion. So, the death of Ndololo has taught us yet another lesson learnt the hard way, and in future our elephant babies will be given a natural fibre supplement from the age of 3 months until l year old and encouraged to take food from the mouths of those older. Being blind, Ndololo never did this, and hence this was something that we never even thought of at the time. One lives, and learns.