She was deeply loved and will be most sorely missed. It is with a great sense of loss and immense sadness that we have to report the death of 18 month old elephant orphan “Mawenzi”, who after a long period of being unwell and never thriving as she should, finally lost the battle and died on Sunday 8th August. What ailed Mawenzi defeated all the Vets as well as ourselves. She never suffered from diarrhoea to indicate digestive problems; no fluid was exuded from the trunk to indicate the dreaded pneumonia which has taken so many of our infant elephants over the years. She was treated 3 times for stomach parasites, underwent oral antibiotic courses when her stools became a little too soft or too frequent, or showed signs of mucous, and also underwent repeated injectible antibiotic courses of both Nuroclav and Enrofloxacine. Periodic blood tests revealed a high white cell count which indicated some sort of infection – but where and what remained a mystery until after her death.
An autopsy on the body of this little elephant was a “must”, for in this way we learn, and with every new orphaned elephant there are lessons to be learnt – even after having handled newborn elephants for over 50 years, as has Daphne Sheldrick. One never ever knows it all. The autopsy revealed two things – necrotic tissue in the small intestine, which would have inhibited the absorption of nutrients and, over and above that, a massive build up of fluid around the heart to indicate a serious heart malfunction. What infection insensitive to three different antibiotics could have destroyed the small intestine is yet to be known. Hopefully further tests on sample tissue will be able to reveal more. However, the heart problem was probably a genetic defect with which she was most probably born. After the sudden death of orphan Nchan from a burst duodenal ulcer (which we never even had cause to suspect), we treated Mawenzi homeopathically for ulcers, just in case this could have been the cause of her illness, but with no improvement.
For over a year, we have watched the gradual decline of little Mawenzi, as the other orphans overtook her in terms of growth, and health. We began to accept that this little elephant was one that would not make old bones, just like “Mweiga” who also died from a heart defect, and more recently, “Sian” who had only one lung! Mawenzi was another little elephant whose genes Nature’s most powerful tool of Natural Selection decreed would never be passed on. But, even though we now know all that, and death brings closure, it does not ease the pain for the loss of a loved one, and each and every little elephant that comes into our care is deeply loved and precious not only to all of us who have been privileged to have known them intimately, and are with them day and night in the Nairobi Nursery for at least their first two years of life, but also by hundreds of foster-parents throughout the world who have chosen them as the elephant “icon” whose life people will follow through the monthly Keepers’ Diaries and who also learn to love them. Mawenzi had many hundreds of those, and each and every foster-parent will share our tears and the hollow sense of failure and loss.
We take comfort in knowing that we did everything we possibly could and must give thanks that Mawenzi, the little elephant hauled from a Meerschaum well at the foot of towering Mt. Kilimanjaro exactly 2 years ago, was loaned to us for nearly two years, and that now she is beyond all suffering and at peace, Somewhere in the Great Somewhere. During her short life, she was surrounded by an outpouring of concern, care and love, and she died, not alone down a deep dark well hearing the footfall of her elephant family growing ever more distant, but in the arms of her new family of grieving Keepers, who closed her eyes forever, certain that there must surely be one more little elephant angel in Heaven. Rest in Peace Mawenzi. You will remain in our hearts forever.