He was a Nursery favourite, cosetted by all the .little “Elephant Mothers” of the Nursery, the companion and playmate to tiny “Kithaka”, fostered and loved by many caring Supporters from many parts of the world and adored by us all. However, 3 week old Sasab, had always been a candidate for the dreaded pneumonia having been washed down the flooded Uaso Nyiro river and retrieved near Sasaab Camp in the Kipsing area of Samburu tribal land. The likelihood of him having ingested water into his baby lungs was real and sinister.
Baby elephants cut their first molars between the age of 1 and 4 months, and over the years experience has taught us that this is a critical period for the infant elephants, who arrive with a depressed immune system having been orphaned and been deprived of mother’s milk at a time when newborns need to suckle their elephant mother about once every ten minutes. Sasab began the teething process soon after arrival which always brings about fevers, loose stools and loss of appetite, the combination of which can prove life threatening, strangely enough seemingly more so in the baby boys than the girls. One then walks a tight-rope trying to gauge when, and if, to resort to an oral antibiotic, aware that antibiotics destroy stomach flora and can exacerbate the problem but on the other hand, diarrheoa and a depressed appetite combine to contribute to a rapid loss of body condition which, in turn, can lead to further problems! Infant elephants are extremely fragile and difficult to rear on artificial formula which sadly is a far cry from mother’s milk.
Little Sasab suffered a triple “whammy” having been with us just one month. He began teething and had the usual loose stools, contracted pneumonia, (for which we administered a strong injectible antibiotic in an attempt to save him); but the loose stools masked the onset of gastro enteritis that destroyed the lining of his gut. When he began passing blood in his stools, we resorted to oral Sulphadimidine but it was too late. Tragically, we lost him on the 8th December, when most of his teeth were actually through the gum. His death was a depressing and very sad event albeit one we have had to endure all too often in the past, but to which one never becomes immune. Tears were aplenty, as were the saddest words of the English language – “If Only” - words we have used umpteen times in the past, but it never gets any easier. He will be sorely missed by his elephant Nursery peers, his many foster-parents, and most of all by us and his loving Keepers who struggled so hard to save him.