He was one of the most uncomplicated babies we had ever had to cope with, rescued from the mud of drying Lake Jipe on the 2nd October 2004, nearly three months ago, just a week or so old when found, trusting and loving from the start. From the day be came to the Nursery, he thrived, gained weight, played, romped and was a huge favourite with all the other Nursery orphans as well as the Keepers and the visitors. As a minute newborn calf he was filled with childish exuberance and personality, and possessed of a wisdom and comprehension beyond his tender age. He brought immense joy into the daily lives of all who knew him, saw him, or even just read about him. He was, quite simply, our pride and our joy and the favourite baby of all the Nursery Keepers.
Driving back from Tsavo on the morning of the 20th December, a chilling phone call reached us en route, which left us gutted. Jipe was seriously ill. He had been playful and happy the evening before; he had romped back home to his Nursery stable, taken his quota of milk with enthusiasm, was plump and in good condition, despite the usual teething problems that are usually accompanied by loose stools, but from which he had recovered; took his 9 p.m. feed with relish, and then refused all the other 3 hourly feeds. As the night progressed, he became weaker, and passed copious quantities of loose (but normal-looking) faeces for an infant artificially milk fed elephant baby, then began frothing at the mouth, and moments before death, had froth appearing at the end of the trunk – an indication of respiratory failure. Within 30 minutes of receiving that chilling phone call, our little Jipe, was dead. We simply could not believe it – and nor could Dr. Rottcher, our Vet, who had come first thing in the morning to administer an antibiotic injection, and planned on coming later to check on the patient.
So, what killed our little Jipe? The post-mortem undertaken by the K.W.S. Veterinary pool suggested wrong feeding – but Jipe had thrived and gained weight over a three month period on the same formula that has successfully reared 62 other infant elephants, including two from the day they were born! According to the Post Mortem report, what killed him was something that caused intense fermentation in the stomach, producing gases that blew up his intestines, probably pressed on the lungs, and caused respiratory failure that took him from us. Was it the Klebsiella that had taken two other Nursery elephants, suddenly, and unexpectedly; was it a poison of some sort – something he had inadvertently eaten, such as a noxious weed, or a toad; or could it possibly be the result of a bite from a snake?
We will never know for sure, but whatever it was, it was unexpected and frighteningly swift, taking a healthy Nursery inmate from us in a truly mysterious and inexplicable way, that has left a dark cloud over what promised to be a wonderful Christmas, with Jill, Daphne’s daughter, and two grand-daughters back from France after an absence of two long years. But, having worked with infant elephants for 50 years now, Daphne has to keep reminding herself of others who have left us mystified and heart-broken, and others who have brought us great satisfaction and joy, and yet others – sadly too many of them – yet to come who will need our help, and the support of all those caring foster-parents of little Jipe, who, like us, will be deeply saddened by this loss. He would expect all of us to carry on, in the knowledge that his life did not end as it would have done in the mud of drying Lake Jipe, but ended instead surrounded by an out-pouring of care and love from all his weeping keepers, in a warm stable, with Sunyei next door. Jipe will be sadly missed – so sadly missed, and never forgotten by all who knew and loved him. It was a privilege to have been entrusted with your care, even if for just a very short time and we must give thanks for your short life, and pray for others who will follow, leaving elephant mothers and family equally as grief-stricken as we all are today.