Among the many wild animals we count as friends, our 'zebra friend' holds a special place in our hearts. Like the knights of yore, this brave fellow keeps us on our toes with his adventures — and, occasionally, his misadventures!
Wild animals have always gravitated towards our field outposts. They clearly understand that we are a benevolent presence and pose no threat to them. However, our zebra friend takes it to the next level. Over the years, he and his harem have taken up residence at our Kaluku Field Headquarters. They stroll along the workshop roads and nap in the shady trees. They help themselves to Apollo's leftover lucerne beneath the baobab tree and often sleep just outside the orphans' stable blocks. But above all else, they love the airstrip. This has become their 'turf' and they are permanent fixtures there. As our pilots and engineers go about their work, our zebra friend stands nearby, watching over his beloved wives and foals.
It must be said, however, that this zebra is a rather high maintenance friend. He is fiercely protective of his wives and babies, which gets him into all sorts of scraps. In April 2020, after disappearing for a worrying ten days, he arrived on the airstrip with his wives in attendance. When he made a beeline for the men working onsite, it became clear that this was a call for help: He had an arrow head embedded deep into his neck. As Dr Poghon of our SWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Vet Unit removed the arrow (which, miraculously, had just missed his jugular vein), his wives patiently stood by. They understood full well that he was in friendly hands and were remarkably unstressed by the proceedings.
Last month, he sought our help again. A skirmish with a lion had left him a bit worse for wear and, while his injuries were not life-threatening, our Tsavo Vet Unit was happy to lend a helping hand. In fact, we had many hands on deck: Because the zebra is such a familiar face, our orphans have also become very friendly with them. Several members of our orphan herd arrived at the scene to inspect proceedings.
We all welcomed several drama-free weeks on the zebra front. But then, tragedy struck when a younger stallion suddenly appeared on the scene. Male zebras establish dominance by fighting over females. Such was the case with our poor zebra friend. He surely fought hard, but the younger stallion prevailed and stole his harem away. Watching our friend make his lonely patrols along the airstrip, as the striped usurper and his harem grazed in the near distance, we couldn’t help but lament the harsh realities of our natural world.
Little did we know, however, that our friend was planning a counter-attack. As dusk fell earlier this week, we found the harem just along our workshop road. They were close enough to touch and made no attempt to move as we passed. This was confusing behaviour, because their new patriarch was wary of our presence and never allowed such close contact. We wondered what had suddenly changed.
But then, a familiar figure emerged from the shadows. Our confusion turned to jubilation when we realised the stallion was not the usurper, but our zebra friend! He had won back his harem — but based on the wounds checkering his body, it had clearly been a hard-fought battle. Worst of all, his left eye was grossly engorged and milky white, either from a well-aimed kick or a bite. It was time to call in another favour for our zebra friend.
KWS veterinary Dr Njoroge was already at Kaluku for a Sky Vets operation, so we were able to organise a same-day treatment . By now, his harem knows the drill, so they barely blinked an eye as the team anaesthetised our zebra friend and got to work. Our Aerial Unit, who have come to see the stallion as one of our own, lent a helping hand — as, again, did some curious members of our orphan herd! While the damage to the eye is severe, Dr Njoroge is optimistic that he will make a full recovery.
Our zebra friend is already on the mend, and in the fullness of time, his eye should return to normal. But with his wives and babies back by his side, he has already gotten back what matters most to him.