Over much of Kenya you will find derelict land occupied by a few squatters. In our area of Laikipia there are two huge ranches that have been taken over by squatters. The land has been totally denuded and all the trees have been felled for charcoal. Here is a picture of a the boundary between a well managed private farm on the left and a farm that has been taken over by squatters on the right.
Why in gods name i ask is squatting a good idea? This land is worth millions of dollars. If this property could be purchased it would most likely be purchased by someone who would revive the natural habitat and manage for wildlife since tourism has been shown to be one of the best means of making a living in this area. The buyer would then need to employ many people to help look after the property as well as the businesses on it. It is likely that the buyer could hire more people than live there anyway. Squatting rights is one of those things i will never understand. Why a country like Kenya allows people to steal and destroy private property is beyond me.
We went recently to visit Tumaren at her new home at The Sheldrick Trust Orphanage. What a pleasure it was to see how happy she was with all her friends foraging in natural bush within Nairobi National Park.
I couldnt determine if Tumaren recongnized me after our long streesful night together a while back but his keeper felt that she did. She and many of the other young Elephants would suck our fingers which evidently allows them to get to know us. Another common method for greeting an elephant is to blow into its trunk.
After hanging with the Ele’s out in the bush for a while the keepers whistled and told them all it was time for milk. It was amazing to see how quickly they responded to the command, knowing exactly the routine and lining up for their march back to their comfortable quarters.
Back at milk time we met with the other group of orphans returning from their afternoon foraging. At the Sheldrick Elephant Baracks we were so impressed by the comfort and care provided to each and every orphan. Above each enclosure there was a hanging cot for each keeper. With baby elephants this is necessary as they are rather ‘needy’ and can deteriorate without companionship.
This year the orphanage has received more elephants than ever. The drought here is stressing the herds and many younger elephants are dying of starvation and even adults like Tumaren’s mum are succumbing to drought related illnesses. In times like this we must be very thankful that there is such a warm and caring place as the Sheldrick Orphanage.
Excellent news, the baby Aardvark (who we may have named Aarthur) has survived his operation. For three hours Dr. Dietter Rottcher and Dr. Sanjay Gautama worked on a broken hind femur which was snapped clear in 2. They put in a metal pin, a standard operation for a dog but for a species as different as an Aardvark, rather unchartered territory. Both Doctors reported just how different his anatomy was and how the articulation at the joints was utterly odd. Their best accesible anatomy book was for a Dog’s muscles which is rather like using a Ford Fairmount Manual to drive the Space Shuttle. The most frightening part of the surgery though was the anaesthesia.
As part of our research we contacted a series of specialist Vets and Curators connected to American Zoos. Dr. Roberto Aguilar Veterinary Advisor – Xenartha Taxon Advisory Group was very helpful in recomending specific drugs and techniques that have worked well for him in surgery with Aardvarks and Pangolins. I cant remember the specific drug that Dr. Rottcher used but he mentioned that it was an ‘old fashioned’ one and that he did not have access to many of the modern drugs mentioned in the email from Dr. Aguilar. This had us worried, especially when it took Aarthur so long to come out of his drugged state. When we visited him in the evening at 7pm Aarthur was still totally out of it and unable to drink or eat. This was 4 hours after the surgery. Under the close and compassionate care of the Rottcher Family though, Aarthur made it through the night drinking roughly 90 Ml of his milk and termite milk shake when he finally stirred in the early hours of the morning.
Now Arthur has been home with us for a full 24 hours. He is eating well and sleeping well and is living now by the foot of our bed in a wooden box to contain his movement of his injured limb. We are feeding him every 2-3 hours but hope that we can find an easier schedule as we get to know Aarthur’s needs. A number of people besides those mentioned above have been very helpful advising us on how best to care for an Aardvark. We thank them for their kindness and they are mentioned in no particular order below:
This baby Aardvark was found during one of our camel safaris on Aug. 28th. This morning I took him to the vet for an x-ray after sleeping with him in the same bed. He has a broken leg and rib. The leg surgery on Thursday will be long says Dieter Rottcher the leading wildlife vet here. We just hope he will make it till thurs….
Tumaren, as our Elephant had become known, spent the night in Hassan’s room at our main Office/Camp. She had a very long night pacing and bellowing in a shriek-type call i can only compare to the noises Dynosaurs make in hollywood films. Because she was under the same corrugated iron roof as everybody else it was a long night for all. Our original plan was to keep her window open so that she could check on me in my bed that i had set just beneath it. I had gone with this idea rather than sleeping inside the room because Tumaren was still quite feisty and she would have squashed me while i slept. The problem though that i found just as i was saying goodnight to Tumaren through the window was made quite clear as she launched both front feet up onto the sill and used her head and trunk to drag the rest of her body up so that she was teetering on the sill, trying to escape completly. Now i found myself in the strange position of wrestling an elephant alone at night in a window. I screamed for help. With the assistance of Leshilling and Tation we were able to get Tumaren back into the room. We then had to seal the window to prevent any further escapes.
After about 2 am Tumaren calmed a bit and while he kept pacing he stopped screaming. I got up every few hours to look in on him and allow him to smell me and be reassured.
In the morning we made a plan with some Kenya Wildlife Service representives to inspect Tumaren’s mum and get the go-ahead to send Tumaren to the orphanage in Nairobi. Mr. Dixon Too, Senior Warden for Laikipia and Senior Elephant Programme Co-ordinator Mr. Moses Litoroh.
After having a look at Tumaren’s mother they concluded, as we did the day before, that she should be put down. Afterward, It was a releif to know that she was no longer in pain and it was also good that we had removed Tumaren the night before so that she was not present at such a horrible moment.
As soon as we we able to, we called The Sheldrick Trust to notify them that Tumaren was ready for pick up. When back at the office we entered Tumaren’s room to calm her a bit before moving her. She was drinking well and even eating soft grasses that we picked for her.
After tying her legs, placing a blanket on her head and wetting down her skin a bit we drove Tumaren on her side to the Kimanjo Airstrip. From there she was picked up by a Boskovitch Airways Flight and brought successfully to the Orphanage.
We will keep you all up on Tumaren’s news as she fits in with the other orpahns. We are told to expect that she will loose some condition in the next week as she deals with the stress but that she should begin to regain condition after that period. Good Luck Tumaren!
Yesterday afternoon we received a report from one of our returning walking safari teams that they had passed a dying mother Elephant with one small young. The guys said that the elephant had appeared like it was sleeping but it was shortly realized that it could not stand up even as it struggled with the fear of approaching humans. Our team left the mother and young and returned to our camp to report what they had found. We jumped in the car and found this sad scene, the young female nibbling on her mums ear and appearing stressed and worried.
After deciding that the mother had a very short while to live, we decided to take the young Elephant to our camp rather than risk an almost certain death at night by Lion or Hyena. When we approached the little ele tried to defend her mum which was very heart breaking.
After a bit of a struggle we got the little elephant to the ground tied her feet and covered her eyes with a blanket to reduce stress. We then drove her to our camp where we lodged her in Hassan’s room.
With orphaned baby elephants it is important to reduce stress (as much as humanly possible), retain warmth and keep fluids up. This is why we had to keep the blanket on our little friend and also why I remained inside her room for long periods of time so that she would become accustomed to us and to realize that we were not going to threaten or kill her. To begin with she would ram me with incredible power into the wall. I learned to use the mattress below to divert her from squashing me completely matador style and then stroke and comfort her so that she knew that i was not going to harm her.
Conclusion of our long night to be told tomorrow as i slept very little last night. In the course of the evening we decided that our little friend should be named Tumaren.
In the past month a number of Elephants in our area have died of a strange, yet undiagnosed (atleast by us) disease. Our tracker Leshilling Lemanyass says that he has seen this problem with Elephants many times and that he suspects it effects their stomach and digestion. We have found two sick animals on us both of whom appeared to have trouble passing their manure (legs spread in a prolonged and uncomfortable looking way). Our guys who work for us as Rangers and as trackers on our safaris have also described skin problems corresponding with this disease. If anyone knows anything about this disease which has been killing many elephants in the greater Laikipia / Samburu area we would love to know the what it is. These sad pictures are of a young female that we found this morning as it was dying. Its mother was still guarding it and it was only for a few minutes that we were able to get to her. We assumed that she was already dead but she was still breathing but with no movement from any other part of her body besides her blinking eyelid. Very sad.
This is an image of the mother and matriarch guarding the body:
30 Wilddog at Tumaren yesterday drinking water about our river camp! I sent the pictures to the Laikipia Wilddog Project with two close ups of 2 of their collared animals. Kayna from the LWP was able to confirm the identity of both dogs based on markings, one of which was the alpha male. This particular pack also is one that typically spends more time north of here and it was informative for Kayna to know that they sometimes also frequent our area. Now she says that when she cant get a signal during their tracking flights that they will remember to cover our area as well to see if they are in our neck of the woods. Such incredible animals.
Here is an image of the dam we built here on Tumaren for our wildlife. It remains dry despite April being what should be the rainiest month of the year. We can only hope that May makes up for the lack of rain this month.
My concerns for the crocs in the Ewaso were confirmed the other day when Kerry and I passed a camp downstream at an area called Ntodo. We found 2 dead crocs that were hunted down while they hid pathetically in the last remaining hiding places on the river. A local Samburu that we spoke with said that they had killed 8 in the immediate area, most of whom had hidden under the fig treen in the photograph below. you can see in the images of the tree where they had cut the roots to access the crocs hiding underneath. the last image in of one of the crocs dead and still in his hiding place. all very sad and we can only hope that enough small crocs survive till the river starts flowing again. The worst part of this water disaster is that it has all been man-made. This is what happens when there is no water management, an excess of corruption and no enforcement of existing laws.