Monday, 3 November 2014

Meet Mphamvu: the latest addition to the orphans!

A few days after my last post, we rescued a little two and a half year old baby elephant, and this feisty little thing has taken up most of my time since! (Hence the lack of days off… and blog posts!)

Meet Mphamvu...

We heard reports of a lone calf wandering for a few days near Ngoma (in the South of Kafue National Park), but attempts had failed to track it down.  However, on the 17th September, The Kafue Research Project team spotted 2.5 year old calf wandering alone in the open about 15km from the Kafue Release Facility.
They alerted us and lead us directly to the elephant who was still wandering in the open. Judging by his condition he had been alone for some time, he was dehydrated and in need of nutrition and care. It was nearing the end of day and he would be very vulnerable to predators if left alone for much longer, so the decision was made to immediately transport him to camp. It took a team of 7 to load this small but heavy baby onto the vehicle. We drove slowly with it back to camp, and gently lifted the baby off the vehicle and walked it in to a stable at the boma. As his 'fight or flight' adrenaline kicked in this was not an easy task needing a lot of strength to steer him in the correct way!  The keepers managed to get essential rehydration fluids in to him but it took him a while to understand that the keepers were there to help him. Overall it was probably the fastest rescue in EOP history, taking less than an hour to restrain him and get him safely in a stable!

Thank you to Polly Morgan for some of these photos

The name Mphamvu fits him perfectly, as it means “strong” in Nyanja, which this feisty little elephant definitely is! It took a while to gain trust in the keepers to feed from the bottle, but he soon realised that the milk tasted good, he started to settle down. Even though outwardly strong, we soon realised his immune system was impaired, and he gave his keepers, and me and Theo a few scares and sleepless nights!

These involved many trips to and from the boma in the early hours, the scout trying to keep up with me, marching to and from the office with essential medical supplies. Also a few times waking up our released male Chodoba, who likes to sleep on the boma path. The first time when I saw his head pop up behind the grass less than a metre a way from me, I don't know who was more surprised - me or him!Every night that we were urgently called to the boma, the youngest female Kavala would always appear nearby his pen. One of the times that I was rushing out of the inner boma (to get hot water bottles and more glucose drips) I was confronted face to face with a very curious Kavala in the darkness, as I was squeezing through a small gap in the fence. She always wanted to know what was going on! (and if there was any milk around more than likely!) We had to put extra fencing up as little Rufunsa could easily slip through the gaps, and we had been instructed by ZAWA that the new baby was not allowed to interact with the other orphans just in case he had a disease that could be passed on.

We managed to stabilise his health and get him on track. On the 26th September, we opened up his pen allowing him to walk around the inner boma, (after putting an additional fence up outside to stop the other elephants from being able to reach him). I thought he would zoom right out, breaking for freedom the moment he could. I was armed with a video camera and waited, waited and waited some more. Every now and again a nervous trunk would poke out at the opening and then immediately retreat back.  Eventually he was gently coaxed out by Theo, Keeper Eldridge and a milk bottle! Theo made a mudding spot for him, and tried to encourage his interest in it. He would just follow Theo around unsure of what to do. Gave Theo a little shove, and then continued to follow him around again!
Thank you to Polly Morgan for some of these photos

I think Mphamvu has a love/hate relationship towards Theo. He was the first, and probably the strongest (and so scariest) voice he heard while he was being rescued. Theo has always had to administer drips, injections etc. He pulled out maggots from an infected wound by his eye, and helped the vet the next day pull even more maggots out... 30 to be exact! He has tricked him into eating yukky medicine by fooling him with his favourite fruits Mubula's. Yet he has comforted him, and been there for him, and helped him. I think this is why he wants to follow him, but also give him a sneaky push when he's not looking!

Whereas I had an overall positive experience with him in his eyes, I was the one who talked to him calmy, fed him apples to distract him from being sprayed with wound spray or whatever. Young elephants can get depressed after they have been rescued, so before he could make bonds with the other elephants its up to the keepers to fill in the space of his family. As soon as I would call his name he would come eagerly over to me, drape his trunk over the fence and smell me. He was having trouble sleeping at this point, and I found if I stood near by him, he would sleep stand quite peacefully with his little trunk relaxed against the ground.

By the 2nd October, even his tusk sites, which were previously surrounded by a smelly pus (indicating an infection) had cleared up nicely and tiny little tusks could see seen just poking through!

On the 7th October, after we got the ‘all clear’ from his blood test results, he was finally allowed to interact with the other orphans. We started a gradual interaction process, allowing the others to interact with him through the inner boma fence. Giving him the control of who he wanted to approach and when (and also giving him the choice to retreat back to his stable if it got a bit overwhelming!)

Thank you to Jeni Jack for some of these photos

Kavalamanja, the youngest female, who had been keeping a close eye on him since he was recused, was the first to approach him. Interestingly, the longest interaction was with Kafue, the only other elephant rescued from within Kafue National Park itself. After greeting (top right photo), Kafue shared Mphamvu’s bucket of water peacefully (bottom left). Oldest female Chamilandu was next to approach, but was a bit too enthusiastic when trying to investigate him, resulting in him quickly returning to the security of his stable.

When the orphans returned to the boma in the evening it was Tafika’s turn to investigate the new baby. Smelling him all over (bottom right), Mphamvu responding calmly and they fed on branches together. These social interactions are vital in forming bonds with his new family who will be essential for his emotional recovery.

In mid October Mphamvu went from strength to strength, as he was interacting more with the other orphans, and got to know his environment better. A particular favourite of his is spending time mudding at the water hole in the outer boma. One lunch time he even managed to get a bit stuck in the sloshy mud - his keepers were quick to give him a helping hand out again! Here he is with Batoka (top left) and Kafue (top left, bottom left).

After their initial greeting through the fence, bonds with Kafue and Kavala seemed to have endured, as Mphamvu seemed most relaxed in their gentle company. However, four year old Rufunsa hasn’t been quite as welcoming, and has been giving Mphamvu somewhat of a hard time! Normally this is when Rufunsa's surrogate mother, Chamilandu paid Mphamvu any attention… I am hoping that they can sort out their 'sibling rivalry' in time!

Even though Mphamvu is starting to get used to his new family and surroundings, he still goes to the keepers in times of uncertainty (for example if Rufunsa comes near him!) or if its milk bottle time!! Here he is with Keeper James…

I will continue to give updates on Mphamvu, hopefully soon I will be able to update that he has been out with the other orphans on a walk in Kafue National Park, the next step to get back to where he belongs!

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