My foster elephant, Ajabu, has passed away.

Heartbreak at the Nairobi Nursery

It is with profound heartbreak and sorrow that we have to announce the death of our precious Nursery baby, Ajabu, rescued the day she was born on the 4th April, 2013 having been found abandoned near the Tsavo East Park airstrip.   Upon arrival she was given an infusion of Elephant Plasma since it appeared unlikely that she had been able to benefit from her mother’s first Colostrum milk that contains the antibodies vital to survival.   Thereafter she thrived, fed milk on demand throughout the day and the night, and diligently protected from the chill by being always covered with a warm blanket.

She was late in teething, but when she began cutting her first molar, the usual difficulties appeared, but Ajabu never lost her appetite and weathered them, managing to cut 2 molars by the time of her death.  However during August, whilst we as a family were down in Tsavo overseeing our field projects, it was noticed that Ajabu’s  back feet were  turning inwards slightly, which in the past, according to our experience, has baffled everyone but  been a pre-cursor to the death of infant teething elephants.   This was extremely alarming – a sign that all was not well with our precious Nursery baby.

Then on the morning of the 21st August, her Keepers reported that fluid was coming from her trunk, and that, unusually, she had refused her usual morning milk feeds and was “dull”.   Our donated Blood Diagnostic machine was out of order, and has been sent to Germany for repair, so a sample of her blood was sent to the Nairobi Hospital for analysis. The results astounded us for everything was normal but for an extremely low platelet count. With no indication of a bacterial or viral infection, the suspected pneumonia could be ruled out.   Could the platelet defect be as a result of a Vitamin D deficiency, through not having been exposed to sufficient sunshine during the very cold and miserable Nairobi winter months of June, July and August?   Ajabu had been protected from chill and the possibility of pneumonia (a major killer of baby elephants) by being covered by a blanket when out and about.   Could this have proved counterproductive with this newborn calf?

She was put on intravenous plasma drip in an attempt to  boost her platlet count, but tragically, little Ajabu while comfortably lying on her mattress in her stable stopped breathing in the evening of the 21st, and surrounded by her grief-stricken human family she passed away very quietly and peacefully at 8 p.m.

The death of such a cosseted infant elephant is a heartbreak indeed for many.   She was  so dearly loved by us and all her Keepers,  as well as by her foster-parents throughout the world who have diligently followed her progress through the Fostering Programme’s monthly  Keepers’ Diaries.   She will also be deeply missed by all her little elephant friends currently in the Nursery, none more so than Sonje her very special surrogate mini mum. But, we have to emulate the wild Elephant mothers who suffer bereavement so stoically and bravely, and who despite grieving and mourning a loss as deeply as us humans (perhaps even more so), yet set us the example by having the fortitude and endurance to turn the page and focus on life and the living.   We must give thanks that we were able to share the life of little Ajabu which for her were almost 5 very happy months that otherwise would have been denied her.   And that during that time she was surrounded by caring and the same boundless love that her human family would have given her, and that she had a pain-free and peaceful end overseen by those who cared and loved her deeply.

For us, the need to focus on the living came within 30  minutes of Ajabu’s death, for yet another tragic infant elephant orphan arrived in the Nursery, rescued and flown in from Tsavo East National Park, landing in the night and arriving at the Nursery shortly afterwards.   This new yearling baby is emaciated and far from well – in the usual fragile condition of those who simply can no longer keep up with the herd where the Elephant Matriarch has had to make the decision to focus on the living.

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