During the month of March 2024, we encountered a few weeks of ups and downs when it came to Phabeni’s health. This is always stressful for the team as calves are so fragile and can make a turn for the worse quickly without you knowing why. While Phabeni is doing well now, we wanted to share insight into what we have been busy with on the ground to ensure his health and well-being.

Adine had to leave the reserve for a work trip in the United States. Before going, she looked over Khanyisa’s file, Mopane’s file, Timisa’s file. It was clear from these that between four and five months after arrival, the elephant orphans take a turn, and their condition drops. They stop drinking their milk. They get diarrhea. In these instances, our wildlife vet Dr. Rogers put the orphans on drips to hydrate them. We sourced blood from a donor elephant in the herd and carried out a blood transfusion to increase the calf’s albumin. 

While Adine was away, Phabeni showed that he had gained weight during his usual 6 am weighing on our livestock scale. Later in the day, after returning from being with the herd in the bush, he drank his 8 pm bottle. Just after that, his dung looked a bit loose. The next day at 6 am the dung looked better, but Phabeni would not take his 10 am and 12 pm bottles. He drank some of his 8 pm bottle but left 141 ml. He was a bit cranky and pushy. It was hot – 32’C. The Wi-Fi at the orphanage was slow and Joshua struggled to send Adine the normal video updates, which are important so that Adine can help monitor Phabeni around the clock.

Joshua sent Adine a photograph of the wound on Phabeni’s rear, where he was darted with a tranquiliser in November during his rescue. The wound had been healing nicely, but then it would make a sort of pimple and burst with puss. it would heal, burst, get cleaned, heal, build and burst, get cleaned, and so the cycle repeated itself.

The next day, Phabeni drank his milk bottles reasonably well, but he would leave some milk behind. This fluctuated, with Phabeni sometimes finishing a bottle and sometimes leaving most of the milk. His dung was looking good and by the weekend, it was perfect, and he was finishing and enjoying all his bottles.

Over the weekend, Adine received a call from the orphanage in the early hours of the morning, 2 am where she was. It was 9 am at HERD. She missed the call and could not get through to the team again. The signal and Wi-Fi were down at the orphanage. Adine asked her son, Xander, to help get in touch with the HERD team. Xander managed to and reported back to Adine that Phabeni had not been taking any bottles and had diarrhea. The HERD phone was not working. But eventually, Adine managed to get hold of Joshua who explained the situation. She advised him on what to do: where to find electrolytes for Phabeni, and how to keep him hydrated. Calves go from hero to zero in seconds. We have experienced it before, and it is frightening. Tigere managed to get hold of Adine next, with himself, Owen, Joshua, and Godknows on a video call. Together the team ran through the storeroom to locate everything needed to help Phabeni.

Phabeni continued to refuse his bottles throughout the morning, had about a quarter of his noon-time milk, and then refused the 2 pm bottle and electrolytes. Fortunately, his energy was good. The 4 pm and 6 pm bottles were also refused, but the little bull drank water from the trough back at the orphanage and chewed on bana grass. At 8 pm, his dung was loose. 

Adine arranged for Dr. Rogers to visit Phabeni first thing on Monday morning to perhaps put Phabeni on a drip and prevent dehydration and any condition loss. During the night, Phabeni refused his 10 pm bottle, continuing to stress the team as we saw more diarrhea arrive. Despite this, and his not taking the electrolytes, his energy appeared good. Adine shared different recipes for formula with the team to try and get Phabeni to drink, the way you might mix things up to get your human toddler to eat a meal. Adine tried recipes that Khanyisa had liked when she was going through similar issues, but Phabeni would not drink.

Adine pushed then for the team to give Phabeni medication by the mouth and fortunately, the bull drank it all. He drank nearly half of the next midnight bottle and went to sleep just before 1 am. Adine pressed Joshua to continue checking Phabeni’s breathing while he slept. The little bull woke for his 2 am bottle and drank about two-thirds of it. Next, at around 3 am he drank about half of the mixture of electrolyte and other medication. No dung followed, no noisy tummy. With the 4 am bottle, Phabeni left about two-thirds. Diarrhea started. More and more dung. Loose and sloppy. Joshua called Adine as the calf’s stomach started to make noises just after 5 am. At 6 am he left a quarter of his bottle.

We couldn’t send Phabeni out with the herd that day as Dr. Rogers was scheduled to administer a drip. Phabeni would not touch his 8 am bottle. Dr. Rogers was stuck in traffic.

Phabeni didn’t take his 10 am bottle. Then Dr. Rogers arrived and administered a standing sedation for Phabeni. He took blood samples and gave Phabeni a four-litre drip with vitamins, Buscopan which relieves the pain of stomach cramps by helping your gut to relax, and a broad-spectrum antibiotic. The wound on the calf’s rear was swollen. Dr. Rogers cleaned it but said he was concerned that the wound still has puss from time to time and wonders if there is not something hard that perhaps broke off and lodged in there – whether a thorn from the bush or perhaps a piece of the original dart – but surely the latter we would have been able to see. Something was inside the wound, causing it to flare up.

Later that day, Adine received news from Dr Rogers, reporting that Phabeni’s blood tests showed a high amylase count, which could point to pancreatitis. The white blood cells (leukocytes) were also on the high side. Overall, there were signs of an infection, which could be related to neutrophils (a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight infection) caused by the wound on his left side. 

After Dr Rogers’ visit, Phabeni took his milk bottles throughout the day, as well as the days after. Then three days later, he started refusing his bottles again. Dr Rogers mentioned again that he wondered if there was something inside the wound on Phabeni’s hip that was causing the high infection counts. We were grateful that Dr Rogers had administrated a safe wide-spectrum antibiotic, as it would help with the infection.

We kept Phabeni home at the orphanage while he was still under the weather, but he was not happy with us and would rumble and scream a lot. The carers could pick up that Setombe and Klaserie seemed to be looking for Phabeni in the wilderness, perhaps hearing him. Even though the sound wasn’t audible in the bush to the carers’ ears, elephants have an incredible sense of hearing themselves. No doubt the females were upset as they were not sure why their baby was not with them. They did not know what was happening. Their routine was shaken. They kept on listening… while they browsed not too far away.

Dr Rogers arrived to help Phabeni again, together with Dr Johan Marais, spending more than two hours with the calf. Phabeni was dehydrated – Dr. Rogers gave him five litres of intravenous fluid through the drip, and it took a while before the bull urinated. While Phabeni would not take his bottle, he did drink a lot of water and had good energy. A second round of blood tests was run and showed that the amalyse levels were a lot lower and it was clear that the inflammation had gone down. Dr Rogers was not sure why the little elephant was refusing his milk again. We discussed that a blood transfusion might be a good idea, as carried out on orphans in a similar position previously.  We would always rather prevent a terrible situation than try to restore energy and condition from rock bottom. 

A week later we received Phabeni’s dung swab’s culture result. Only normal intestinal flora was isolated. No pathogens such as Salmonella could be cultured. The direct smears also only showed normal bacterial flora.

In part two of Phabeni’s medical update, we will share details of the blood transfusion that followed.

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  1. OMW I’m so glad he’s on the mend we only see the happy side not the trauma of the behind the scenes the team at HERD are amazing thank you for your special love and caring of these Ellie’s I’m so grateful for these updates as it gives me a better understanding of just how much work goes into the caring of baby Ellie’s and even the adults and teens❤️

  2. Oh Lord what a stressful time for you all, including Setombe and all Beni’s family. Thank goodness for such a superb Care Team, plus the wonderful Doc Rogers. Since following HERD in 2020, I’ve learned how quickly babies can deteriorate despite timely intervention and treatment. Many superb Elephant facilities have lost babies suddenly and without warning. It devastates and shocks everyone. We query, even doubt, our care but the sad truth is a seemingly healthy baby can be taken in the blink of an eye. Phabeni has made the most amazing progress. He’s a real fighter. Had the unthinkable happened, not one person could have been held accountable. You are left with a million questions and a shattered heart.
    Well Darling Beni, by God’s Grace you are still with us and I pray it remains so. Sending Love from me, and I know many others, in 🇬🇧. Stay healthy and happy, secure in the knowledge you are so very Loved by your Elephant Mama and family, The Herd Care Team and Dr. Peter Rogers. Thank you for looking after Beni and working so quickly and efficiently with our Precious Baby Bull Phabeni 👏👏👏👏💙🐘💙🇬🇧🙏

  3. I’m so sorry I didn’t know this baby was so sick. Please keep us update so sad for this beautiful baby 🐘.

    Love you baby 🐘 ♥️😘🤗🤗🤗🤗🤗🤗.

  4. sweet phabeni must confused that he is not with setombe. can they xzay the wound to see what might be in there. this way you remove it instead of treating the symptoms and it coming back. praying for little phabeni. sweet elle.

  5. Oh my this story is traumatizing. ll the carers, Adine and Dr. Rogers thank you so much for all of the time and love you put into helping little Beni. I had no idea how much ups and downs there are to helping these orphans. God bless all of you along with all the elephants. Poor Setombe must have been up in arms over her new little boy. I am so happy to see how much of a fighter Phabeni is but nit gonna lie I will not take future advantage of all is well based on a 20 minute video. You all are truly amazing and this family or elephants are so blessed to be with y’all. Again, thank you so much for all that you do to help the herd thrive.

  6. EESo thankful for this detailed update. Eagerly awaiting parthear how sweet little Phabeni pulled through and how he’s feeling now . The very recent videos seem to sh ow he’s well♥️

  7. How grateful I am for your diligence with your work. I hope Phabeni lives a long and fruitful life.

  8. I am praying hard for Phabeni along with Setombe and Klaserie. There is definitely a strong bond with these 3 so I can only imagine how worried they were along with Adine and the carers.
    Thank God for Dr Rogers!!!! Im not gonna lie Im very scared but I know Phabeni is in the best hands. Thank you all for helping him and may God be with all of you and the elephants.

  9. I had mentioned, a while back in a comment on one of the videos concern about jis healed over wound looking swollen, but was rather brushed off. As a retired R.N. I know there is concern when a human wound heals from outside over still infected wound. Many times to have wound heal from inside to the outside, the wound is packed with iodine soaked gauze and sometimes a drain is inserted to collect fluid from building up in the wound. Could that help Phabeni?

  10. Watched the blood transfusion from Bad/Now Good Boy Mambo, with hydrating fluids also, and send good energy to the Carers and Phabeni for their work and his rapid recovery. He may get some orneriness from Mambo’s blood, but that will hopefully help with little Phabeni’s fight towards total recovery. Rumbling to you all, with poritive thoughts, from Alaska, USA – Nameste, Mick

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