15 May 2024

The road to healing is long and bumpy.

On the weekend, Phabeni was exhibiting very low energy and so we made the decision to keep him back at the orphanage for the day, instead of joining the herd in the bush. This was to ensure he could save the energy he did have and not use it on walking and keeping up with the elephants. He doesn’t like to stay behind and certainly prefers being with the herd in the bush and sticking to the routine that he and the herd have gotten used to. We have kept this routine as stable as possible to reduce stress but at times when Phabeni is very low or needs care from our wildlife vet, Dr Rogers, we need to keep him back. When Dr Rogers arrived on the weekend, giving up his plans to step in and help Phabeni urgently, we tested the little bull’s glucose levels. His glucose was extremely low and was not even detected by the glucose reader. Through the drip, we gave him six litres of fluids, with glucose and vitamins and we took further blood samples again to test the low glucose and other vital readings. While we were busy, and even though Phabeni was sedated and not fully awake, he showed us that he clearly wanted to drink his bottle. We offered him his milk, and he drank it all, even though it was the milk formula we had been trying to give him the whole day.

When Phabeni woke from the sedation later, he again refused any bottle we gave him. We could see that he wanted to drink but he just refused the bottles. Adine and the team made several different formulas to see what the calf liked and didn’t like. Once we were on the 7th bottle and Phabeni had refused all of them, Adine had an idea. She said, “We have nothing to lose,” and took a tin from the storage of an old milk formula that is no longer stocked in shops. She made a small 500-gram bottle and we fed it to Phabeni. The calf drank it all up in one go! We made another bottle with this formula and he downed it too. It was pure magic. Following this, he was clearly tired but drank well, either drinking a full bottle or leaving half. We were relieved that he was at least getting in great sustenance and accepting bottles. He took a good three hour nap, to catch up on necessary sleep. After this we could see that his energy levels were much better. Overall his energy is good and he is continuing to drink this old batch of milk. However, we are short on supplies since it is no longer available and will be creating it from scratch while trying to source the ingredients. If he is happy with this pure formula, we can then going forward add the necessary vitamins and minerals. We will continue to see how he progresses, but are keeping him at the orphanage again during the day.

It is raining and we need to consider Phabeni’s health and that he is strong before he can return to the bush again. We have really been concerned with his health, since he has lost a lot of weight over the weeks, while he has been refusing milk bottles. Even though he eats well and polishes off his bucket of apples, sweet potatoes and butternuts, in addition to grass and other vegetation, he needs milk. He is approximately only 10 months of age, and very reliant on milk for his nutrition and energy. Elephant orphan calves are typically fragile and their milk needs are highly personalised, with each individual requiring a tailored formula just for them. Figuring out what it is that the calf needs is a matter of trial and error.

This week, Phabeni is continuing to stay at the orphanage during the day as he is still recovering. While he drinks some of the formula, he is still leaving a large amount at times and therefore not getting in enough energy and nutrition. It is raining so we are keeping him warm with a blanket inside the nursery. We are giving him drips to boost his energy and replenish his body with necessary vitamins. He is eating a mix of apples, lucerne which is high in protein, bana grass and sometimes sweet potatoes. We had tried to plan for a second blood transfusion earlier in the week but it was too hot. We will go ahead with the transfusion later today.

As we found that Phabeni liked the formula no longer stocked in shops, we contacted the supplier to see if it is possible to provide us with stock. This is obviously not a quick process as the manufacturers need to organise the machinery and equipment to make the batches for us. In the meantime we are trying all kinds of different ways to get Phabeni a milk formula he likes and takes consistently. He is definitely a picky eater! We need to keep him at the orphanage as his energy is very low. But we have brought Jabulani by to visit at the fence and this gave Phabeni great joy. He is also able to see and communicate with the herd at the fence in the garden, and rumbles with them.

Recent blood test results showed us that Phabeni has a slight infection. We believe the wound on his rear has acted up again and is causing this infection, which we will treat during the blood transfusion. We wanted to give Phabeni some exercise and a chance to smell the elephants in the homestead while they were out. Even though the herd were not here, their scent is everywhere. Lammie and Spotty kept us company and Spotty did a great job at keeping our spirits up. We are considering the holistic health of Phabeni while we try to get him over this hump. We believe that bringing Setombe to him now would be too stressful and emotional for him. He does not have the energy to endure too much stress or excitement at this stage. Adine has been consulting with various experts so that we have second and third opinions each step of the way so that nothing is missed.

Orphan Timisa did not like bottles and would not drink her milk this way when she was still milk dependent as a calf. We therefore have her milk mixed with pellets in a bucket and she drank this well until over six years of age. Khanyisa has been a great bottle drinker and continues to drink her milk perfectly and with gusto. As an orphan Kumbura did not want to drink milk. She was older than Phabeni, at around one year of age when rescued. We managed to pull her through by feeding her vegetables, fruit and pellets. She did not have any underlying conditions or ill health fortunately. Elephant orphan calves are very tricky animals when it comes to milk. Rhino orphan calves can thrive on a simple stable formula that is suited to all. Elephant orphan calves each need an individualised, tailored formula suited to the calf, and one that changes over time to adapt to their evolving needs.

Thank you for your continued concern and support! Thank you to Dr Rogers and his team for the assistance and dedication in helping Phabeni overcome this hurdle in his journey. And thank you to our carers and team on the ground for the around-the-clock care and company they give the little bull.

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