Jumbo update 12 April – Chad trip
From Monday the 18th March until Thursday 21st March I had a recurring dream every night that I would get a phone call from the department of wildlife on Friday lunchtime on my way back from dropping company visitors off at the airport to ask me to please rescue an elephant calf, it was a very vivid dream and one that I kept thinking about whilst drinking my morning cup of coffee. Coincidence, a premonition of sorts or somehow a message from Moses I will never know but somehow when I got the call from Louise I just knew that I had to go to Chad to help.
On Friday morning 22nd March Louise checked the Jumbo email and found an email from Gary Roberts asking for help and advice on a baby elephant in Chad, he had given his phone number as a contact as the internet in Bere where he lives is very unreliable but unfortunately when Louise tried to call the number did not exist (seems that in his haste to get the message off Gary had mistyped one digit). Louise then set about trying to track Gary down, though her Facebook friends and other aviation contacts and eventually got hold of one of the pilots from MAF in N’djamena in Chad who knew Gary well and was able to give Louise his number. Louise managed to call Gary and establish that this little ele calf was a victim of the massacre a week or so earlier and had been found in a village and Gary was about to set off in his plane to rescue it but needed some advice on immediate critical care, milk formula etc. Louise gave him the basic information and then called me – on my way to the airport……. To update me and give me Gary’s number so that I could call him with any additional information. I got hold him just as he and Wendy were about to set off and talked him through the initial steps that needed to be taken, luckily both Gary and Wendy have medical training and so the instructions relating to IV drips, monitoring of vital signs etc. were very straight forward and simple and as Wendy runs a clinic for malnourished babies the instructions as to making up of the milk formula and feeding of small quantise and often were equally simple. Unfortunately supplies in Chad are few and far between and so we had to work with what was available until we could get supplies to them – in the initial first few days we normally start with a very weak infant formula without all the added ingredients and so Wendy had the necessary formula on hand and between Dr Pete Morkel a vet who was going to Chad from South Africa to collar elephants and myself we would be able to supply the missing ingredients within a few days.
Neither Louise nor I slept at all Friday night anxiously trying to call Gary every few hours to see if he had been successful but as there was no cell signal from the time they took off until the time they landed the next morning we had no communication. Finally at 8 Saturday morning we got confirmation that they had successfully located little Max in the village and had brought him back to the airstrip on Friday night and managed to feed him some formula and rehydrate him with IV fluids and then camp the night next to the aircraft with him waiting for first light in order to be able to fly home – all the airstrips in the area are dirt with no lights making any flying after sunset impossible. This delay was probably a good thing as it gave Max time to learn to trust Gary and Wendy enough to follow them into the plane and remain calm on the plane so that he did not have to be restrained or sedated – I am pretty sure that Gary is the only person in the world to have flown a 172 light aircraft with a little elephant nuzzling his head and neck whilst he was flying!!!!!!
Day two and three
On Saturday morning I was able to get hold of Dr Pete Morkel a vet with African Parks who was flying to Chad from South Africa on Monday to do some elephant collaring for African Parks and he very kindly agreed to do some shopping for essential drugs and formula ingredients that were not freely available in Malawi and to take them up to N’djamena for little Max and Pete remained a constant contact for us whilst we were in Chad. Louise and I then raided the Jumbo supplies and went shopping in Lilongwe for the remaining formula and skin care requirements and I packed my bags ready to leave for Chad as soon as Gary had managed to organise for me to obtain a visa upon arrival. We sat on tender hooks all weekend and all of Monday waiting for word whilst giving Gary twice daily calls for updates on Max and talking him through the steps to be taken over the next few hours until the next call. The fact that both Gary and Wendy have so much medical experience with dealing with human babies in a critical condition and that Gary has reared a number of antelope and monkey orphans meant that they had a pretty good idea on the basics and often it was just a clarification of what their instincts were telling them to do but we were glad to be there to provide support and fill in a few gaps even though all I wanted to do was get on a plane and get on site.
On Monday afternoon it started to look promising to get the permissions through and so I went ahead and booked my flight for Tuesday with the proviso that I would confirm within 3 hours of departure to Addis and I set about organising the office for my possible departure
. Finally with exactly 3 hours to go before the plane was due to depart Gary sent a message to say that he had verbal confirmation that a letter would be issued and I contacted the travel agent to issue my ticket – thanks Kisa from Ulendo safaris for being so flexible and efficient in this regard. I then shot home to collect my luggage, change and download my ticket from the internet. The ticket finally came through with 2 hours to go before departure and we broke land speed records getting to the airport before the flight closed for check in. In the rush of getting my stuff out of the car, Louise getting Catherine out of the baby car seat etc. I dropped my cell phone and when picking it up did not realise that the battery had dropped out, whilst in the check in queue I realised my error and rushed back out to the car park to find the battery but it was no longer there – obviously somebody had seen it drop and picked it up. I was now off to Chad with no phone and no camera as I had intended to use the phone as a camera but there was no time to do anything at that stage so I decided to figure out a plan in Addis. I also still did not have a copy of the letter of permission to get the visa upon arrival but figured I had a few hours in Addis at a hotel to get onto the internet and hopefully by then the letter would have been emailed to me.
Upon arrival in Addis I found that my bag containing all my ele supplies (as well as a few minor items such as clothes and shoes) had not arrived with me and so filed a missing bag report and finally got to the hotel at 2am. The lady at Hotel Destiny was fantastic and when I could not log onto the internet using the hotspot at the hotel let me use her computer and internet to check my emails for the letter of permission and to my great relief I found the letter and was able to print it out and at 3am Was finally able to go to bed for a few hours’ sleep
. At 6am I left the hotel for the airport dressed in modest clothing suitable for a woman visiting a Muslim country complete with long dress, covered arms and a head scarf. Once I was in Bere in a walled area with Max I could revert to clothes suitable for sleeping with and looking after an ele. I received a number of strange looks when I boarded the aircraft for N’djamena, there were 70% Chinese men, 25% Chadian men, 3 Chadian women and me on the flight and I realised that not too many white women travelled to Chad. Upon arrival in N’djamena I was hit by the incredible dry heat as soon as the aircraft doors opened, it is 42 degrees Celsius in the shade. Dealing with the authorities at the airport was slightly difficult in that my school girl French was nothing like good enough to explain why I did not have a visa but luckily I had the magic letter written in French and a kind policeman filled out the necessary application form, took my passport and told me to “allez” I asked for my passport back and he told me”Demain”, I then tried to explain that I was going to Bere in a few hours’ time so could not collect my passport tomorrow but he had lost interest by then and I really had no option but to go through to the arrivals hall to find the gentleman from African parks who was meeting me and looking after me until Gary could get there to fetch me. Nobody seemed too concerned about my passport and I decided that this was perhaps pretty normal in Chad although I must say I was still a little concerned about leaving it there. We sped off to the African Parks office where I was greeted by the African parks staff who were most hospitable even though our conversation was limited due to my severe lack of French and a few minutes later the driver received a call from Gary who had managed to fix a technical problem on his plane and would be at the airport to collect my a few hours later. At 3 pm we went back to the airport where I was most relieved to meet Gary and be able to communicate in English, he organised with the African Parks staff to sort out the collection of my passport, keep checking for my bag and we took off for Bere arriving at sunset.
Upon landing in Bere we were met by Cherise, Gary and Wendy’s delightful 6 year old daughter who took me to their house to change into more suitable clothing before going to the walled area where Max and Wendy were. Clothing proved to be a slight problem……. Gary and Cherise managed to find some hospital scrubs trousers and a T shirt of Gary’s as well as some slops of Wendy’s which served the purpose perfectly but I was slightly put out when Gary made some comment about needing to look for the biggest possible scrubs, know that I am no longer as slim and trim as I used to be in my 20s but didn’t think I was THAT large …..Until I met Wendy who is incredibly petite in fact in a few years’ time Cherise will towered over her. We then set off to find Wendy and Max. The area around the aircraft hangaris about 10 acres, walled and contains protected natural bush. The fact that Bere is practically desert means that this protected area contained the only grass around for miles and even though it was dry was great for Max to play with and use for his first attempts at eating solid food. We found the two of them under a big tree which was a perfect spot for Max and I went forward to introduce myself to Max. He was such a trusting little soul, obviously secure in his relationship with Gary and Wendy who responded immediately with a caress with his trunk and once again I fell in love!
Wendy and I spent the first night together with Max under the tree so that she could finally get a little bit of sleep with me being able to take over a few of the feeds and with her still being there with Max so as not to make him feel abandoned. Max was already very weak from the ordeal he had been through and the severe diarrhoea he was suffering as a result of stress and the cow’s milk that he had been given in the village and whilst he was very relaxed and loving his eyes were dull and that night he groaned in his sleep quite a few times and was unable to stand up without help. In my heart as soon as I saw him I knew that the odds of his pulling though were very slim but tried hard to keep positive for both is sale and Wendy’s sake as I know that elephants are so sensitive to emotions that if he picked up that I was giving up so would he.
Day’s seven to twelve
In the morning I was able get a closer look at Max in the light, He was very thin but not as bad as I had expected which was a good sign, the terrible wounds on his neck and ears were healing well with the applications of honey and showed that his immune system was still working and he followed me on a walk whilst Wendy and Cherise went home to change and sort things out at the house. Max was a very determined little elephant and our walk took the route that Max wanted to follow as if I went on a path that he did not feel like going down he would just stop and refuse to move until I changed direction. We ended up just outside a small empty cottage on the property and from there Max refused to move and he remained in this area for the next 10 days. Max made a great choice, although he insisted on sleeping outside and spending most of his time outside we were able to use a table in the cottage for preparation of his meds and formula and it was pretty close to the well which made the drawing and carrying of buckets of water so much easier that under the tree. The only problem was that the cottage was close to the wall and the local kids kept jumping up onto the Wall to see the elephant but we resolved that problem with a permanent guard to chase people away as Max could not deal with the stress and noise of visitors. For the first couple of days as long as we helped Max to stand up he would wander into the cottage during the heat of the day and play with the water in Cherises paddling pool that she kindly donated to Max and later on when he got too weak to walk Gary organised a canopy from the hospital that we used to keep him shaded from the harsh sun.
Max was badly sunburnt from his time in the village and time alone in the bush and his skin was hard and brittle but a couple of applications of aqueous cream with zinc oxide softened the skin again and aloe Vera soothed his sunburn. He was a smart little ele who responded so well to any help that he was given and you could read the gratitude in his eyes. Unfortunately he had lost his appetite and getting him to suckle was an uphill battle, the normal tricks of hanging up a blanket or having a solid object for him to lean against whilst feeding did not work and we had to keep coming up with innovative ways to get him to lift his trunk and accept the bottle, he fell in love with a small silver pot and the black dustbin that we use to store water and for a couple of days holding the pot filled with water above the dustbin worked and he would drink a bottle or two that way and occasionally when he was lying down just before he fell asleep he would suck on my thumb and I was able to replace my thumb with the teat and get a bottle down him that way at which stage he would grunt softly just as he would do when sucking from his Mum. He liked resting his head on either Wendy’s or My shoulders and again when he was doing that we could quickly slip the teat into his mouth and he would suckle a bit and from time to time he would take a bottle from Gary but all in all we were not able to keep up with the nutrition being lost through the diarrhoea. Luckily he was still drinking water from a bucket to which we added rehydration salts and this combined with the IV fluidprevented him from becoming dehydrated but we really needed to stop the diarrhoea and increase his appetite before his reserves ran out.
Due to the incredible heat we had to water Max down every hour or so to maintain his body temperature and when he was sleeping we kept a wet sheet on him to keep the flies at bay and to keep him cool, the water evaporated so quickly that it was almost a case of constant pouring of water onto the sheet – must say quite a few buckets of water were tipped over me as well!!!!
On the night of day 11 Josh spent the night with Max and I as I was unable to lift him on his own anymore and needed somebody strong around to give me a hand, this was rather fortunate as he was on hand to help me when I got stung by a scorpion. It was a fairly full moon so I was using the light of the moon to see by when I did the 10 o’clock feed instead of my head lamp and having finished feeding Max (it was one of the feeds that he had sucking on my thumb and then moving onto the teat whilst he was half asleep) I started to walk towards the well to collect water to wash the Bootle out when I felt an incredible pain between my toes and looking down I saw the scorpion that had just stung me. I found some charcoal which is good for drawing out poison and tried to apply it to the sting but after 15 mins the pain had moved all the way up my leg into my groin and I began to suspect that I would not be able to walk much longer so woke Josh up to ask him to please take over watching Max in case I was unable to walk. A few minutes after I had woken Josh up the pain progressed to my stomach and I started to have trouble breathing and then started having convulsions at which time Josh contacted Gary to come down. Gary arrived a few minutes later by which time my entire body was in agony – there were 3 types of pain, a severe cramp like pain that felt as if my bones were cramping, a sensation of hot needles being pushed into my flesh and a severe burning of the skin that felt as if it was being immersed in boiling water. Gary applied shock treatment using the sparkplug terminal of the moterbike which Josh was continuously kick starting to provide the shocks and the pain started to subside from my upper body and eventually was contained to my lower leg and foot. For the next 6 hours I was in agony but at least with no convulsions and after 6 hours the pain became bearable as long as nothing touched the skin of my leg – not even a breath of wind. After 12 hours my foot was still very sensitive a swollen but as long as nothing touched it I was fine and was able to crawl around like a baby to be with Max and after 24 hours I was 100% back to normal. I have a whole new respect for scorpions and am grateful for the knowledge of shock treatment which works for scorpion and venomous snakes with equal effect.
On day 13 he started having seizures caused by a lack of calcium and other key trace elements, even though we were giving these to him though the rehydration salts and through IV fluids we were fighting against the loss through diarrhoea. Poor little Max was terrified of the seizures and you could see the fear in his eyes just before a seizure started and he grabbed onto my hand with is little trunk. We made sure that we held him close and spoke gently to him throughout every seizure and I managed to contact Dr Ian Parsons who has helped me so often in the past as he was able to advise us on suitable human drugs that we could use for an elephant and which were available in the local hospital. I am pretty sure that one day Ian will change his phone number and not tell me the new number as I have called him so often at all times of the day and night and he is always polite enough not to complain and always gives such useful and practical advice. The drugs were effective and once we had started treatment the seizures stopped and Max relaxed again. We increased the calcium in his milk, in his IV and managed to regain the balance so only one set of seizure drugs was required. Also on day 13 Max started having trouble breathing, from time to time he would simply stop breathing almost as if he had forgotten to breathe and I had to perform CPR or Trunk to mouth resuscitation as we called it to get him to breathe again, as he became weaker this had to be done more and more frequently and the drugs to open his bronchial tubes were ineffective, in hindsight it was probably just his body starting to shut down but none of us could stand by and just watch him gasping for breath.
In the afternoon Gary arrived home with a baby monkey that he had rescued from some kids in the village who had picked it up when they chased the troop away from raiding the mango tree. Little George as he was named was a very scared, very hungry little guy and Cherise stepped into the Mummy role with guidance from Gary.
Finally on day 14 the pancreatic enzymes that we had ordered before I left for Chad arrived and we started on those as our last hope, the enzymes are great for helping the little eles to digest the artificial formula but it was still an unknown as to whether they would help with a baby that had been fed cow’s milk but we had to try every tool available to us. By this stage Max was spending the majority of his time lying down, was only able to stand if helped up and only for short periods of time with one of us standing close to help support him.. Eventually after consultation with Ian and with Dr Susan Mikota we took the drastic step of installing a feeding tube which as far as any of us and any of our vet advisors know has never been done on an elephant before but desperate times called for desperate measure and without the tube we were unable to get any milk or water into Max as he refused to suckle at all and without him suckling there was no other way to get the enzymes into his body. Dr Owen, the surgeon from the hospital that we had been raiding for drugs very kindly agreed to come down an assist us with the procedure. Whilst I have inserted tubes into horses before and was happy to put my hand down the little eles throat to insert the tube I was extremely grateful for the advice of Dr Owen as well as Wendy who has tubed babies in the past as insertion into the lungs instead of the stomach is very easy to do and the results would have been disastrous. Dr Owen, a young medical student, Gary and Wendy were all on hand to talk me though the procedure, I inserted 2 tubes, one down each of the compartments in the oesophagus and held them both in place whilst Gary pushed air into one tube and then the other and Dr Owen listened to the stomach with a stethoscope for the sound of the air reaching the stomach and Gary placed a bag over each of the tubes in turn to establish which one was pumping air out of the lungs. Max was slightly sedated with Valium at this point so he was completely relaxed and we could take our time to make 100% sure that we had the correct tube before removing the incorrect tube. We used a very thin feeding tube so as to cause the minimum discomfort and we syringed the milk into the tube very slowly 40mm at a time. For the first few hours we only fed 300ml per feed on an hourly basis gradually building this up to 1 litre at a time
Cherise and Little George spent most of the day with Max and I and when Wendy and Cherise went to the hospital George remained with Max and I, he had settled down a lot and was pretty good most of the time we just had the occasional hiccup when he decided to try and remove the feeding tube or swing on the IV line. He was feeding well and has totally accepted his human family.
During the day Max seemed to have a bit more strength, he was still unable to stand on his own but his eyes were responsive and he was moving his trunk and legs a bit which he had not done at all the previous day. He was very affectionate and held my hand a lot with his trunk so I felt that there was a glimmer of hope. His diarrhoea had lessened and it seemed as if the enzymes were having some positive effect. Unfortunately in the late afternoon his bladder stopped working and so we had to start reducing the volumes of the feeds until we could put a catheter into him to relieve the pressure on the bladder. It is not so easy to find a suitable tube as human catheters are far too short and once again Gary raided the hospital to try and find a suitable tube. Gary tried to insert the catheter from 6pm until midnight
Without success, the urethra of an elephant bends through a small opening in the pelvic bone and he just could not get the tube through this opening. Finally at midnight Max stopped breathing again and we fought for a few hours with CPR and IV glucose but his heart beat had slowed down considerably and his heart finally stopped beating. Gary, Wendy and I were all with Max holding him and talking to him when he slipped away peacefully. He was a wonderfully brave little elephant who taught us so much and was so grateful and accepting of anything we did for him.
Day 16 to day 18
In the morning we dug a grave for little Max close to the area where he liked playing the most and buried him with the 3 African parks keepers, Gary, Wendy, Cherise, George the monkey and I to pay our final respects and then Gary, Cherise and I flew to N’djamena where I was finally reunited with my passport and bag and managed to hand over the ele supplies to Gary for the next little ele orphan in Chad.
I spent the night at the African parks offices in N’djamena where once again the staff was most hospitable and helpful and in the morning we set off for the airport for the long trek home. There are very few cars in Chad due to the state of the roads but there are thousands of motorbikes and not a helmet in sight, just before reaching the airport once of these kamikaze motorbike riders jumped a stop street and rode straight into the middle of our car hitting the car with such force that he smashed the passenger window. We stopped to sort the accident out but luckily the motor bike rider was not seriously hurt and after 30 mins we were on our way again. The flight to Addis was delayed for 4 hours which meant a rather long wait in the departure lounge (but I did find a little place up the stairs near a window where I was allowed to smoke) and we finally got into Addis just after midnight. We were taken to the Asrat hotel in Addis and arrived there at 2am, had a quick cup of coffee and headed for bed as I had a 5am departure from the hotel so had a few hours’ sleep. The following morning I headed back to the airport for the final leg of the journey back to Lilongwe and arrived home at midday complete with bags this time. It was wonderful to sleep in a bed again as whilst sleeping on the dessert floor under the stars with Max and a pillow was a great adventure it was lovely to have a soft mattress under me instead of sand, stones and grass underneath me. I truly appreciated a long soaking bath as most days I washed myself with a bucket of water from the well or the occasional cold shower at Wendy’s house and it was just fantastic to be back in normal temperatures of 30 degrees instead of the 42 degrees that we experienced in Chad where it was not possible to have a cold drink as even the water from the well was tepid and within no time at all was as hot as water from a thermos flask.
We have made so many new friends and valuable additions to our network of Jumbo advisors through the Chad adventure. First and foremost comes the Roberts family, Gary, Wendy and Cherise are truly amazingingly good people who have dedicated their entire lives to helping people and animals. They live under incredibly harsh conditions and remain one of the happiest, most positive families that I have had the pleasure to meet. Cherise is a truly delightful little girl who shows amazing maturity and compassion for a child so young and she is the best little elephant keepers assistant that anybody could hope for. Gary and Wendy’s medical training and instinctive interaction with animals makes them the perfect people to handle ele orphans in the initial critical stages and I have very pleased to let you all know that they have agreed to continue providing this service.
The African parks staff led by Rian and Lorna Labuschane are extremely professional and hospitable and the 3 keepers that they sent to Bere for training showed great promise. They showed compassion for Max and displayed all of the required attributes to become great keepers. Unfortunately due to Maxs critical condition they were not able to practically perform the tasks of feeding, providing stimulation, mud baths etc. but we did spend time going through all of the theory and they were able to witness the critical care of Max.
Our vets namely Dr Pete Morkel, Dr Ian Parsons, Dr Clay Wilson and Dr Susan Mikota were, once again an invaluable source of information and provided excellent advice over the phone.
Marleen De Febvre was a tower of support and her daily phone calls gave me the strength to continue day by day as were the daily calls from Louise who was fantastic at making contacts for me and making calls on my behalf when I could not get through to people due to the network in Chad, she passed on all the messages from all of our wonderful Jumbo supporters and it certainly makes a huge difference knowing that there are so many great people out there who are wishing you well and sending positive thoughts.
Thank you to the elephant angel Nigel Goodman who was waiting in the wings ready to provide financial support for formula as soon as we let him know the details.