Rescuing Hamukungu, the baby elephant

Monday June 27 2011

Hamukungu weighs about 100kgs and drinks 10 litres of milk every day.

Hamukungu weighs about 100kgs and drinks 10 litres of milk every day. The volume will increase to 20 litres in the third week 

By Martin Ssebuyira

At about a week old, a tired and dehydrated Hamukungu was rescued by a fisherman, who later handed it to UWA rangers. Martin Ssebuyira tells his rescue story and how they are helping him get back on his feet again.

The convention on international trade in endangered species of wild flora and fauna categorises elephants as endangered species facing extinction because of their ivory that is on high demand on the world market. They are listed as endangered on the world conservation union’s red list of threatened animals. Poachers always kill them for their tusks and meat that is loved by bush meat eaters. Others are killed while defending their habitats lost to ranches, farms and desertification by both man and climate. Charles Hamukungu is a two months baby African elephant rescued from Hamukungu Island on Lake George near Hamukungu fishing village in Katunguru trading centre, Kasese district.

By the time it was rescued, it was about a week old or less as he had the umbilical cord on, implying it had just been born and did not know how to suckle, neither did it know the taste of milk.

The fisherman only identified as Charles found the elephant abandoned on May 29 at the shores of Hamukungu Island on Lake George in Queen Elizabeth National park.
“It was trying to swim but about to drown and I rescued it, loaded it on my canoe and sailed it to Hamukungu landing site before calling UWA rangers,” Charles says.
Two days later on June 1, a carcass of an adult male elephant with six bullet wounds in the head and thoracic regions was found submerged under water in the shores of the same island where the baby had been found.

Because of the findings, it was suspected that ivory poachers who killed the male elephant could have scared the family and caused them to disperse leaving behind a newly born baby that had not yet acquired survival skills.

“They had tied the elephant with the rope on the left front leg to prevent it from escaping and that caused a dysfunction in the fetlock joint and made it slightly limp,” Mr Alex Egawu, an animal caretaker, who looked after the elephant at Katunguru where Uganda Wildlife Authority offices are located said.

He says that Charles (the elephant) had extreme thirst, fatigue, weakness and moderate dehydration upon arrival. It also had scar wounds at the spot where it was tied with the rope and was slightly limping so they took it to Dr Margaret Driciru, a veterinary doctor, at Queen Elizabeth National park.

While there, she administered the animal with 4ml of oral enrofluxacin for three days, offered it Vitamin C tabs (about two per day orally), antibiotic wound spray (Supona) and Oral Rehydration Salt (about one litre per day for three days) before taking it to Uganda Wildlife Educational Centre where it is going to be kept for conservation education. Driciru kept the elephant for two months until it was ready to be taken to Uwec.

At Uganda Wildlife Educational Centre, baby Hamukungu was received with lots of excitement and was immediately introduced to new medication.
Ms Belinda Atim the Uwec spokesperson says that they started offering Hamukungu Ferro B Complex syrup because he had a stomach upset.

“He was being fed on human baby formula milk (SMA) as per age-specific manufacturer’s formula recommendations until June 12 when they started mixing SMA with fresh diary UHT milk from which the cream is removed after boiling in a ratio of 1:1,” Ms Atim says.

Hamukungu apparently feeds on 2.5 litres of milk per meal (pictured left) four times a day at intervals of 6a.m., 11a.m., 2p.m. and 8p.m. The milk is always warm, clean and offered in a feeding bottle following specific prescriptions.
Atim says that the wounds are steadily drying up and Hamukungu will soon be fine enough to offer conservation education to people who visit Uganda Wildlife Educational centre.

Uwec Executive Director Mr James Musinguizi says that they are keeping Hamukungu in the quarantine for at least 30 days to ensure that he is in proper condition before taking him to his new home in a seemingly natural environment where people can get education about African elephants.

Because of Hamukungu, the centre now has all the big five animals namely buffalos, rhinos, lions, elephants and giraffes. “We last had an elephant in 2004 but it was taken to Kenya. We will let the keeper stay with it for company until it gets used to the place,” he says.

Musinguzi commends the relationship between Uwec and UWA that enabled UWA Executive Director Dr Andrew Sseguya to quickly call them to take the animal from Katunguru after rescuing it.

“We recently rescued 220 parrots that were confiscated and we were feeding at a tune of Shs300,000 a day that was quite expensive. We call upon stakeholders who can lend a hand to join the struggle to conserve the endangered African elephants,” he adds.

Hamukungu weighs about 100kgs and drinks 10 litres of milk every day. The volume will increase to 20 litres in the third week. He likes bathing that is done between 11a.m. and 1p.m., and drinking water. That is done at 10a.m. and he can drink up to 10 litres of water when thirsty.

He loves being walked (pictured right) or run around that is done most of the time at the centre and playing. If left unattended, he gets upset and cries loud. When cold, he is dressed in hard cotton shirts that came with him from the park.
Mr Alex Egawu, an animal caretaker says that the routine is he sleeps in the house, wakes up at 6a.m. or 7a.m. ready to be fed the first meal of the day, takes a nap and is walked or run around and he spends the day playing with him while being fed in several intervals. He notes that long hours between feeds cause him to gnaw on objects and it should be avoided because he may hurt himself.

Over the past 150 years, ivory hunters have ruthlessly hunted elephants for their tusks. Between 1979 and 1989, Africa’s elephant population plummeted from 1,300,000 to 750,000 due to ivory hunting. Since the 1980s, an international ban on trade in ivory helped many populations hold steady or rebound.

UWA remains sceptical about the remaining number of elephants in Uganda saying it’s quite hard to count elephants in mountainous parks. UWA publicist Lillian Nsubuga says all savannah parks with the exception of Lake Mburo National game and Muhanga national game park have elephants.