Fiela’s Post Mortem

fiela-dr-debbieAs a scientist and director of AERU, it is my job to remain impartial, to observe from a distance, to assess objectively…

A little elephant called Fiela arrived on the 5th of March, and my objective, analytical research persona was turned up-side down and I had to find a balance with the emotional, ‘I love you unconditionally’ mother in me. I found myself in the unbelievably fortunate position of being able to hug, roll in the mud and sleep with a baby elephant, all the while scientifically monitoring her diet, her behaviour, her introduction to the herd…. Not many people get that kind of opportunity.

My best memories of her will always be going to find her out in the field, calling her name…having her turn towards me, recognise my voice…then she would run to me, ears flapping, little legs kicking up the dust, rumbling in greeting when she reached me…these will be my “Fiela moments”. Everyone who came into contact with her has one of these ‘moments’.

Right from the night of her difficult birth, when she was rejected by her mother, we knew that Fiela was a fighter. Her spirit and stubborn streak were evident from those first days. Throughout her short life she was faced with many mountains to climb, and, come what may, she climbed them…with gusto! I watched with delight (as a mother and a scientist) as she overcame so many difficulties and grew into a strong, playful, happy elephant.

We never expected to lose her so soon and her sudden passing was a shock to us all. We also never expected to find what we did from her post mortem.

We were all concerned about some form of bacterial infection, but the results show no evidence of this. On the contrary, they indicate a number of organ defects that appear to have been with her since birth. She had a severe fatty liver and an under-developed intestine. It appears that her gut was never properly developed. Her heart and kidney also showed signs of under-development. Reasons for this remain unclear, as she was born within her anticipated birth dates and was a good weight at birth.

How she survived so strongly for three months; and why these organs failed only after three months, is a question that will probably remain unanswered – even our vets are amazed that she was with us for so long. None of these changes were indicated in any of the tests, scans, etc. that we did. Our vets agree that they would never have diagnosed a condition such as this, especially after three months of good growth and development!!

Could this have been the reason for her being rejected? Was this lack of development due to her not being fed the colostrum and mother’s milk that she needed after her birth? Did her lack of immunity contribute to the failing of these organs? Unfortunately, in my world, there are always more questions than answers….

Her spirit and strength meant we were blessed by this magical little creature for three months, until her little body could hold out no longer….she certainly packed a lifetime of life, love and memories into that short little life…how lucky were we to be part of that!!

Dr. Debbie
Director of AERU and one of Fiela’s ‘honorary mothers’

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