Tuesday, June 8, 2010
A little helping hand ..... a lioness needs a home
The Story of Elsa:
During a cold winter day in July 2008 a lioness was darted in a field on a game ranch in the KROONSTAD district, as she was to be transported. Only after she was asleep, game rangers found a lion cub next to her - approximately 5 days old. As a lion will never accept the cub again after such a traumatic experience, other plans had to be made with the cub. That is how Elsa ended up with me.
I raised Elsa by hand in the house. She was fed by hand with a baby bottle and a special milk formula which was tested and tried until it was suitable for Elsa’s sensitive digestive system. She slept with me on my bed as to enable me to monitor her throughout the night. When Elsa turned one month, we celebrated ...Elsa shared the room - and bed - with three Bengal tiger cubs and she thrived on the personal attention. The four cubs shared the same play area, toys, food and attention. As the days went by and winter turned to summer, Elsa also shared the swimming pool with her tiger brothers and sister! When Elsa and her tiger family turned 3 months, the tigers went to a game ranch. As Elsa was then alone, she was moved to the yard where all the other wild cats roamed. Her new companions consist of 2 adult cheetahs, 2 young cheetahs and 2 wolf puppies. She immediately took to the wolf pups and played with them as if she too was a wolf.All too soon Elsa was eight months old, and I was, according to law, forced to move her to an enclosure, which she shared with 2 male lion cubs - slightly bigger than herself. This was the first time in her life that Elsa interacted with other lions. The bigger males were very active and played rough lion-games with Elsa. Unfortunately, Elsa did not understand these games although she played along, and as a result of the rough play, she sustained an injury to her neck. A piece of her neck vertebra broke and pressed on a nerve in her neck. This caused her legs to give way and she fell down continuously, causing more injury.I then took Elsa to a vetenarian (Dr Fanie Naudé) in North Rand Ridge - with the help of Elsa’s foster parents. After a thorough examination by Dr Naudé, it was decided to operate on Elsa’s neck. The operation lasted approximately two hours, and Elsa, her foster mother and myself stayed on for another 4 days before we could return to Bloemfontein. Elsa was now almost 1 year old.For the next two weeks Elsa was closely observed. During this time I slept with her on the ground as to monitor her every move. During the period of her recuperation, I had to escort Elsa whenever nature was calling - day and night - as I had to prevent her from falling down and injuring her neck again.
As she grew stronger and was more mobile, Elsa was gradually introduced to her wolf-family again. In this time we also celebrated her first birthday. After the crucial first two months, Elsa was introduced to five new lion cubs, all younger and smaller than herself. She was still closely monitored, but showed remarkable improvement and after just about three weeks she was already playing with these cubs. Approximately four months after Elsa’s operation, three of the lion cubs were moved to a game ranch. Elsa and the remaining two lion cubs were then moved to an enclosed lion camp as required by law. Elsa’s wolf family also moved to the lion camp with her.
Although Elsa was still a bit unsteady, she hardly fell down anymore and improved daily. She was healthy and happy and enjoyed her stay with the other lions. I greeted her daily and fed her myself. She actually allowed me to touch her while she was eating. After the day’s work - round about 17:00 - I spend quality “family time” with Elsa. This included playing hide-and-seek patting, swimming, licking each others’ faces and chasing each other around. Elsa was now one year and eight months old and weighing a whooping 120 kg!! During the middle of January this year, I noticed a change in Elsa’s condition. She was falling down more frequently and it was obvious that she experienced balancing problems.
This is the story of Elsa ... from a human mother’s heart.
Due to the deterioration in Elsa’s condition, I contacted Professor Schwalbach of the University of the Free State, who observed Elsa’s interaction with me. His diagnosis was that either Elsa’s neck injury was not completely healed or that she has an infection that could effect her brain. He then advised me to take Elsa to Onderstepoort for an MRI (cat scan) to establish the cause and severity of her deterioration. I also contacted Dr Naudé from North Rand Ridge, who undertook to be present at Onderstepoort if I can arrange for the MRI to be taken. If it was necessary to operate on Elsa again, Dr Naudé undertook to accompany us back to his surgery and perform the needed operation.
I then started with enquiries concerning the cost for the injections to put Elsa to sleep for the journey, the cost of the MRI, transport and the estimated cost of the operation if needed. I was shocked - the total amount needed before I could take Elsa to Onderstepoort amounted to at least R21 000. As Elsa is my baby, I wanted to give her the very best in life - including the chance of complete recovery so that she can live a full, happy life. Unfortunately I was not in a financial position to cover the expenditures that were needed. I then took to the streets in an attempt to raise the needed funds. Deidre of i-party sponsored a lion suit and I stood at intersections at LANGENHOVENPARK and Mimosa Mall with a donation tin. I handed out flyers telling Elsa’s story and explaining my need. Motorists and passers-by donated and although I was tired every night, I could see the bank balance growing daily. A friend of mine sponsored cupcakes which we sold in a shopping centre to also strengthen Elsa’s funds. In this time I registered a face book group, Elsa the lioness, and told Elsa’s story there. In no time at all we had 250 members and then all the members started donating. Soon members were challenging each other to equal their donations and Elsa’s bank account (and my hopes) soared. A friend arranged for an MRI to be done at a local hospital. I send a copy of the MRI report to Dr Naudé and he contacted me as soon as he received it. Elsa’s condition was far worse that we had anticipated and Elsa was to be taken to JOHANNESBURG the very next week. I knew that I did not have all the money for everything that had to be done, but I made traveling arrangements and on 22 March Elsa and myself left for Johannesburg. Transport was sponsored by Mr Willem VAN SCHALKWYK who also made available his driver, Johan. We arrived at the veterinarian at about 06:30 on the 23 March and Elsa was taken to a private hospital again to take another MRI scan. That afternoon the veterinarian called me to his office and showed me the report - it was not good news. Another piece of vertebrae had broken off and was pressing against her spinal cord. There was also a lot of scar tissue as a result of the previous operation that also pressed against a nerve in Elsa’s neck. I had to take a very serious decision: Either Elsa must be operated upon on 25 March, or I would have to consider letting her being put down. Obviously there was only one decision to be taken : Elsa would be operated on. As we anticipated that Elsa will stay at most 10 days in “hospital” after the operation, my aunt, Yvonne Schreiber, offered me accommodation as well as the use of her vehicle as I would need to travel between Pretoria and Johannesburg. On Thursday, 25 March, Elsa was prepared for the operation, and I injected her myself with an initial aesthetic to enable personnel to move her to the theatre. Although I was prepared for a period of 45 min for the operation to be completed, it took a whole 3 hours before Elsa was returned to her “room”. Apparently the scar tissue was much more that showed on the MRI and there was also some bone pieces present very near to Elsa’s spinal cord that had to be removed delicately. Elsa was very drowsy for the remainder of that day, and I stayed with her until 19:00 when the veterinarian’s offices closed. The next day I was there again at 06:30 - to find Elsa standing at the gate of her “room” - waiting for me! I was so excited., That whole day Elsa and I was cuddling, sleeping, I fed her and she was even playful. I felt much better when I had to leave her that evening.
When I arrived on Saturday - 2 days after the operation - I was shocked when I saw Elsa. She was falling down a lot and obviously in a lot of pain. She still ate her food (3 chickens) though and allowed Yvonne and her family to enter her “room”, touch her and take photo’s of her. When I left het that evening, I was really worried. From then on Elsa’s condition deteriorated daily. So much so that on the next week Wednesday -31 March - Elsa was dehydrated so much that we had to administer an intravenous drip. She was so exhausted that she allowed the personnel of the veterinarian to do that without anaesthetic. On Friday 2 April, Elsa received another intravenous drip as she was almost comatose by then. She was knocking at death’s door, but I believed that she was going to survive as she is a fighter.What a lovely surprise I got!! On arriving at the veterinarian on Saturday 3 April, Elsa was lying in front of the gate of her “room” - waiting for me!! She was “talking” to me - making little grunting and roaring sounds - and I then KNEW that she was going to be OK. As she was very weak, we had to do physiotherapy with her daily, turning her from her left side to her right side to prevent bedsores and pumping her legs to stimulate blood flow and exercise her muscles. I also fed her 1 kg of chicken hearts daily in addition to her 3 to 4 chickens as she considers it a treat. From then on Elsa went from strength to strength and on the next Thursday - 8 April - she walked to a piece of garden in the yard - with our help. I was elated, as were Dr Naudé and his personnel. I also received the good news that I got a job at a farm outside of Parys. Elsa would have a smaller enclosure to enable her to recuperate after The operation as well as 1 ha camp as required by Law. I contacted Mr VAN SCHALKWYK again and he agreed to send Johan again to transport Elsa and me to Parys- on Saturday 10 April. I arranged with Yvonne, who made one of her trucks available to transport my possessions from Bloemfontein to Parys, I was so happy and positive and could not wait for Saturday!!On Saturday 10 April I was up and above long before dawn and on my way to Elsa. I think she sensed my excitement as she was very playful. I had an interview with a journalist from Beeld and then the “limo” arrived to take us to Parys. As it was quite hot, we packed bags of ice on top of Elsa’s crate, and covered the inside of the crate with wet blankets. I also kept bottles of water with me in the back of the truck to prevent Elsa from dehydrating. Yvonne and her family also accompanied us to Parys to welcome Elsa to her new environment and help me unpack. Elsa just loved the new camp, marking her territory and roaring at her cheetah neighbours.Everything went smooth. I arranged for a sponsorship by Almur Smith chicken farm for Elsa’s chickens (5 chickens per day) and when we
were shooting on the farm, Elsa also got her share of game, especially the carcass. She was blossoming, and getting stronger daily. She was soon running around and I had to open the gate to her bigger enclosure. I saw her everyday, for the whole day, as I had a lot of spare time on hand. It was like heaven for the both of us.
However, at the end of April some major changes took place, forcing me to quit the job in Parys. I had to arrange again for Elsa to be transported, and was frantically searching for a new place for her to stay. I also had to arrange for my belongings to be moved back to Bloemfontein. I then got a temporary enclosure for Elsa on Donkerhoek farm, outside of Bloemfontein. Here she could stay for a month, after which I had to move her again. Yvonne and some friends of her’s joined us on 1 May for a picnic in Elsa’s enclosure and we had a marvellous time. Mr van Schalkwyk again assisted me with Johan’s help to transport Elsa to Donkerhoek. Unfortunately I was unemployed then and have to travel more than 20 km to visit Elsa. That resulted in me not being able to visit Elsa daily, as I make use of a motorcycle and on rainy or windy days it is impossible for me to drive the 20 km to Elsa. Mr Ingleton of Donkerhoek assists me in feeding Elsa on days that I do not visit her. In the meantime I enquired on Elsa’s face book group about permanent accommodation for Elsa, but without success. I received a lot of offers to build my own camp on other farms, however, but for that I needed at least between R60 000 to R70 000. Again Mr van Schalkwyk came to our rescue with an offer to build the camp on his farm - with my assistance. Again I turned to Elsa’s face book group - who have more than 780 members - for help. And I was not disappointed, as a lot of Elsa fans donated fencing, poles, cement, tiles, etc. Although I do not have nearly enough, Mr van Schalkwyk has already started with the camp! Elsa has to be moved at the end of May, as Mr Ingleton needs the enclosure for other lions. Due to Elsa’s weak neck and the fact that she is a foreigner on Donkerhoek, she can not mingle with the other lions. An injury at this stage could mean the end of her.On Saturday 15 May on my way to visit Elsa, I was in a motorcycle accident and as a result of it I suffered severe injuries to my right arm and right knee. My motorcycle is also a write-off. Now I must rely on others to taxi me to Elsa and back. Elsa is doing fine, and she loves my visits. I also still give updates on Elsa the Lioness (facebook group) on Elsa’s condition, her daily routine, her eating habits and some titbits of “nice-to-knows” concerning Elsa. We currently have a competition running on the group, where donators towards Elsa’s camp are entered in a draw to win an Elsa-package consisting of an Elsa t-shirt, meet and greet Elsa, and an A5 colour photo of the winner with Elsa as a lifetime memento of their encounter with a real lion. Also running currently on the group is a challenge between male / female to determine who donated the most towards Elsa’s camp. During my stay in Johannesburg I met a lot of people in the same financial position that I experienced when Elsa had to have her operation. That gave me the idea of registering a non-profitable organization, Elsa’s Haven, to assist these people and animals. The registering is time-consuming though, as I have no experience of the process, and no money to employ someone to do it for me. I am coping however and the process is coming along.
MIEKIE AND ELSA
PS Donations can be made by Paypal to Miekie's brother Werner Paypal a/c: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or go to Elsa's Haven or Elsa the Lioness on Facebook for more news of Elsa.
Thank you Rina