A vehicle with one of the scientists would be sent out first thing in the morning to locate the elephants earmarked for the translocation before the chopper with the darting vet and the other scientist would get airborne. When they could not find suitable groups, the chopper would be used to search and identify the earmarked groups. Once an earmarked family was located, the chopper would herd it gently to a suitable area for darting and recovery.
Darting was done using the Palmer Cap- Chur® long-range rifle and .22 blank cartridges. Appropriate doses of Etorphine Hydrochloride (M99®) combined with hyaluronidase to quicken the absorption was used as the immobilising agent. The darting sites preferred were the hindquarters and the rump. When darting a family group, a variety of M99® darts were prepared and labelled in advance for three age groups; adults (16-17mg), sub-adults (10mg) and young ones (5mg). They would be darted in quick succession starting with the matriarch so that it would act as an anchor for the other family members. The other older females were darted next, followed by the sub-adults and lastly the young ones. The ground team was called in after all the animals went down. Each vet with a security ranger was assigned an animal to monitor and ensure stable anaesthetic state until the animal was recovered.
He/she also collected various biological samples to help determine the health profiles of all translocated animals. Matriarchs were fitted with a radio collar to enable monitoring of the family after release. The equipment and personnel available was enough to recover up to five animals at once. Matriarchs and the very young were recovered first. The recovery times for family groups ranged between 1½-2 hours. Top-up doses of M99® at ¼ of the original dose of M99® used were administered if the narcosis became light before the animal was recovered.
Lightness of narcosis is manifested by an increase in respiratory rate and depth, increased frequency and strength of trunk movements, increased frequency of ear movements and sometimes paddling of the feet. The family groups captured ranged between 5-9 individuals.
The transportation truck had a container with two compartments that could carry up to 12 elephants, six animals in each. When two families were captured in a day, each was loaded into a separate compartment and released separately in Tsavo. The maximum number captured in a day was 12. Bulls were darted with 18-20 mg of M99® combined with 5,000 IU of hyaluronidase. They were recovered and transported individually. Reversal of narcosis was done with Diprenorphine Hydrochloride (M5050®) at three times the dosage of M99® used, administered intravenously into an auricular vein. Some additional M5050® was also given intramuscularly to counter re-narcotisation, which can cause recumbency during transportation. Just before the administration of the reversal agent, an appropriate dose of a tranquilliser (Azaperone tartarate) was administered intramuscularly to calm the animals during transportation.
Animals were transported soon after recovery. Hourly stops were made on the way to check on their condition. Aggressive and over-excited animals were given top-up doses of the tranquilliser using a pole syringe. CONCLUSION The operation was rated very successful. The mortality of six (4%) experienced was very low and far below our earlier experiences and what has been documented in other countries. Some of the animals that died were discovered to have deep-seated infections in the chest and abdominal areas from spear wounds that were not obvious before immobilisation. These compromised them a lot. Some died after they fell in bad positions in difficult terrains that compromised breathing.