The Mara Mobile Veterinary Unit

Field Report - October 2010

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Summary

During the month of October, 2010, the Central Rift veterinary unit managed to attend to all the reported wildlife cases within the Mara ecosystem. Some of the reported veterinary cases which were attended to includes treatment of two elephants in Transmara one with a severe wound on the front leg and the other wounded by a very tight snare on the front leg. A giraffe with an arrow-head sticking on the neck was captured, arrow removed and treated. A lion that was injured on the spinal column during a fight with other lions was also captured and treated for the same.

The veterinary team conducted intensive disease surveillance on Bovine tuberculosis disease both in wildlife and livestock of Maasai Mara and Amboseli NP. Several buffaloes were captured by darting, blood samples collected and tested for bovine tuberculosis as highlighted in the report below.

The team was also involved in wildebeests collaring exercise in which 21 wildebeests were captured by darting and fitted with GPS/Satellite collars, 12 wildebeests in Nairobi NP/Kitengela area and 9 in Amboseli NP. The wildebeests collaring exercise was meant to map and monitor wildebeests movements across human settlement areas with a view of securing wildebeests movement corridors to enhance their conservation. Details of these cases are highlighted below.

We acknowledge the support of David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) and other partners towards the provision of wildlife veterinary services in Maasai Mara and other parts of Central Rift region.

 

Treatment of an adult female elephant in Mara Triangle, Mara Conservancy

This was a case of an adult female elephant found grazing alone in open plains of Mara Triangle; it had a 1 year old calf. It had been seen limping for more than a week when it was reported for veterinary attention, it had started loosing much of its body condition due to pain and inadequate feeding due to restricted movement. The elephant had a circular wound on the medial side of the right front leg, the entire front leg was swollen and it was suspected to have been attacked by a poisoned object. It was then captured by chemical immobilization through darting and treated successfully.

 

Chemical immobilization and restrain

The elephant was darted from a vehicle using 15mgs of etorphine Hcl combined with 1000 i.u of hyaluronidase on the left hind thigh, the drug took effect after about 7 minutes and it became recumbent.

Examination and treatment

The wound was examined and probed using a long tissue forceps and swabs then cleaned with a lot of water, lots of exudates and necrotic tissue debris were squeezed out and further debrided using 10% hydrogen peroxide and finally treated with a tincture of iodine and oxytetracycline spray. It was further treated using long-acting Betamox® antibiotic, multivitamins and dexamethasone administered intramuscularly.

The elephant is darted  The wound before treatment

Cleaning the wound  The wound after it is cleaned and disinfected

Awake after the reversal drug is administered

 

Revival of anaesthesia

After treatment, it was revived from anaesthesia using 48mgs of diprenorphine hydrochloride administered through the superficial ear-vein. Unfortunately, it was very weak and unable to rise up on its own; it had to be pulled up by ropes tied onto a four wheel-drive-vehicle until it got up. It later rejoined the calf after a few minutes after being revived.

Prognosis

 

The elephant had a good prognosis after the treatment since the wound was not yet extensively infected. It was to be monitored closely by the Mara Triangle rangers who would report on its progress until it is fully recovered.

 

Bovine tuberculosis disease surveillance in wildlife and livestock of Maasai Mara and Amboseli NP.

Bovine tuberculosis is a zoonotic disease caused by Mycobacterium bovis; it infects a wide range of species and is increasingly being recognized as an important pathogen of free-ranging African wildlife (Keet et al., 2001). In Kenya, the prevalence of bovine tuberculosis in wildlife is still unknown (Tarara et. al, 1985), but there have been reported cases in baboons Papio cynocephalus in the Maasai Mara National Game reserve, (Tarara et al, 1985) an indication that some wild animal species could be infected within the Mara ecosystem. 

The disease has also been reported in lions of Serengeti National park in Tanzania (S. Cleaveland, et, al 2002) which borders Maasai Mara on the southern side and chances of disease transmission between these two wildlife conservation areas is quite high because of high concentration of livestock and wildlife and due to frequent wildlife-livestock interaction. This study seeks to investigate the prevalence of bovine tuberculosis in wildlife and livestock of Kenya, particularly in Maasai Mara and Amboseli areas which are at the Kenya-Tanzania border and characterized by cross-border wildlife movements and livestock trade.

Testing of buffaloes and cattle of Maasai Mara and Amboseli

During the months of September and October, 2010, about 23 buffaloes from different herds in different locations within Amboseli NP and about 10 buffaloes in Maasai Mara were captured by darting and blood samples collected for bovine tuberculosis disease testing. The blood samples were to be tested by two different serological tests, Bovigam® and Stat-Pak® tests. Thirty (30) cattle from the villages around Amboseli NP and about 40 cattle around Maasai Mara area were selected from different representative herds and tested using tuberculin test, Bovid Stat-Pak® test and Bovigam® test. A few lymph node tissue samples were also collected from Kimana and Loitokitok slaughterhouses for further culture and bacteriology tests for Mycobacterium bovis.

Testing of Baboons and Vervet monkey in Maasai Mara

In Maasai Mara one baboon and 1 vervet monkey were also trapped using a trapping cage then sedated using 30mgs and 70mgs of ketamine Hcl respectively, blood samples were collected and tested for bovine tuberculosis infection using Primate Stat-Pak® test. Both the vervet and baboon tested negative with Primate Stat-Pak® test.             

The trapped baboon  The immobilized baboon

Taking a blood sample from the baboon

Treatment of a male lion at Ol Choro-Oiroua wildlife conservancy in Maasai Mara

Free ranging lions are very much prone to traumatic injuries or bite wounds while hunting for food, or fighting each other for a mate. They often sustain fractures or severe injuries/ wounds and may even die in some instances.  One of the male lions in Ol-Choro-Oroua Wildlife Conservancy in Mara was found to be weak and preferred lying down most of the times during the day. It was paralyzed and was staggering while walking. The lion was unable to hunt and had started loosing body condition.

The lion was successfully anaesthetized by darting using xylazine Hcl combined with ketamine Hcl and examined. It had several bruises on the skin and some bite wounds on the thigh muscles. It felt a lot of pain on the vertebral column when palpated and reacted even though it was under anaesthesia. It had much pain on the spinal column and partial paralysis of the front legs. The main cause of paralysis was attributed to a recent fight by other lions which had invaded that pride earlier.

The lion was treated using dexamethasone administered intramuscularly to relieve pain and minimize inflammation and long-acting antibiotics to control any systemic infection that may have developed. All the external wounds were sprayed using oxytetracycline spray, then it was revived from anaesthesia. 

The immobilized lion  The lion treated for partial limb paralysis

 

Prognosis

The lion had good prognosis because it was only partially paralyzed and it was being fed by the other pride members which frequently visited him. It still had good appetite and water was readily available for him. The rangers were instructed to keep monitoring its progress and report to the veterinarian incase the lion required further treatment.

 

Removal of an arrow-head and treatment of a giraffe near Oloololo gate in Mara Conservancy

This was a case of an adult male giraffe which was reported to have an arrow-head sticking out on the right side of the neck. It was suspected to have been shot by an arrow while sharing grazing pasture with livestock in the immediate surrounding community areas. The arrow had sharp hooks and had penetrated deep into the neck muscles causing muscle injuries and severe pain, pus accumulation and swelling.

The giraffe was captured by chemical immobilization through darting using 13mgs of etorphine Hcl combined with 30mgs of xylazine Hcl on the right thigh. It took about 10 minutes for the drug to take effect and the giraffe was roped down in a densely vegetated area along Mara River. Unfortunately the giraffe was lying in a wrong position and the removal of the arrow-head from the neck and treatment had to be very fast to avoid the animal from developing any complications.

The arrow-head was successfully removed from the neck and the resulting wound treated using a tincture of iodine applied topically. Betamox® antibiotic and dexamethasone were also administered intramuscularly for the treatment of bacterial infection and to reduce any inflammatory reaction respectively.

The giraffe is darted

 

Anaesthesia revival and prognosis

After treatment, the giraffe was revived from anaesthesia using 36mgs of diprenorphine Hcl combined with 5mgs of atipamezole Hcl administered through the jugular vein; it took about 3 minutes to rise up. It had good prognosis after treatment and removal of the foreign material from the neck.

Wildebeests collaring exercise in Amboseli, Nairobi NP & Kitengela/Kajiado/Isinya areas; 9th to 20th October, 2010.

Background information

Wildebeests and other wild ungulates move over wide ranges every year to access diversity of resources (pasture, water) to meet their needs. However, their movements are limited by increasing land fragmentation, crop farming, human settlements, livestock keeping and other obstacles. In addition, climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of drought requiring animals to move further to access sufficient pastures. These issues can be addressed by intensive monitoring of wildlife movements and creation of wildlife dispersal areas. In this regard, there is a collaborative exercise between Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), and Colorado State University through African Conservation Centre (ACC) to map the distribution and movement patterns of wildebeests in three main ecosystems Maasai Mara, Nairobi NP/Kitengela and Amboseli ecosystems in the next 2 years (104 weeks).

To achieve this, a total of 39 wildebeests will have to be captured and fitted with GPS/satellite collars, 15 in Maasai Mara, 9 in Amboseli and 15 in Nairobi NP/Kitengela area. These are key conservation areas which are characterized with high human-wildlife-livestock interaction levels and frequent movements of free ranging wildebeest across human settlement areas.  In Maasai Mara, all the 15 wildebeests had been captured and collared in May, 2010 and already a preliminary data of wildebeest movements is available.

A similar exercise was successfully carried out in Amboseli and Nairobi NP/Kitengela as from 9th October to 20th October, 2010. The information received will then be used to inform the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), general public and other policy makers on the effects of land fragmentation and climate change on wildebeest population and address sustainability of landscapes shared by wildlife, livestock and humans. This may be applied in policy issues for creation of corridors for wildlife conservation and movement.

Wildebeest collaring exercise in Amboseli and Nairobi NP/Kitengela area;

A total of twenty one (21) adult wildebeests were captured by darting and fitted with GPS/satellite collars, 9 individuals in Amboseli NP and 12 in Nairobi NP, Kitengela, Isinya and Kajiado areas. Participants in this exercise included KWS veterinary team from Maasai Mara, KWS scientists from Nairobi and Amboseli, scientists from African Conservation Centre (ACC), David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) and community members from the respective areas.

The animals were captured by darting from a vehicle using etorphine hydrochloride combined with xylazine hydrochloride, representative wildebeest herds were selected in each area and from each herd 1 or 2 wildebeests were captured and fitted with collars.                   

A wildebbest is darted

An immobilized wildebeest after being darted  Examining the wildebeest

Taking a blood sample

Putting the collar on  Wildebeest with a collar

Samples collection

Blood samples were collected from each animal and will be analyzed for diseases monitoring purposes. Hair samples were also collected from each animal for isotopic analysis. Ticks samples were also collected for identification and establishment of tick diversity in wildebeests.

Conclusions and recommendations;

All the collared wildebeests will be jointly monitored by KWS and ACC for a period of 2 years and the data downloaded directly from the shared website which is already available to KWS, ACC and Colorado State University. We acknowledge the support of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and all other partners and those who participated actively to ensure the success of this exercise.

 

Treatment of a snared elephant calf in Mara Triangle, Mara Conservancy

An elephant calf of about one and half years old was sighted with a tight snare encircling its left front leg, it could be seen bleeding and walking with a lot of difficulties while following the mother. They were in a large family of about 15 elephants. The calf had stayed with the snare on for quite long before it was sighted for treatment. It was successfully captured by chemical immobilization and treated before being released.

Chemical immobilization and treatment

The calf was captured by darting from a vehicle using 4mgs of etorphine Hcl darted on the left thigh and the drug took effect after about 5 minutes, the mother refused to leave the calf despite several attempts to scare it away using the vehicle and some gun shots in the air, finally it had to be immobilized too using 16mgs of etorphine Hcl.

Examination and treatment of the wound

After capturing the calf and its mother, the wound was examined and probed using long tissue forceps, it was then realized that the wire had fallen off after causing a very severe wound encircling the left front leg. The wound caused by the snare was properly cleaned and debrided using water and 10% hydrogen peroxide, then treated by topical application of tincture of iodine and oxytetracycline spray.

High doses of long-acting antibiotics and antinflammatories were instituted to take care of the bacterial infection and control inflammatory reactions. The calf was then immediately revived from anaesthesia and the mother was also revived afterwards to ensure a smooth re-union of the calf and the mother. They both moved together and joined the rest of the family which were just 200 meters away. 

The mother is also darted  Close up of the wound

The wound is cleaned

Disinfecting the wound  The calf after treatment

Mother and calf are reunited

Prognosis

It had good chances of recovery from the injury after the treatment because the wire/irritant had been removed and the wound treated. However, the Mara conservancy rangers and scouts were advised to monitor the calf regularly and report on its progress just in case it requires repeat treatment.

Conclusion

During the month of October, 2010, the Mara veterinary unit responded to all the reported veterinary cases within Maasai Mara ecosystem as indicated in the above report.  The unit still requires scientific equipment like gas refrigerator and a solar panel for processing and storage of biological samples for wildlife diseases research and diagnosis. Kenya Wildlife Service appreciates the support of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) towards provision of prompt veterinary services and conservation of wildlife in Maasai Mara ecosystem, Central Rift region and Ruma NP.

Report by: Dr. Domnic Mijele