The Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit

Field Report - February 2014

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Introduction:

The Tsavo ecosystem continued to receive the much needed and unexpected rains during February, which has turned the ecosystem into lush and green landscape. Cases remain low, but we are seeing an upsurge of poaching related injuries by use of arrows. The elephants targeted are the big Tuskers, with lower incidences on elephant cows and bulls with small tusks. Elephants attended included our cherished “Mshale” who was treated for the fourth time. He was treated for deep puncture wounds caused by a spear thrown from a tree downwards. Other cases were not so lucky and had to be euthanized.

 

CASE #1 TREATMENT OF MSHALE

Date: 3rd February 2014

Species: Elephant

Sex: Male

Age: Adult

Location: Ithumba, Tsavo East

History:

Mshale is a well-known elephant bull due to his huge tusks. He is also a common visitor at the Ithumba water hole, especially during the dry periods. He has been treated every year since 2011 and he was treated again this month for a more serious deep spear wound. On the 3rd of February Mshale was seen at the water hole in pain and trying to clean his wounds with muddy water. He only moved a few meters to forage.

Immobilization and treatment:

Immobilization was done using 18 mgs of Etorphine propelled in a Dan Inject dart system on foot. Mshale did not move much and fell on the left flank leaving the deep gaping wound on the shoulder and the right ear flap exposed. Two deep penetrating wounds suspected to have been caused by two separate spears were observed. The first wound went through the right ear flap and into the right side of the neck with the second hitting his back, behind the right scapular and deep into the serratus muscles.

The three wounds were cleaned with hydrogen peroxide mixed with water, doused with tincture of Iodine and sprayed with Oxytetracycline spray. Long acting painkillers and antibiotics were administered. A final coat of green clay was applied to the wound. 

The wound is examined  Mshale is treated for deep spear wounds

Reversal:

Anaesthesia reversal was done using Diprenorphine at 3 times the Etorphine dose. Mshale could not stand by himself and a tractor was called in to assist with pulling him up onto his feet. He looked at the team briefly before walking away slowly.

Prognosis:

Prognosis is poor to fair. A repeat treatment was advised. 

The vet reverses the anaesthetic   Mshale's wounds are treated

CASE #2 RESCUE OF AN ABANDONED ZEBRA FOAL

Date: 4th February 2014

Species: Zebra

Sex: Female

Age: Infant

Location: Manyani, Tsavo West

History:

A zebra was reported abandoned by a group of locals herding cattle near the park. A team were sent in to secure the young zebra and give it the much needed nutrition of special milk and water. She was found staying in a camp built for Kishushe fence attendants. The zebra foal was fed on specially prepared lactogen milk supplement and easily loaded onto the vet landcruiser. She found a ready home at the Voi stockade and even has another older orphan zebra to keep her company. She will be slowly released to the wild once old enough. 

The little Zebra orphan  This little orphan was taken to the Voi Stockade

She takes her milk   Kishushe is the newest addition to Voi

CASE #3 TREATMENT OF AN INJURED ELEPHANT

Date: 7th February 2014

Species: Elephant

Sex: Male

Age: Adult

Location: Oldonyo Wuas Lodge, Chyulu

History:

While undertaking the Tsavo elephant census in Taita Hills Sanctuary, a huge bull was spotted near the Oldonyo wuas water hole with a penetrating injury to the left flank. Quick assessment indicated the injuries were caused by arrows which are becoming common in the area.

Immobilization:

The bull was immobilized using 18 mgs of Etorphine in a Dan Inject dart system. He moved away and fell down about 500 meters away. The two holes on the left flank were opened with a clean surgical knife and followed deep into the intercostal muscles which complicated any meaningful surgical intervention. 

This bull was wounded by arrows

General Examination:

After a thorough review of the depth of the arrows it was deemed useless to treat as final peritonitis and bacterial septicaemia will set in. The elephant was euthanized and two arrow heads were retrieved from deep inside the rib cage. 

The arrows were removed from the rib cage

CASE #4 RESCUE OF AN ELEPHANT CALF

Date: 12th February 2014

Species: Elephant

Sex: Male

Age: Infant

Location: Shimba Hills National Reserve

History:

A young elephant calf was spotted walking around without a mother, near community lands in Mwaluganje reserve by fence attendants. The case was reported to the research team in Shimba Hills Reserve who acted fast and rescued the elephant calf. He was transferred to Tsavo East National Park where a team from the Sheldricks Voi orphanage prepared a good place and drink for the evening. He was airlifted to Nairobi the next morning as he was too young to stay in Voi stockade. 

The rescue of Mwalolo  Little Mwalolo is scared of his new surroundings

Mwalolo hiding behind his greens  Mwalolo settles down

CASE #5 TREATMENT OF AN INJURED ELEPHANT

Date: 20th February 2014

Species: Elephant

Sex: Male

Age: Adult

Location: Ithumba, Tsavo East

History:

The Ithumba area of Tsavo east is home to orphans raised by the David Sheldricks Wildlife Trust. There is a group of bachelor bulls numbering around 10, which includes “Mshale”, who was treated earlier in the month. While searching for Mshale for a repeat treatment, another elephant bull was spotted with an injury to the leg which had hanging tissues. The vet team rushed in by air and easily found the elephant bull in the area with several others.

Immobilization and treatment:

The bull was immobilized by darting from the air, which made it a simple task. 18mgs of Etorphine propelled from a Dan Inject dart system was used. The elephant was herded by the chopper towards the road for easy access by the ground team. The bull fell on a sternal position that isn’t good as it interferes with breathing. He was finally pulled around with the assistance of a tractor. The lateral side of the hind limb near the knee joint was wounded with protruding dead muscles tissues. An opening was made at the most ventral part of the wounded site. The dead tissues were pulled out, an arrow head was removed and the hollowed wound was then cleaned with water mixed with hydrogen peroxide, doused with tincture of Iodine and sprayed with Oxytetracycline spray. A final coat of green clay was applied to the wound.

Long acting antibiotics and Dexamethasone were administered parenterally. 

Another arrow injury

Reversal:

After the operation was completed the ground team were given time to move back before the reversal drugs were administered. The bull woke up after a Diprenorphine intravenous injection was administered.

Prognosis:

He has been given a good prognosis. 

Dead muscle tissue is removed

CASE #6 TREATMENT OF AN INJURED ELEPHANT

Date: 26th February 2014

Species: Elephant

Sex: Male

Age: Sub Adult

Location: Ndara Plains, Tsavo East

History:

Elephants foraging around Ndara plains usually move to the Ranches around Taita, especially Rukinga and Taita ranch, during dry periods. Some of these individuals sustain injuries from poaching attempts, especially when crossing the Nairobi –Mombasa highway. This young bull was seen with abdominal swelling on the side of the body.

Immobilization and treatment:

Immobilization was done using 16 mgs of Etorphine propelled using Dan Inject dart system from a vehicle. He was separated from the family and assisted to fall on the left side. An incision was made at the most ventral area of the large gaping hole left by an arrow head.

A large amount of sand mixed with pus was cleaned out after which a huge chunk of necrotic muscle tissue was removed. Large amounts of water mixed with hydrogen peroxide, was used to clean the wound. An arrow head was retrieved from the injured site before being doused with Iodine and covered with green clay. 

The elephant is immobilised  This bull goes down after darting

Reversal:

Anaesthesia reversal was done using Diprenorphine hcl at three times the Etorphine dose.

Prognosis:

Prognosis is good. 

The vet examines a large wound on the bulls side  Sand mixed with pus is drained from the wound

CASE #7 TREATMENT OF AN INJURED ELEPHANT

Date: 27th February 2014

Species: Elephant

Sex: Female

Age: Adult

Location: Rukinga Ranch

History:

Rukinga Ranch borders the park on the south western side and forms a good dispersal area of the Tsavo East elephants. This case was reported by Rukinga Rangers and the vet team rushed in to find the weak lame elephant cow beside a water hole. She tried to move away with difficulty.

Immobilization and treatment:

The elephant was immobilized using 15 mgs of Etorphine in Dan Inject dart system. She went down in 6 minutes and some trees had to be cut down to give her breathing space. Her right front leg was found with a bullet injury that went all the way through. The wound was washed clean, doused with tincture of Iodine and sprayed with Oxytetracycline spray. A final cover of green clay was applied to the wound.

Long acting antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and vitamin B12 complex were administered to save this important elephant cow. 

This female elephant has been shot  The vet assess her injuries

Prognosis:

Prognosis is fair. 

The elephant cow has been shot through the foot  The prognosis for this elephant is good

ELEPHANT TUBERCULOSIS SCREENING

Date: 24th – 30th February 2014

Species: Elephant

Age: Adult

Location: Tsavo

Tuberculosis in elephants is an emerging zoonotic infection that is transmitted from humans - elephants and vice versa. Elephants are also known to transmit the disease among themselves due to their close social structures and the habit of smelling other elephants for recognition. The veterinary department acquired 40 elephant TB serological test kits from Chembio diagnostics USA for screening purposes. The test kit with a specificity of more than 98 % was used opportunistically on injured or apparently ill animals that require vet attention.

A total of 5 elephants both from the wild and former orphans were tested and all returned negative. Further testing will continue.

 

CASE #8 POSTMORTEM OF AN ELEPHANT

Species: Elephant

Sex: Female

Age: Adult

Location: Galana River

Conclusion

An elephant cow was reported dead along Galana River and autopsy carried out with inconclusive results. It’s suspected to be poisoning.

 

SEARCH FOR AN ELEPHANT

An elephant bull reported with an arrow wound in Lualenyi (LUMO) ranch could not be traced afterwards, search is continuing and once spotted will be treated promptly.

 

CONCLUSION

Cases of elephant injuries through arrow shots continue to occur due to its silent nature. Most of the cases reported currently are bulls with heavy tusks, a clear indication of poaching attempts. The unit will continue responding to cases as they are reported in order to save this important species.

The unit would like to appreciate the support of its sponsors VIER PFOTEN through the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) for their continued support that enabled us save the suffering wildlife at their time of need. We also thank Kenya Wildlife Service through the Assistant director Tsavo conservation area and the head, veterinary and capture services department for their great contribution.

Reported by:-

Dr Jeremiah Poghon

Unit veterinarian