The Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit

Field Report - May 2014

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Reported by Dr Jeremiah Poghon

Introduction

In the month of May the Tsavo ecosystem did not experience a dramatic increase in number of veterinary cases reported which was attributed to heightened security and the good rains experienced early this year and late last year. Cases attended include an injured elephant bull in Dakota area, immobilization and euthanasia of two elephants shot in Amaka ranch, treatment of an injured bull in Ngulia sanctuary and collaring of lions in Kuku ranch. Cases of elephant injuries were caused by poaching attempts.

CASE#1 TREATMENT OF AN INJURED ELEPHANT BULL

Date: 4 May 2014

Species: Elephant

Sex: Male

Age: Adult

Location: Dakota Area of Tsavo East National Park

History

An old elephant bull was spotted by KWS rangers near the Dakota fence line with pronounced lameness on the right hind limb.

An injured Elephant in Dakota Area is attended too  The leg of the elephant has a bullet wound

Immobilization, examination and treatment

The elephant was shy and vanished briefly before he was located again and immobilized using 18 mgs of Etorphine in a Dan Inject Dart system. The tiny penetrating wound on the distal end of the leg was suggestive of a gunshot injury. The wound was washed clean using water mixed with hydrogen peroxide in a ratio of 1:1, pus drained out, doused with iodine and covered with green clay. Long acting antibiotics and dexamethasone were administered parenterally.

The wound is examined  The wound has been cleaned and treated

Prognosis

After a thorough evaluation of the injury a good prognosis was given.

CASE#2 TREATMENT OF AN INJURED ELEPHANT BULL

Date: 8 May 2014

Species: Elephant

Sex: Male

Age: Adult (40 years)

Location: Ngulia Valley, Tsavo West

History

A huge bull was seen by the DSWT pilot near Ngulia Rhino sanctuary limping and moving with difficulty. Close observation revealed the bull had lameness of the front limb. Due to the heavy undergrowth chopper darting was the most viable alternative.

Immobilization

The chopper was secured early in the morning of 8th and a fixed wing plane used to locate the injured bull. 18 mgs of Etorphine was used to immobilize the elephant from the helicopter. The elephant went down in 7 minutes. Vehicles had a difficult time reaching the area and the vet had to be dropped nearby to monitor the immobilized elephant before the rest of the team could reach the area.

Ngulia injured elephant  Examination revealed an arrow injury to the leg

Examination and treatment

The left front limb was swollen, cold in the extremities and had an arrow like injury on the medial side near the armpit. The huge 40 year old bull was still in good body condition. Wounds were cleaned with hydrogen peroxide mixed with water, splashed with tincture of Iodine and Oxytetracycline spray. A coat of green clay was used to cover the injury. Long acting antibiotics was administered to protect from bacterial infection and painkillers injected.

Prognosis

Due to the cold extremities, a sign of poor or interrupted blood supply to the limb, a poor prognosis of healing was given.

CASE#3 TREATMENT OF AN INJURED LION

Date: 12 May 2014

Species: Lion

Sex: Male

Age: Sub Adult

Location: Voi River, Tsavo East National Park

History

The male lion was seen by the Dakota patrol team while on their usual patrols along Voi River manifesting difficulty in movement. Upon closer examination a huge wound was seen on the medial aspect of the right thigh.

A young male lion has been injured by a buffalo  Three gaping wounds are found

Immobilization, examination and treatment:

The lion was immobilized using a mixture of 300 mgs Ketamine Hcl anaesthetic drug mixed with 4mgs of Meditomidine hcl in a Dan Inject Dart Gun. The lion moved about 50 meters and lay down slowly. On examination three huge gaping holes were seen on the medial aspect of the right hind limb suspected to have been inflicted by a buffalo attack. The young male must have tried to kill an oversized buffalo. The wound was cleaned using normal saline, and all debris removed. An antibiotic ointment was applied to the open wound and skin sutured using an interrupted pattern by using size 2-0 nylon suture. 15 cc of long acting amoxicillin and 10 cc dexamethasone were administered by intramascular injection. After an operation that took nearly 11/2 hours the lion was reversed using Antisedan hcl at 5cc intramascularly.

The lions wound is cleaned  The vet stitches the wounds closed

The wound is stitched closed   The wounds are treated with antiseptic spray

Prognosis

Prognosis given was guarded due to his inability to hunt prey but the lion was spotted two weeks later walking by the roadside and appeared strong.

CASE#4 IMMOBILISATION AND POSTMORTEM OF FEMALE ELEPHANT

Date: 15 May 2014

Species: Elephant

Sex: Female

Age: Adult

Location: Amaka Ranch, Tsavo

History

After reports of bullet shots in Amaka ranch, the security teams rushed into the area to find some elephants already dead and another elephant cow limping nearby and in great pain after surviving the traumatic experience. The vet unit was called in to assess the condition of the elephant and treat her.

General examination

She was immobilized using 16 mgs of Etorphine propelled in Dan Inject Dart System and the elephant fell down in 6 minutes. Close examination of the injured limb revealed swelling and complete fracture of the left femoral bone. Complete femoral bone fractures in adult elephants and rhinos are usually untreatable especially when the animal has to forage and look for water in great distances in the wild.

An elephant cow with a bullet wound in Amaka Ranch  Postmortem revealed a complete fracture by bullet

Conclusion

The young female was euthanized to end her suffering and relieve the great pain it was undergoing. Autopsy confirmed the diagnosis of complete fracture of the left femoral bone from a direct bullet hit.

CASE#5 POSTMORTEM OF AN ELEPHANT

Date: 18 May 2014

Species: Elephant

Sex: Male

Age: Sub Adult

Location: Near Manyani along Nairobi-Mombasa Road

History

The young bull was hit by a lorry/trailer along the busy Mombasa-Nairobi road on the night of 18th May and died instantly. It is suspected to have been in a group of other family members. The tusks were removed and kept in safe custody and the autopsy revealed massive internal bleeding in the organs. Cases of wildlife deaths killed by vehicles along the Mombasa- Nairobi highway continue to be a concern especially in big game.

A young bull was killed in a road accident on the Nairobi-Mombasas Highway  His small tusks were removed by KWS

CASE#6 IMMOBILISATION AND POSTMORTEM OF MALE ELEPHANT

Date: 18 May 2014

Species: Elephant

Sex: Male

Age: Sub Adult

Location: Amaka Ranch

History

The vet team was back in Amaka ranch barely three days after the last incident where gun shots were heard in the area. Gun shots were heard again on the evening of 17th May and during a search the next morning a young male bull was found with leg lameness a short distance from the previous case.

General Examination

He was immobilized using 12 mgs of Etorphine in a Dan Inject Dart System. The leg was checked by moving it and a crackling sound was heard from the mid right femur. With no X-ray equipment in the field, deep percussion was used to diagnose the fracture of the right femur.

The bulls leg is examined for a fracture  A postmortem reveals the bull has a complete fracture with severe damage

Conclusion

After certainty of fracture it was decided to euthanize him to end his suffering and pain. The young bull was euthanized and autopsy revealed complete and complex fracture of the femur with massive muscle tears! There was fresh fracture, muscle shreds by broken bones and haemorrhage with recovery of a bullet head. It must have been very painful to the young bull.

CASE #7 POSTMORTEM OF A MALE ELEPHANT

Date: 19 May 2014

Species: Elephant

Sex: Male

Age: Adult

Location: Jipe Area

History

A huge elephant bull was spotted dead by KWS rangers with the tusks hacked off but with no obvious injury in the body. The vet team was called in to carry out an autopsy to ascertain the cause of death. The carcass was still fresh and aged between 14-24hours.

A poached elephant carcass was discovered

General Examination

Autopsy revealed the following: - good body condition, no visible body marks apart from small old wounds at the base of the ear and a fresh penetrating wound on the ear flap, no signs of struggle at the scene (meaning death was sudden), all the body organs appeared normal with no haemorrhages, abdominal contents were normal in colour, texture and appearance.

The elephant died from a gunshot to the head

Conclusion

The tentative cause of death was a bullet shot into the head of which one bullet missed and went through the ear flap. No bullet head was recovered as there were no equipments to open the brain. Cause of death- poaching.

CASE #8 RESCUE OF AN ELEPHANT CALF

Date: 27 May 2014

Species: Elephant

Sex: Male

Age: Infant

Location: Lualenyi Ranch

History

A male elephant calf was left behind by its family and located by the Taita hills rangers who reported to the unit. A rescue team comprised of the DSWT De-Snaring Team, Voi Stockade Team and Vet Unit was sent to the area. The calf was easily located and subdue,d but on close examination had a leg injury that may have made him prevented him from moving. The leg was treated and the calf taken to a nearby airstrip where he was loaded onto a plane and airlifted to Nairobi orphanage/nursery.

The Vet Unit helped rescue an elephant calf  The calf was secured

The calf was loaded onto a truck  A plane took the calf to Nairobi

CASE #9 LION COLLARING EXERCISE

Date: 28 – 30th May 2014

Species: Lion

Sex: Female

Age: Adult

Location: Kuku Ranch

History

Kuku ranch is a community wildlife conservation trust also known as Maasai Wildlife Conservation Trust (MWCT) and forms a critical dispersal area for wildlife from Tsavo and Amboseli. Many local Maasai community members resent carnivores as they prey on their main economic livelihood, livestock. Kuku ranch is rich in a diversity of wildlife species that include elephants, zebras, buffaloes, eland and the conflict prone lions and hyenas. The conservancy started a collaring exercise for lions where specific members of a pride are attached with a satellite linked neck collars to monitor their movements and reduce conflict.

Preparation and darting

Due to the rampant conflict between lions and humans in the area where at times lives have been lost, the kuku lions are very shy and nocturnal (only move at night) making darting difficult and could only be undertaken in darkness with the aid of calling stations. Preparations were made early in the day and the teams moved into the areas before dark fall. The three day operation managed to collar one lioness that was in a pride of seven, not far from Iltilal Trading Centre. Darting was by use of 300 mgs Ketamine Hcl mixed with 4 mgs of Meditomidine Hcl. After immobilisation the lioness was fitted with the satellite linked collar around the neck, given supportive medication and revived 11/2 hours later. Follow up on the next day confirmed that she was doing well. 

A female lion was collared from a pride of seven

Two other lions will be collared at a later date.

CASE #10 TREATMENT AND RELOCATION OF A PROBLEMATIC LEOPARD

Date: 29th May 2014

Species: Leopard

Sex: Male

Age: Adult

Location: Komboyo, Tsavo West

History

Leopards are big cats involved in livestock raiding especially when they are too old to hunt or crippled due to any physical injury. An adult leopard was trapped in the Triangle Area of Tsavo East for killing goats and injured himself while trying to escape from the trap. The sharp hook used to attach the bait meat inflicted several puncture and tear wounds on the hind limbs of the leopard.

A leopard was captured in a trap for killing livestock  The leopard is treated by the mobile vet unit

Immobilization and treatment

The leopard was immobilized using 120 mgs of Ketamine and 1 mg of Meditomidine Hcl propelled in a Dan Inject Dart System. Several stitches were enough to close the injuries after cleaning was done. Long acting antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs were administered parenterally.

The leopard sustained injuries from the bait hook  The Vet stitched the wounds

The wounds were cleaned and treated  The wounds were covered in antiseptic spray

Reversal and Relocation

The leopard was returned back to the cage to recover and given 5 cc Antisedan to reverse the anaesthetic drugs. He was finally released in Ngulia valley deep inside the park.

CASE #11 SEARCH FOR LION  

Date: 29th May 2014

Species: Lion

Sex: Male

Age: Adult

Location: Lamu Island

History

A lion that strayed into Lamu Island from the mainland started killing donkeys and spreading fear in the human population. Despite all tactics used to capture him including tracking, using calling station to attract the lion, he proved elusive. KWS and Amu ranch teams were left to continue with the search.

CONCLUSION AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Cases of elephant injuries through gun shots from poaching attempts dominated the cases handled in the month of May.  Most of the cases reported 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.