The Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit
Field Report - July 2004
Return to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
The activities in the month of August were relatively more than the previous three months and are expected to increase in the coming months following the dry season and famine across the country. This might increase the incidences of human-wildlife conflicts and hunting for game meat resulting to more cases of injury. Frequent patrols were also done. These were also used to familiarise the new driver with the park. The activities are described below.
The first report was on the 8th and was of an adult (30-35 years old) tusk less female elephant at Kanderi (GPS 37M 0462297E, 9629466S) that was seen lying down and presumed to be dead. However, we found it up but it looked dull and was unable to move on being approached and provoked. There were no visible injuries but it was noticed that it avoided putting its full weight on the right hind leg which however had no abnormalities like swelling or injury that could be seen. Without any injuries, there was no veterinary assistance that could be given to it. It remained in the same area for two days. It died on the second day late in the evening.
An autopsy was done the next day. The carcass had been scavenged the previous night and some internal organs like the liver were missing. The intestines were also torn with the contents contaminating other internal organs. The significant findings were a virtually empty gastrointestinal tract and points of haemorrhages on subcutaneous tissues and on internal organs. These haemorrhages looked like points of trauma possibly from goring by another elephant. There were some unconfirmed reports that the elephant tripped and fell while being mounted by a huge bull in musth seen in the locality. Probably it sprained one of its joints in the process and that is why it avoided putting weight on its leg and could not ambulate to browse and water. This together with standing in hot weather for a prolonged period of time may have resulted to severe dehydration with the consequence of electrolyte imbalances and acidosis.
The unit was called on the 10th to examine and advice on the fate of Lilac Sterlings confiscated from poachers at Kuranze on the Kenya- Tanzania border. The birds numbering about 150 and stacked in four cartons without feed or water were destined for export for purposes that were not established. About 40 of them had already succumbed to the effects of hunger and dehydration. The culprits disclosed that the birds were in these cartons for seven days before the arrests were made. They have already been sentenced for this offence. The birds were released into an enclosure for two days where they were provided with feed and water before being released free. This was considered necessary in order to avoid predation when they were still weak and vulnerable.
The other case was of a Grants Gazelle with mange in the same general area as the above elephant (GPS 37M 0464027E, 9629310S) sighted on the 15th. Mange is a skin disease caused by mites and characterised by itching, loss of hair and thickening and wrinkling of the skin. The lesions were widespread but were most severe on the underside of the neck,
inner surface of thighs and front legs, brisket and around the root of the tail. The gazelle was too elusive to dart on the first day. Darkness caught up with us while still trying to manoeuvre and approach to within darting distance. This made identification from the other group members difficult and there was also fear of loosing it after darting before the drugs took full effect. The operation was suspended until the next day when it was darted on the first attempt. Treatment was done with Ivermectin (Ivomec®) administered subcutaneously and an antibiotic cover of long acting amoxycillin (Betamox®). One treatment is normally adequate, but a repeat treatment is done after 2 weeks if the response is not satisfactory. Reversal of the immobilisation drugs (M99® and Xylazine) was achieved by M5050® and Antisedan®.
Monitoring of this particular gazelle and other herds will continue to ensure that the disease does not spread to the other populations.
On the 19th during patrol we encountered an adult giraffe at Ndololo (GPS 37M 0456268, 9627882S) with a trailing copper wire snare on the neck in a herd of 8. The snare was loose and had not inflicted any injury. Additional personnel were sought from the de-snaring team. The giraffe was successfully immobilised with M99® and xylazine. The snare was removed and the animal reversed with M5050® and Antisedan®.
A female elephant aged 12-13 years old was seen on 20th fallen at the banks of Galana River (GPS 37M 0485775E, 9662235N). It was seen struggling but unable to stand up. It was reported to us by the rhino surveillance team but they were not sure for how long it had been in the water. The report got to us in the evening while on patrol in Bachuma area. It was already too late to make it to the site and without rangers who we didn’t have that day it would have been a very risky undertaking. This is a highly insecure area to work without armed personnel. It is also against park regulations to travel to that area at night. We were given two rangers the next morning to take us to the sight. We found the elephant too weak and unresponsive to our presence and handling. It was hypothermic (Temperature 320C) and could not be saved. It seemed like it had been in the water for a prolonged period of time judging by the whitish colour change on the underneath skin. The abdomen was also depressed considerably showing that it may not have fed for 2 or 3 days. It also looked relatively emaciated. Its chances of survival were minimal. There were however, no visible external injuries. The circumstances under which it fell were not obvious whether it fell while trying to cross the river or it rolled over the cliff. We tried pulling it from the water and turning it to the other side without success.
The area was down a cliff and completely inaccessible by vehicle. We radioed the rhino team for additional personnel but they were far away on other engagements. After hours of no success and based on poor prognosis, permission was sought from the AD to put it down. The conditions did not allow conducting of an autopsy due unavailability of proper equipment.
The following day (21st) the unit was requested to go to Amboseli to assist in the treatment of an elephant calf speared three times by Maasai boys. On arrival we were informed that the calf’s mother could not be traced for two days therefore necessitating rescue and airlifting to the Nairobi Orphanage. This arrangement was made with the Trust which was more than willing to receive it. The calf aged about 18months was found deep in the one of the Amboseli swamps near Maji ya Kioko area. It was driven out of the swamp after nearly three hours of concerted efforts. Once out it ran towards another swamp further a field. Since it was too strong to restrain physically it necessitated darting from a with 2mg M99® administered with the Dan-Inject rifle and thereafter herded to prevent it going back into the swamp. It went down after about 5 minutes. The wounds were examined, cleaned and topically treated, and the animal given a long acting antibiotic.
The wounds were on the rump, abdomen and the chest areas. They were not deep and those on the chest and abdomen were subcutaneous (not penetrating). The calf was afterwards loaded into a pickup and taken to the airstrip from where it was airlifted to Nairobi. While airborne, 1mg of M99® was added after the narcosis became light (manifested by strong and increased trunk movements, increased frequency of ear movements, increased respiration and paddling of the legs). It was too strong to restrain physically while airborne.
The calf had been given very good prognosis but it died on the second day after arrival. Its death was shocking and unexpected. It is possible that it suffered psychological depression and distress that makes the immune system depressed in some of those rescued. This renders them susceptible to pneumonia and other opportunistic infections some of which may be fatal.
The last case in the month was of a zebra foal with the fracture of the distal tibia and an extensive infected wound on the stifle joint with torn ligaments near Voi Safari Lodge (GPS 37M 0450833E, 9633120E) on the 27th. It was immobilised and euthanased with Pentobarbitone Sodium 20% (Euthatal®) given intravenously to stop further suffering. The cause of the injury was difficult to determine but was thought to be mauling by a hyena. The injury was very severe and the animal could not be saved.
And an elephant treated in November last year was positively identified behind Voi Safari Lodge (GPS 37M 0459261E, 9641507S). This was the same general where treatment was done. The identification was from the scar left after the wound healed. The wound was on the caudal (back side) of the right elbow. The animal at the time of treatment was lying on the dart and we could not manage to turn it to get the dart out. We therefore let it go with the dart but we were sure that it would fall off in 2 to 3 days, which it did. The scar can be seen on the picture below though not very clearly. There were also other similarities on shape and size of tusks and ears.