The Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit

Field Report - October 2004

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The case load in October was lower than the previous month which was the busiest month since the Unit was established. An Injured Bull Elephant at Amboseli National Park. The bull had what was thought to be an arrow wound on the right fore leg. The leg was very swollen and it was highly suspected that the arrow may have been poisoned. The animal was in a lot of pain and could not bear weight on the leg. It didn’t move on dart impact and went down on the same spot. A lot of pus was drained and the wound was thoroughly cleaned and treated.

The wound before treatment  Dr. Ndeereh starts to clean the wound squeezing out the puss

All the puss has been removed from the wound  The wound after treatment

High doses of an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory drug were given. On revival however, the animal was unable to support itself to stand as it was lying on the right side. The injured leg was stiff and could not bend to grip the ground. Attempts to assist it to stand were futile and after about 40 minutes of trying we decided to turn it over onto the left side using two land cruiser vehicles. This was achieved without much problem and the animal stood up immediately.

The bull elephant back on its feet  The bull elephant walking after treatment

It will be monitored to establish recovery progress and whether a repeat treatment will be necessary. Several other animals with injuries from poisoned arrows have been treated and recovered and we also expect this particular animal to recover. The Amboseli elephant was given a repeat treatment on 12th October. The infection by this time had cleared but the swelling had not subsided and was still walking with a lot of difficult. Rescue of an Elephant Calf at Lake Jipe within Tsavo west National Park. The calf was about three weeks old and was stuck in mud at the shores of the lake which separates Kenya and Tanzania. It looked like its mother abandoned it after it was unable to help it. The lake is fast drying up due to reduced inflow from its inlets following extensive irrigation farming upstream. The KWS rangers based near the lake responded to its cries of distress and rescued it. This was done late in the evening of 2nd September. They confined it in a room and called the Unit the following morning. Arrangements were made to airlift it to the Nairobi nursery where it has already adapted to the rehabilitation programme.

The calf outside the KWS rangers unit  The calf has some milk upon arrival at the KWS rangers unit at Lake Jipe

Receiving a dose of antibiotics  Having some milk the next morning

The calf meets one of the keepers from the Nairobi Nursery  The calf is loaded into the plane to be flown to the Nairobi Nursery

Jipe at the Nairobi nursery with Mishak

We went back to Amboseli on the 14th October after we were called to treat a small calf with cut wounds on the trunk. The calf belonged to the PC family which was however not found despite two days of an intensive search by three teams; the park management, Amboseli Elephant Research and the Unit.

The calf with cut wounds on its trunk  The calf's wounds can be clearly seen

It was very surprising as the Research team was with the family the previous day, just for it to disappear and never to be found again to date. The Unit is in constant touch with Amboseli and the search is still ongoing. While looking for the above calf, we encountered the OB family whose two members, the matriarch and another cow, were speared by Maasai morans in August. The two whose progress had also been reported in September were observed to have recovered completely.

The OB family  Odile's wounds have healed completely

Other animals carrying snares that were reported but were not found included a giraffe in Taita Development Centre (TDC) and an elephant in Tsavo West national park. Unfortunately, off road driving is allowed at TDC and when we arrived we found that someone had pursued the giraffe trying to photograph it for almost an hour. Most parts of the ranch are covered by thick bushes which makes it very difficult to see animals. The area where it had been seen was relatively open and ideal for immobilisation, but unfortunately by the time we arrived, the giraffe had become agitated and had taken off into the thick bushes where it could not be found. The ranch scouts will be looking for it and the Unit will be called when found. The search for the elephant in Tsavo West was also made very difficult by thick bushes and difficult terrain which made off road driving practically impossible. The elephant was not found and the search had to be cut short because the vehicle had to undergo major repairs in Nairobi. The park management will monitor and establish its movements and get back to us. We experienced an unfortunate incident on 20th October when a confirmed rabid dog entered the elephant stockade in Ithumba and bit five of the ten orphans currently under rehabilitation. The diagnosis was made at the Veterinary Investigation Laboratories at Mariakani in Mombasa on the brain specimen submitted after the dog was killed by the keepers. The orphans were immediately put on an intensive vaccination programme. They were given 1.5ml of a rabies vaccine (Rabsin®) on the first day after exposure. This was increased to 3ml on the 4th day after we consulted a Dr. Ashrab, a vet from India where such cases are common. The same amount was given 5 days latter. This will be repeated weekly until the elephants will have had a total of seven doses. The unexposed elephants were given 1ml of the same vaccine to be repeated after a month. We think that the elephants may not have contracted the disease because of their thick skin which the dog could not bite through. The bites were only superficial scratches on their lower hind feet. The rabies virus needs to be deposited deep into the muscles where initial multiplication occurs before the muscle spindles get infected. The latter provides an entry route into the nerve endings. The virus then moves along the nerves and invades the brain to cause the encephalic signs of the disease. The possibility of deep introduction of the virus does not exist in these cases as the wounds were not serious. However, the elephants are under close observation for any abnormal behaviour that may develop. Meanwhile, all the keepers have also been vaccinated and advised on every precautionary measure and the possible signs that may develop.