The Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit

Field Report - June 2005

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Introduction Incidences of human/elephant conflict seem to be on the rise especially in the Amboseli ecosystem going by the number of cases reported to the Unit this month and unconfirmed reports of several elephants lost from spearing in the last few months. Apart from spearing by Maasai morans, spearing is also happening from small scale farmers along several rivers in the area where irrigation farming is becoming a major economic activity, as well as in Loitoktok and across the border in Tanzania when they raid crops in these areas. The morans are also said to have speared close to ten lions in the last several months. We had eight cases this month all involving elephants. Six of these were from the Amboseli ecosystem and the other two from Tsavo. Amboseli Cases The first case was of a young male aged about 19 years treated on 1st at Imbirikani group ranch for five spear wounds at the hindquarters and hind legs. It remained in the same general area after treatment which facilitated close monitoring by the ranch game scouts.

The young bull is located in a thicket of accacia trees  The wounds on the elephants hindquarters before treatment

A close up of a couple of the spear wounds on the elephants hind legs  Dr. Ndeereh cleans the spear wounds removing all the puss

Dr. Ndeereh treats the bulls numerous wounds  The bull tries to get up after receiving the reversal drug

We were called back on the 23rd after the progress was found to be unsatisfactory. During the second immobilisation the infection in the wounds at the hindquarters were found to have cleared but the one on the lower right hind leg had deteriorated. It had accumulated a lot of puss all round the lower joints. A lot of tissue had necrotised making the wound deep up to the bone. The prognosis for recovery was poor and no amount of treatment would have cleared the infection. There was also the possibility of the infection eventually entering into the joints thereby worsening the condition. All those present who included the senior warden for Amboseli concurred that it could not be saved. It was put down to stop more suffering and the tusks recovered. Nearby the same day, there was a bull aged about 40 years with serious multiple spear and arrow injuries all over the body.

The mature bull before it is darted for treatment  The immobilised bull

It seemed to have been attacked by a mob with spears and arrows from the number of the injuries it had- we counted at least ten. There was one wound that had punctured the ventral abdominal wall which was not from spearing because of its position. It was difficult to determine how it got this injury but our thinking was the elephant might have tripped and fallen onto a tree stump or another sharp object as it fought off its attackers.

The immobilised bull showing the injury on the ventral abdomen & inside of the lower left fore leg  A close up of the bull's injury on the ventral abdomen & inner side of the lower left fore leg

A closer view of the injury on the ventral abdomen  One of the many infected spear wounds

The injuries were heavily infected and one could smell rotting tissues from several metres away. The elephant could hardly move even on dart impact. Everybody concurred that it could not be saved and it was put down and the tusks recovered. Earlier on the 13th, we treated a female with two spear wounds, one on the right abdominal area and the other on the lower left leg. Luckily, it was seen early before the infection established itself fully. The injuries were also not deep; the one on the abdomen went in horizontally below the skin and had not involved the abdominal muscles.

The immobilised elephant before treatment  The spear wound in the right abdominal area seeping puss

Dr. Ndeereh cleas the spear wounds  Waiting for the elephant to get up after having adminstered the reversal drug

The female elephant is up and walking after having received treatment for her wounds

The one on the leg was affecting gait and posture and the area around it was slightly swollen. The elephant went down on the right side and we had to turn it over to clean the wound on the abdomen. The female was seen again on the 19th while looking for the bull described below. The discharges had cleared and it was no longer limping.

The elephant rejoins her herd

The bull said above was aged about 60 years old. It sustained serious injuries at the rear from another younger bull during a fight for a female on oestrus. A tusk went in on the left side on the rear and came out one foot above causing extensive muscle tearing internally. We were informed that it had bled heavily before we arrived to the extent that they thought we might find it already dead. We however found it alive but weak.

The old bull before it is darted  The old bull has only one tusk

The bull goes down after being darted  Dr. Ndeereh probes the wound to explore the extent of the injury internally

Dr. Ndeereh takes a closer look at the wound  A close up of the wound on the bulls rear

The wound is cleaned to remove all the puss

We immobilised and treated the injuries but on being revived, it could not support itself to stand. We attributed this to weakness due to haemorrhage and the advanced age. We managed to support it to almost a standing position using ropes and vehicles but it collapsed immediately.

The bull is given a long lasting antibiotic  The bull was supported onto its sternum but it could still not support itself to stand up

We attempted a second time and supported it to sternal recumbency but still it could not stand. We rolled it back onto its side after the breathing became shallow and laboured. It was eventually put down after there were no signs of it getting up. On the 24th, we treated a small calf aged about 2 months with an arrow injury at the lower right fore leg. Probably the arrow was aimed at a bigger elephant but went off target. The injury was just a few days old and the infection had not established itself fully but the soft tissues around it were swollen due to cellulitis.

A close up of the wound on the calf's left fore leg  Dr. Ndeereh works on the young calf's spear wound

The wound after it had been cleaned by Dr. Ndeereh

Once the calf was immobilised, the family members were driven away but the mother became very aggressive and refused to leave it. We had no alternative but to also dart it after almost eight minutes as we feared we could loose the calf from hyperthermia because it was lying in direct sunlight. Mother, calf and the family were reunited after the operation. The family christened the Raphael’s will be monitored and the progress relayed to the Unit.

The calf and its mother back with their herd after the calf has received treatment

The last case from the Amboseli ecosystem was at Oldonyo Wuas on the 28th also of an elephant bull aged about 40 years with three spear wounds on the rear. Fortunately, the elephant was sighted early before infection set in and we hope the treatment administered will prevent it from reoccurring. The injuries were not deep and only involved the skin. The management of Oldonyo Wuas will keep an eye and give us the progress.

The 40 year old bull before being darted  Dr. Ndeereh and his team with the immobilised bull

One of the elephants spear wounds after being cleaned  After treating the wounds Dr. Ndeereh administers an antiseptic to help prevent further infection

The reversal drug is administered  The elephant starts to come round and get up

The bull back on its feet after receiving treatment for its wounds

Tsavo Cases The first case in Tsavo was a bull aged about 40 years sighted at Kanderi (Tahri Camp) on the night of the 14th. It had two arrow injuries, one at the left chest area and the other on the lower right fore leg. The one on the chest was dry and uninfected but the one on the leg was infected and made the animal limp as it walked. We managed to track and find it the following day in the company of a family group about eight-km north of the camp along Voi River. We successfully immobilised and treated it. We have not been able to find it to assess the progress but that will be done in due course.

The big Kanderi bull is darted  The bull falls after being darted

Dr. Ndeereh with the immobilised Kanderi bull  The wound on the bulls right foot was caused by a poisoned arrow

Dr. Ndeereh cleans the bulls wound  The wound in the bulls side proves to not be serious

Dr. Ndeereh administers the reversal drug  The bull gets to his feet after receiving treatment

The other case was a young female aged about six years first treated at Luarenyi ranch on the 17th and a second treatment was administered eight days later on the 25th in the neighbouring Taita Wildlife Sanctuary (Salt Lick). It had what we suspected to be a bullet injury on the inner side of the left fore leg at the elbow joint area.

The immobilised elephant showing the position of the injury on the left fore leg at the elbow joint  Dr. Ndeereh starts to clean the wound, which was suspceted to be caused by a bullet

The injury was heavily infected with a lot of puss  The elephant starts to get up after receiving her first round of treatment

We gave it the benefit of doubt because during both treatments we could not determine the extent of injury internally. We thought it would be monitored and the progress assessed first before any other decision could be made. The area around the injury was massively swollen and infected during the first treatment but the infection and swelling had reduced significantly during the second treatment.

Cleaning out the wound during the second treatment  Dr. Ndeereh cleaning the wound in the elephants left fore leg

The young female is turned over  The calf was turned over to access the inner side of the injury

She comes round after the second treatment

However, the animal was still walking with a lot of difficult, but the body condition was still good. The managements of the two ranches including the Ziwani de-snaring team will keep an eye and will inform us on the progress.