The Mara Mobile Veterinary Unit

Field Report - June 2007

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The veterinary team began the work this month by conducting disease surveillance in Lake Nakuru National park. Thereafter we attended to many other cases in different areas within the Central Rift region as detailed in the report.
Disease surveillance in LakeNakuruNational Park.                                          
There were reports from Lake Nakuru National Park that some animal species such as buffaloes, impalas and waterbucks were in poor body conditions and a number of them appeared weak with some limping. This prompted veterinary attention and a preliminary survey of the animals health was done when the veterinary team visited the Park in late May, 2007. The cases were confirmed in the few herds of buffaloes and impalas that were observed. It appeared to be a herd problem and proper disease surveillance had to be put in place to ascertain the cause.
The surveillance was designed to target only the herds of animals that had weak, emaciated, limping or sick-looking animals. Within these affected herds, the sampling criteria was further biased towards the animals that had notable symptoms irrespective of age or sex and it was only in a few herds where random sampling was done, that is herds which had no sick candidates. The reasons for conducting biased and selective (non-random) sampling was to maximize the chances of detecting disease in the sick animals and effectively utilize the limited resources available both for field and laboratory analysis.
Materials and methods
The Dan-inject dart gun was used to deliver immobilization drugs. Two milliliter Dan-inject dart barrels fitted with 2.0 x 1.5 inch collared/plain needles were used for the Dan-inject system. Other materials that were used during the exercise included ropes, blindfolds, and water cans for cooling immobilized animals. 
Chemical immobilization of various animals
Buffaloes, Waterbucks and impalas were immobilized using Etorphine Hydrochloride (M99â, Norvatis South Africa (Pty) Ltd) combined with Xylazine Hydrochloride (Ilium Xylazil-100â, Troy Laboratories Pty Ltd) in the same dart. Various doses were used for different animal species as shown in the table below.
Doses of drugs that were used for immobilization of various animal species.
Animal species
Dose of Etorphine (mg)
Dose of Xylazine (mg)
Revival of immobilized animals
All the animals were revived using Diprenorphine Hydrochloride (M5050â, Novartis South Africa (Pty) Ltd, Animal Health Sector) at a dosage rate of three times the dose of Etorphine and Atipamezole Hydrochloride (Antisedanâ, Norvatis South Africa (Pty) Ltd.) at tenth the initial xylazine dose. The reversal drugs were administered intraveinously to ensure quick reversal of the anaesthesia.
Animal monitoring, examination and treatment
The immobilized animal was monitored to ensure that it was in stable condition through physiological parameters namely, respiration, pulse and body temperature. The dart was removed and the dart wound treated using Cloxacillin (Opticloxâ, Norbrook Laboratories Limited) antibiotic cream and sprayed using oxytetracycline spray which is a fly repellant and antibiotic. The animal was further examined for presence of any lesions, discharges, external parasites and any other signs of disease. Doxapram Hydrochloride (Dopramâ, Bodene (Pty) Limited, South Africa) was administered in cases of respiratory depression.
Sampling and data collection
The blood was drawn from the jugular vein in waterbucks, buffaloes and impalas. It was drawn using 18 gauge needles and 20 ml syringes and kept in 9 ml plain tubes and 4 mls EDTA coated tubes. Two to three tubes of blood were collected from each animal and kept in a cool box until they were processed to obtain serum. The samples were labeled to indicate date, animal species, age, sex and location. Animal ages were estimated using teeth eruption and wear, horn size and shape, and body sizes.  
Serum collection, storage and transportation
Blood in 9ml tubes was centrifuged at a speed of 6000 revolutions per minute for 10 minutes. The separated serum was drawn using Pasteur pipettes and dispensed into 1.8mls cryovials. Seven cryovials of serum was obtained for each animal. They were labeled with a code number matching with the details in the data sheets. Serum samples in cryovials were stored in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of –196 oC and later transferred to a refrigerator for further storage before submission to the laboratory for analysis.
Laboratory analysis and results.
Some of the serum samples have been analysed for Rinderpest disease antibodies at National Veterinary Research Center (NVRC) Muguga and the results are negative for rinderpest disease. Serum biochemistry and hematological tests have been conducted at the KWS veterinary laboratories and revealed the following results; 1) No haemoparasites in blood smears. 2) most buffaloes had marked neutropenia of 27% - 66% and lymphocytosis of 52% - 70%, this suggests some degree of viral infection. Some buffaloes had eosinophilia of between 18% - 21%. The two Impalas recorded low calcium levels of between 5.6 -6.3 Ca (Gm%). More results are still awaited for the serum samples submitted to Central Veterinary Investigation Laboratories (VIL) Kabete for c-ELISA tests for both Rift valley fever and rinderpest diseases.
According to the preliminary results, the cause of emaciation and weakness in most of these animals seems to be caused by many factors and conditions. Some of these factors include mineral deficiencies due to calcium, copper and other mineral deficiencies. Involvement of infectious conditions which are yet to be identified. Loss of teeth in some animals may be due to fluorosis or calcium deficiency. Further investigations are still on to find out if the problem is associated with fluctuating levels of minerals and heavy metals in the lake or rivers within the park.  Recommendations shall then be made after a complete investigation on all the factors is made.
Treatment of a common zebra (Equus brucheli) with a tumor in Iroko farm, Naivasha
This was a female adult zebra that had a tumor growth just caudal to the mammary glands between the two hind limbs. It was reported to have difficulties in walking since the tumor had overgrown in size and was pulling and exerting much pressure on the abdominal muscles, this also elicited a lot of pain while the animal was walking. It was a pedunculus growth with a raw surface that kept on bleeding and exudating pus. There was also another small swelling of the same kind on the anal region but this was not as bad as the one on the mammary glands.
The animal was chemically immobilized using 5mgs of etorphine hydrochloride combined with 60mgs of xylazine hydrochloride and darted from a vehicle by Dan-inject dart gun. It took 5 minutes to become recumbent. On physical examination the animal was found to be in good body condition and seemed to be pregnant. The swelling was that of Squamous cell carcinoma which was superficially attached to the soft skin posterior to the mammary glands and we decided to excise it off then suture the wound. Using a Doyens atraumatic intestinal forceps, the growth was clamped at the base just to ensure that there would be no hemorrhages after excising the tumor, other hemostat forceps were also ready to help control hemorrhage.
The tumor was excised using a surgical blade attached to a blade holder then the resulting wound was sutured using a Chromic Cat-gut 2-0 suture swaged on a round smooth-curved needle. Interrupted simple suture pattern was used to close the wound, a small opening was also left for drainage incase of fluids accumulation. The wound was further treated using an Opticlox eye ointment then sprayed with oxytetracycline spray. The animal was then treated 20% long acting oxytetracycline administered parenterally through intramuscular route. It was then revived from anaesthesia and released to join others which were nearby. Prognosis was good because the growth was not deeply entrenched into the muscles and therefore there was no much tissue damage during excision, asepsis was observed during this operation to avoid contaminating the wound which might lead to post-operational complications and peritonitis.
The animal was to be closely monitored for at least 24hours just to make sure that there was no complication after the exercise.

Zebra with growth  treatment of the Zebra

treatment operation  Zebra after treatment

Desnaring of two common zebras in KARI farm, Naivasha
The veterinary team came across these snared animals during a patrol in KARI farm, earlier on the management of KARI farm reported to the Warden Naivasha station that some zebras had snares in that farm and needed to be rescued. One of these zebras was a sub-adult female which had a tight wire snare on its left hind limb just above the corium of the hoof, it had remained with this wire for quite some time and this had created a circling wound around the limb that left bare the proximal phalanx bone around that region.
The animal was chemically immobilized using 4mgs of etorphine hydrochloride combined with 40mgs of xylazine hydrochloride administered through darting from a vehicle and it took about 6 minutes to get immobilized. The wire was then cut off using a wire cutter and the wound cleaned and debrided using 10% hydrogen peroxide then tincture of iodine applied on it. Further treatment using oxytetracycline administered intramuscularly was instituted.

snared Zebra  treatment of snared leg

Second case of a common zebra in KARI farm, Naivasha.
The other zebra with a snare on the left front limb was found in another group just nearby, this was also darted from a vehicle using 5mgs of etorphine hydrochloride combined with 60mgs of xylazine hydrochloride and became recumbent after 5 minutes. It had a loose wire on the left front limb which was tied to a piece of wood that it kept dragging on the ground and interfering with its movements. The wire was cut off using a wire cutter and the animal revived from anaesthesia, it had not sustained serious injuries by the time it was rescued.

snared Zebra  snared zebra

Euthanasia of a common zebra in KARI farm
This was a case of a zebra that had one of its hoofs cut off probably by a snare leaving a raw wound touching the ground as it walks. It was found to be in a great pain due to frequent irritation of that wound as it walked. It was then immobilized by darting and subsequently euthanized since the wound could not heal easily and the animal was under intense pain and suffering.

darting Zebra  Zebra with terrible injury

Desnaring of a buffalo in KARI farm, Naivasha.
This was an adult male buffalo of about 3 years old that was found limping in a herd of 30 buffaloes in KARI farm, it had difficulties in walking and the veterinary team decided to rescue it. It had a tight wire around the tarso-metatarsal joint that had stayed for a long time and the limb was greatly swollen due to constant irritation by the wire. It got immobilized through darting using 5mgs of etorphine hydrochloride combined with 30mgs of xylazine hydrochloride. The wire was then cut off and the wound treated then it was revived immediately to join others nearby. Prognosis was good after removing the irritating wire on the limb.

buffalo with skin problem  treatment of buffalo

Chemical restrain of Baboons for samples and data collection for research purposes in AmboseliNational Park.
In Amboseli National Park, there is a well established baboon research center that was set up in collaboration between Institute of Primate Research (IPR), Dukes University, US and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). The research scientists and students in this center have been conducting research activities in specific baboon populations within or at the periphery of the park. Studies that are done with these animals include behavioural changes, movement patterns, survival instincts, genetic studies, feeds and feeding patterns. Some of these studies require that an animal be immobilized by darting for collection of the required samples and to take body measurements. The immobilization and anaesthetic monitoring process has to be done by a qualified wildlife veterinarian, during this time 4 baboons were captured and sampled for the study of genetic variation among different baboon families.
Chemical immobilization/Restrain
The animals were identified by assistant research scientists early in the morning and after identification darting was done using Pneu-darts propelled by a ” Blow pipe” dart gun. The drug used for immobilization was Telazol which is a combination of Tiletamine and Zolazepam (100mg/ml), the dosage used for adult baboon was 100mgs. The baboons were semi-habituated and darting was done from a very close range of less than 5 meters away. Four baboons were captured during the two days operation, all of them adults, 3 females and one male.
After chemical capture, the animal was placed on a soft blanket under a shade from where samples collection and morphometric measures were taken. Then the animal was placed into a cage which is covered by a green canvass from where the animal stays until it recovers fully from anaesthesia and released to join others.

Table 1: Summary of animals captured and vital parameters.
Immobilization drug & dosage
Respiration rate
Pulse rate
Body temperature
8 yrs
36.0 oC
20 yrs
35.5 oC
7 yrs
36.2 oC
9 yrs
36.0 oC
Type of samples collected from the baboons:
·        Blood sample collected from saphenous vein and put in EDTA vacutainer tubes (purple-top).
·        Blood sample collected from saphenous vein and put in Serum separator tubes (SST/red and black top).
·        Blood sample collected from saphenous vein and placed in PaxGene tubes.
·        Blood smears on microscope slides made from superficial ear-vein then fixed using methanol.
·        Tissue samples collected from axillar region using biopsy punch preserved in a buffer for RNA analysis.
·        Vaginal swabs collected from female baboons and stored in Stuarts transport media for bacteriological analysis.
·        Ectoparasites including ticks collected and placed in 70% ethanol.
·        Hair samples (Shavings) from shoulder region.
·        Imprint of molar teeth casps was made using Polysiloxane agent dissolved in a Universal activator substance. The imprints would then help to know the preferred food types for these baboons by observing the wearing pattern of the teeth.
Blood samples processing:
The blood samples were basically collected for the genomic DNA and RNA analysis and they were processed according to Sarah Tishkoffs protocols.
Processing blood in EDTA Vacutainer tubes (purple-top)
These tubes contain blood for genomic DNA analysis that are processed in 4 ways:
1) Sarah Tishkoff’s protocol, saved as the white blood cell (WBC) fraction only in white cell lysis buffer (WCLB);
2) Tishkoff protocol, saved as the WBC fraction in White Blood Cell Lysis Buffer (WCLB), then as a 1:3 ratio in RNALater.(RNA Later is the medium for storing WBC fraction for genomic RNA analysis later).
3) Whole blood stored in 1:1 in blood storage buffer (BSB).
4) Whole blood stored 1:3 in RNALater.                                           
Tishkoff protocol (produces above sample types 1 and 2):
This protocol uses 1 of the 2 purple-top (EDTA) samples collected from each darted individual (approx 3-4 mL of blood), and produces 2 mL of WBC in WCLB and 2 mL of WBC in WCLB at a 1:3 ratio in RNALater.
Preparations before starting:
1) Make a shallow 10% bleach bath for blood waste disposal (10 mL Jik bleach plus 90 mL water). Also check to make sure that a supply of 10% bleach is available on the bench top (stored in a 50 mL Falcon tube): this is for cleaning off the pipette barrel after pipetting from biological samples.
2) Set up the Mobile Spin centrifuge on a level surface.
3) Make sure there are at least 3-50 mL Falcon tubes filled with 1x red cell lysis buffer (RCLB). If not, resuspend the 50x RCLB solution by immersing the bottle in a hot water bath for several minutes. Make new aliquots of 1x RCLB in 50 mL Falcon tubes (1 mL 50x RCLB solution to 49 mL filtered, boiled water).
4) Label 2-15 mL Falcon tubes (Falcon tube #1 and Falcon tube #2) with the name of the individual from whom the sample was taken. Also label 4 Sarstedt tubes (ST) with the name of the individual, the date of the blood draw and the time of the blood draw; label both directly on the tubes and using tape. Of these 4 STs, 2 should also be labeled “WBC in WCLB” and the remaining 2 should be labeled “RNAL 3:1 WBC in WCLB.” Alternatively, label 2-2 mL orange Corning tubes with the same information, one labeled “WBC in WCLB” and the other “RNAL 3:1 WBC in WCLB.”
1) Open one purple-top (EDTA) blood tube and the two labeled 15 mL Falcon tubes. Pour half of the original blood sample into each Falcon tube (about 1.5-2 mL blood per Falcon tube). 
2) Add 1x RCLB to each Falcon tube up to 12 mL volume—make sure the tubes are balanced.
3) Spin the two Falcon tubes in the Mobile Spin centrifuge for 10 minutes. A visible reddish-white pellet should be visible on the bottom of the tubes after the spin is completed.
4) Remove the Falcon tubes from the centrifuge, and pour off the red supernatant, being careful to preserve the pellet, into the prepared 10% bleach bath. If necessary, wash the pellet in a little 1x RCLB in order to decant more of the red supernatant.
5) Repeat steps 2 through 4 for one to three additional spins. Before centrifuging, resuspend the pellet in the added 1x RCLB by inverting the tube repeatedly. 
NOTES: Use your judgment on whether to try and purify the pellet again with an additional spin: in each spin, we lose a small fraction of white blood cells, so if it looks like the pellet is getting much smaller, it’s better to stop spinning and go on to the next step. At this point, the supernatant should be clear and the pellet should be mostly white. Stop agitating as soon as possible after the pellet resuspends in order to avoid lysing white blood cells. 
6) Add 1.8 mL WCLB to Falcon tube #1 and 500 mL WCLB to Falcon tube #2. Resuspend both pellets by pipetting up and down.
IMPORTANT: after pipetting from any biological sample, clean the pipette barrel with a KimWipe and 10% bleach to avoid DNA cross-contamination.
7) From Falcon tube #1, pipette 1 mL of the homogenized solution into each of the 2 STs labeled “WBC in WCLB” (or all 2 mL into a single 2 mL orange Corning tube). Close the STs and discard Falcon tube #1.
8) From Falcon tube #2, pipette 250 mL of the homogenized solution into each of the 2 STs labeled “RNAL 3:1 WBC in WCLB” (or 500 mL into a single 2 mL orange Corning tube). Discard Falcon tube #2.
9) Add 750 mL RNALater to each of the 2 STs labeled “RNAL 3:1 WBC in WCLB,” which should also contain 250 mL of WBC in WCLB (or 1.5 mL RNALater to 500 mL WCB in WCLB if using a single orange Corning tube). Close the tubes.
10) Discard the 10% bleach bath containing the red cell fraction, serum, and RCLB in the fire pit, and wash out the bath with water. 
Whole blood protocols (produces sample types 3 and 4)
This protocol uses 1 of the 2 purple-top (EDTA) tubes collected from darted individuals, and produces one EDTA tube containing whole blood 1:1 in blood storage buffer (BSB) and one EDTA tube containing whole blood 1:3 in RNALater.
1) Label the empty purple-top tube set aside from the Tishkoff processing protocol “RNAL 3:1 whole blood,” and the untouched purple-top tube “Whole blood 1:1 BSB.”
2) Open both tubes, and pour half of the blood in the filled tube into the empty tube (resulting in two purple-top tubes with about 1.5-2 mL whole blood in each).
3) Add approximately 4.5 mL RNALater to the tube labeled “RNAL 3:1 whole blood” and close the tube.
4) Add 1.5-2 mL BSB to the tube labeled “Whole blood 1:1 BSB” and close the tube.
5) Transfer the whole blood/BSB preparation into one 5 mL orange Corning tube and the whole blood/RNALater preparation into two 5 mL orange Corning tubes. Label the tubes directly on the tubes and also with green tape (individual, time of sampling, date of sampling, and method of preservation—either “RNAL 3:1 whole blood” or “whole blood 1:1 BSB.”
Serum Separator Tubes (SST/red and black top)
These tubes separate the serum fraction of whole blood from the cellular fraction after centrifugation in the field. The serum is then processed afterwards for analysis of viral DNA, but also save the clotted cellular fraction in the original tube, in case we need to try to extract baboon genomic DNA.
1)      Pipette 250 mL of serum from the SST into each of 2 STs (or 500 mL serum if using 2 mL orange Corning tubes). If more serum is in the SST, pipette the rest of it up to 3 mL into a 15-mL Falcon tube. Do not discard the SST (place in the charcoal fridge with the other samples).
IMPORTANT: clean off the pipette barrel with a KimWipe and 10% bleach solution after pipetting biological samples to avoid DNA cross-contamination.
2) Add 750 mL of RNALater to each Serum tube (ST), (or 1.5 mL of RNALater to 2 mL orange Corning tubes), and 3x RNALater relative to the volume of serum in the Falcon tube to the Falcon tube.
3) Label the resulting set of STs and/or FTs with the name of the individual from whom the serum was drawn, the date of the blood drawn, and the time of the blood draw. Also write “RNAL 3:1 serum” on each tube. Label both directly on the tube and using tape. Do the same for the SST tube.
PaxGene tubes
These tubes are not processed in the field. They are stored in a fridge along with the skin biopsy, vaginal swab samples, and the tubes resulting from the above processing steps. Label all tubes both directly on the tube and using tape.
Release of the animals:
After about 4 hours of recovery from the crate the baboon was driven to a nearby place where it could see the rest of its group members then released in a hidden place and joins others.
It is recommended that everyone who handles baboons during this exercise must be in a full protective gear. This includes putting on overall, gum boots, face masks, cap and gloves. These clothings should be washed and be disinfected immediately after the work. Baboons are carriers of some very important zoonotic diseases such as tuberculosis and haemorrhagic fevers that can easily be transmitted to humans if they are handled without proper protection.
Treatment of adult female elephant in Kitende area of AmboseliNational Park.
This case was reported by the senior Warden of Amboseli National Park that an adult female elephant had been sighted in Kitende area just about 15 Kilometers away from the park boundary towards Mount Kilimanjaro side. The animal was said to be limping with the right front leg greatly swollen and it had been left by the rest of the family members because it was unable to keep pace with them, it was the matriarch in that family according to the information we got from the elephant research team in Amboseli.
It took us along time to find the animal as it had moved from where it was and the veterinary team, elephant research team, community wildlife scouts and the senior warden all joined up to find out where it was. Later on it was found in a bushy and stony area. It was then darted on foot and got immobilized after about 5 minutes.

elephant treatment  elephant with arrow wound

Treatment of a speared elephant in Amboseli National park.
The wound was quite deep and went through the right front limb carpal joint and there were chances of developing arthritis. It was properly debrided using 10% hydrogen peroxide and water then a tincture of iodine applied on it. Other treatments included intramuscular antibiotic administration and dexamethasone for antiinflammation and to relieve pain and swelling.
Blood samples were collected for laboratory analysis, these included blood smears, whole blood and serum. The elephant was then revived from anaesthesia but would not move fast because of pain. We left the community scouts being assisted by the elephant monitoring team to keep monitoring its response and report any further complications with the animal.
Treatment of an adult male elephant in Kimana ranch.
This was and adult male elephant in Kimana ranch we got the information about it from the elephant research group just after treating the first elephant. It had two wounds, one on the right front limb on the lateral side distal to the carpal joint, this was a superficial wound with pus exudation. The other wound was on the right hind leg on the lateral side but proximal to the tarsal joint, it was fairly deep and narrow suspected to have been caused by a sharp and pointed object.
This animal was found in an open area of the ranch and was darted from barely 10 meters away using 17 mgs of etorphine hydrochloride combined with 1500 i.u of hyaluronidase. It took about 6 minutes to become recumbent. The wounds were then cleaned debrided and treated with a tincture of iodine solution. Blood samples were collected for laboratory analysis, these included blood smears, whole blood and serum.
Treatment and release of a wounded elephant in Kimana ranch.

the wound was heavily infected  the elephant after treatment

Other treatments included intramuscular antibiotic administration and dexamethasone for antinflammation effect and pain relief. It was also supposed to be monitored and its response be reported to the veterinarian for action.

Desnaring of two Waterbucks in Mount Elgon National Park

One of these waterbucks was an adult male aged about 6 years that had a 3 meter long wire tied to its left hind limb. The animal had difficulties in walking because the wire kept grasping trees and other vegetation as the animal walked causing much irritation and it was restless and not feeding most of the time. We found it just at the edge of the forest next to one of the campsites in mount Elgon and it was immobilized by darting using 6mgs of etorphine hydrochloride combined with 20 mgs of xylazine hydrochloride and 1000 iu of hyaluronidase. It took off into the thicket after darting but we tracked and found it recumbent inside the forest. The wire was still loose and it was cut off using a wire-cutter. The animal was then revived from anaesthesia using 24mgs of diprenorphine hydrochloride combined with 5mgs of atipamezole hydrochloride administered through the ear vein.

snared water buck

Second case of Waterbuck in Mount Elgon National Park.

The second waterbuck was a two year old male that was found lying just next to the park offices, this was immobilized by darting using 4mgs of etorphine hydrochloride combined with 20 mgs of xylazine hydrochloride and 1000 iu of hyaluronidase. It took about 5 minutes to become recumbent. It had a tight copper wire that was cutting through the soft tissues around the distal metatarsal region. This wire was pulled out and cut using a wire cutter, then the wound debrided and treated using a tincture of iodine, antibiotic spray and intramuscular antibiotics administered. It was then revived from anaesthesia and released back to the wild.

treat,emt of the waterbuck

In these two cases of waterbucks, the prognosis was good and they had very good chances of recovery since the irritant had been removed.
Treatment of a wounded Masai giraffe in Masai Mara National Reserve.

The giraffe was found next to Keekorock lodge and the veterinary team was informed that the animal had a large wound just above the corium on the planter side of the right hind limb. It was so easy to find because it could not move over a long distance due to pain experienced from the limb. It was an adult male giraffe, we found it browsing near a small stream next to the lodge.
The giraffe was immobilized by darting from a vehicle using 13mgs of etorphine hydrochloride combined with 30mgs of xylazine hydrochloride and it took about 6 minutes for the drug to take effect then finally it was roped down for treatment. The wound was quite large with a lot of pus exudation, it was cleaned and debrided by 10% hydrogen peroxide and a tincture of iodine. It was also treated by antibiotic drugs and anti-inflammatory drugs. The animal was then revived from anaesthesia and assisted to rise up, prognosis was good because the wound was quite superficial and had no foreign material.

The giraffe is darted  Examining the wound

The wound before treatment  The wound after it is cleaned and treated

The giraffe comes to after the revival drug is administered


During the month of June, 2007, the number of cases of snaring and animal injuries remained high especially in Naivasha area, few of these cases were reported to the veterinary team but most of the cases were met by the team while patrolling in the field. The team was also involved in a number of research activities including baboon research in Amboseli. Disease surveillance in Lake Nakuru National park was another major activity which the team was involved in.