The Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit

Field Report - September 2007

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We started September by some off days resuming back on the 8th. The vehicle needed repairs and was in Nairobi during the off-days period. The repairs were finished on 13th September after which it was brought down to Tsavo.

The first case for September was a 3-years-old elephant calf at the Voi airstrip in Tsavo East that had a snare on the mid part of the trunk. This was reported on the morning of 23rd September.  We immobilised the calf and managed to drive the rest of the family to a safe distance to enable treatment. The snare had cut deep exposing the nostrils. The resulting injury was however not infected. It was treated topically and some systemic antibiotics administered. The calf was rejoined with the family after treatment and reversal of the narcosis.

The immobilised calf before the snare is removed  The calfs mother stands guard over her immobilised calf

The wound caused by the snare  The wound is cleaned and treated by Dr. Ndeereh

The calf comes to after the reversal drug is administered  The calf is reunited with its herd

Once through with the above case, we travelled to Ngulia in Tsavo West to assist rescue two bull elephants that had fallen into the septic tank at the Ngulia safari lodge. The animals were resting on the septic tank the previous night when the roofing slab gave in to their weight throwing the animals into the fully filled 10 feet sewage tank. The animals were fully submerged. By the time we arrived, almost half the tank had been drained giving some relieve to the elephants. This was achieved by use of a water pump. Upon evaluating possible options to rescue the elephants, we decided to create an escape route on one side of the tank where the animals would be able to climb over. This was combined with filling up the tank with soil to raise the animals. Meanwhile, draining the sewage continued. The escape route was created by digging next to the tank to a sufficient level where the animals would climb over easily and then demolish the wall. A grader was readily available as it was nearby repairing roads.  A shovel would have been most ideal but the logistics of bringing it to the ground were considered and determined not feasible at the time.  With the grader, we managed to create a sloping escape route where the elephants climbed over. The septic tank is to be reconstructed under supervision so as to adhere to set standards to avoid similar accidents in future.

One of the bull elephants trapped in the septic tank  The second bull elephant in trapped in the septic tank

The tank is partially emptied by use of a water pump  The tank is filled with soil to create an escape route

One of the bulls climbing out the tank

Doves have been dying in the Tsavos as well as other parts of the country for several months now. We have been collecting samples regularly from the affected areas but the laboratory results have been negative for infectious agents including Avian Influenza (AI) and New Castle Disease (NCD). Only one species, the laughing dove, is affected in all the areas. We highly suspect a strain of NCD virus that is difficult to detect in the laboratory. We decided to collect other samples for detailed analysis to establish the cause(s) of the die-offs. In the Tsavos this was done between the 23rd and 28th September and is currently ongoing in other parts of the country. The types of samples collected included:

a)       Virology samples- oropharyngeal and cloacal swabs as well as tissues from the liver, brain, and lung. The swabs were preserved in a transport media and the tissues in liquid nitrogen

b)       Histology samples from different organs (liver, lung, brain) preserved in formalin

c)       Toxicology samples (Gastro-intestinal tract, liver, kidney, brain) preserved frozen

Dead, sick as well as healthy birds were sampled. Viral analysis for NCD is to be done in South Africa by Reverse Transcriptase-Polychromise Chain Reaction (RT-PCR). The other tests will be done locally.

A mist net set to trap sick & healthy birds  A sick bird at the Tsavo East Headquarters

Taking a sample from a trapped bird  Sampling in progress

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As the sampling of the doves was going on, we travelled to Ithumba in Northern Tsavo East  to euthanize the tracker dog called ‘Jason’ previously diagnosed with a malignant tumour of the mast cell sarcoma type. Specialised treatment comprising combined surgical and medical intervention had helped to alleviate the condition since it was first diagnosed in 2003. The dog had remained healthy and active until recently when the tumour spread so much to the extent where no further treatment could be effective. The dog had started loosing body condition and could no longer perform as effectively as it used to. There were no chances of recovery. The management upon professional advice approved the dog to be put down to alleviate further suffering. We euthanized it with intravenous injection of 20% Pentobarbital Sodium (Euthatal®) on the 25th September.

Jason the ill KWS tracker dog

One of the tumours can be clearly seen  The dog is euthanased

Further on the 28th as we were doing the sampling of doves in Tsavo West, we were informed that there was an elephant at Kilbasi-Nyango area carrying a snare on its trunk. This is community land that forms an important dispersal area for the Tsavo elephants.  The elephant was reported by the community chairman to rangers on patrol in the area. It was seen at Lukakani water pan about 50 Km South of Mackinnon Road along the Mombasa highway. The rangers after confirming the details reported the same to Tsavo West. We visited the area the following day but we found the elephant died the previous evening. The rangers had arrived some moments before us and were already in the process of recovering the tusks. The snare was tight on the upper part of the trunk and it must have compromised breathing as well as feeding. It had inflicted a deep injury that was heavily infected. The animal was aged about 10 years and was male. 

The snare wound that contributed to the elephants death  The snare is removed from the dead elephant's trunk

The Mobile Veterinary Unit operated by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust working with The Kenyan Wildlife Service and funded by Vier Pfoten