Aerial Surveillance Report for March 2023

Published on the 25th of April, 2023

March saw a notable increase in poaching activity and human-elephant conflict cases — and, as a result, veterinary responses.

Our pilots recorded a total of 10 injured animals during the month. Of these, four were initially sighted during aerial patrols and resulted in three successful treatments. The fourth was a bull elephant that could not be located the following day for treatment. Including the above, a total of nine cases were attended to.

Successful treatments included four elephants with arrow wounds, one elephant with a possible spear wound, and one giraffe with a snare around its neck. A fifth elephant was treated for an arrow wound on its ankle and although the vet originally gave the elephant a good prognosis, its carcass was discovered later in the month. Other unsuccessful treatments included a buffalo that was discovered during an aerial patrol. She was unable to stand after having a stillbirth the night prior. She was attended to by the SWT/KWS Amboseli Mobile Vet, who unfortunately had to make the difficult decision to euthanise her, after discovering that the buffalo’s uterus had completely prolapsed. Finally, a second giraffe was attempted to be darted, so that it could be treated for a wire snare, but sadly died during the process.

There were a total of 12 human-elephant conflict callouts during the month, including three translocations. One of these cases featured two elephants that refused to be pushed out of community areas and back into the park. Tragically, one of the bulls was responsible for the death of a member of the community. Both were translocated back into Tsavo by first darting them from the SWT helicopter and then loading them onto a crane truck, which transported them back into protected land. The bull who had caused the man’s death was able to navigate his way back into the community in a very short period of time, so he had to be darted a second time and moved further away. Thus far, the second translocation has been a success. The most significant aerial intervention involved a helicopter herding approximately 80 elephants out of a heavily settled area and back towards Taita Hills Sanctuary.

A number of wildlife rescues were conducted during the course of the month, including two orphaned elephant calves. One infant calf had become stuck in a village water hole and was sadly abandoned by its herd. After being rescued by Wildlife Works, the calf was collected in a SWT helicopter and transferred to the Kaluku Neonate Nursery for further care. Other orphans rescued by the Aerial Unit included an orphaned duiker discovered on Teita Estate and two abandoned wildebeest calves found near Grogan’s Castle in Taveta. A third report of an abandoned elephant calf was received from a tourist in Tsavo East National Park, however, an aerial search failed to locate it.

The Aerial Unit also assisted in the rescue of lost tourists. After a report came in of a vehicle with two people onboard that had not checked out of the Park when expected, a search was conducted by helicopter. The unfortunate group was found stuck in mud in a remote part of Tsavo East, having spent the night there. The helicopter pilot dropped off water for them and notified a ground team of their location. They were successfully pulled out of the mud and escorted to their intended point of exit.

Three elephant carcasses were discovered in March. All three had tusks intact, and while two were thought to have died of natural causes, the third belonged to the elephant that had been treated with a poisoned arrow wound on its ankle, as described above.

The picture of livestock in Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Park's has been steadily improving over the last few years. In Tsavo West, a significant, ongoing operation by KWS has succeeded in reclaiming large areas back from illegal herders. This is thanks to frequent aerial surveys by the SWT and sustained pressure from KWS, SWT, and Tsavo Trust ground teams. Areas of Tsavo West that had previously experienced chronic problems with illegal livestock are now mostly clear, with only occasional, opportunistic incursions that are dealt with immediately by KWS. In March, KWS began tackling the northern half of the Southern Sector of Tsavo West. A combination of locating livestock enclosures from fixed-wing aircrafts, before following up with a helicopter loaded with KWS rangers to make arrests on the ground, and pushing large herds of cattle towards the boundaries, has proven effective.

The Aerial Unit observed a large amount of poaching activity throughout March. This mostly took the form of harbours and camps being currently used or recently used by poachers. A total of 10 harbours were sighted, with several sightings leading to the recovery of bushmeat, bows, arrows, snares, and other poaching paraphernalia. Two callouts were responded to. The first involved a KWS sighting of motorbike tracks, initially tracked on the ground before being picked up from the air and followed up to a point where a KWS cut-off team successfully ambushed the rider in possession of 200 kg of bushmeat (mostly giraffe). A search nearby successfully located the poached giraffe and KWS, as well as the SWT pilot, were able to visit the scene and confirm that it had had its achilles tendons sliced in order to immobilise it before being killed and butchered. Motorbike tracks leaving the site of the carcass confirmed they most likely belonged to the suspect in custody.

The second callout happened after an SWT ground team spotted two suspects fleeing in the north of Tsavo East. Both fixed-wing and helicopter pilots responded to the scene. The fixed-wing aircraft provided cover and searched between where the suspects were seen and the boundary where they were fleeing. The helicopter dropped two teams in strategic places to lay ambush. Unfortunately, the suspects were not located or apprehended, but the initial ground team was able to locate their harbour and recover 117 snares as well as other poaching related items. Charcoal burning and logging was mostly isolated to areas outside of Tsavo East and West, with large-scale charcoal production occurring on Galana and Kulalu Ranches, as well as in South Kitui National Reserve.

Wildlife sighting highlights in the month included five cheetah in Chyulu Hills National Park, several sightings of lions, including a mating pair, two sightings of large packs of painted hunting dogs, a melanistic serval, and large concentrations of elephants along the top of the Yatta Plateau.

SWT Aerial Unit

A cornerstone of our conservation work, our Aerial Unit monitors for illegal activity from the skies and provides a vital, rapid response to all manner of field operations.
Learn More

Share the article