Aerial Surveillance Report | October 2023

Published on the 6th of December, 2023

As the year-end rains arrived in Tsavo, we observed a marked drop in most illegal activities over the course of October.

This is to is to be expected, as poachers put a pause on their work to plant crops and prepare their farms. Signs of poaching activity observed during the month included one old water container in a remote part of the Tsavo East National Park, likely stashed by a poacher to be used later. On Galana Ranch, one of our fixed-wing aircraft was called out by an SWT ground team who had encountered two poachers in the field. With assistance in locating and following one of the poachers from the air, the ground team was led in to make a successful arrest.

Secondary evidence of poaching presented itself in four veterinary cases attended to by the Aerial Unit. First was a giraffe on Kulalu Ranch, which was sighted with a snare attached. Fixed-wing pilots searched for it on two separate occasions, and on the second attempt successful located the patient. Once identified, our helicopter pilot flew to Voi to collect Dr. Limo, of the SWT/KWS Tsavo Vet Unit, and transported him to the scene for a successful darting and snare removal.

In the north of Tsavo East, a bull elephant was found with an arrow wound. However, in this instance, the vet opted not to treat it, since the wound appeared to be healing on its own. Another case of an arrowed bull elephant was also detected during a routine fixed-wing aerial patrol to the east of Tsavo East. The SWT/KWS Mobile Vet Unit organised a treatment — and they found that the relatively small, oozing wound had in fact been caused by a poisoned arrow, which was still lodged in the elephant’s rump.

In southern Tsavo East, a female elephant was found with a wound oozing pus. In this case, the vet — who again attended to the elephant from the ground — determined that the wound was caused by a spear. The wound was cleaned out and the elephant was given an excellent prognosis for recovery.

Five elephant carcasses of various ages (from recent to very old) were detected in October. Ivory was recovered from all of them; all are presumed to have died of natural causes. Additionally, two giraffe carcasses were found, again both presumed natural deaths.

One illegal activity that has continued unabated outside of the National Parks, but still inside protected areas, is charcoal burning. This is particularly true on Kulalu and Galana Ranch where industrial-scale charcoal burning was observed on several aerial patrols. On Kulalu, there actually appeared to be an increase in charcoal production, which ground teams have been addressing.

The Aerial Unit attended to seven cases of human-elephant conflict over the course of October. The most challenging case involved an elephant family of four. For several months, they had refused repeated attempts to be pushed out of the community by helicopter. Unfortunately, the matriarch of the herd attacked a a woman from the community in October. While it was non-fatal, it became imperative that the family be moved.

With the coordination of a large number of SWT assets, including a helicopter, fixed-wing aircraft, a flat-bed lorry, frontend loader, tractor, trailer, crane truck, and several Land Cruisers, along with the participation of dozens of personnel, two SWT/KWS Vet Units and a representative of Save the Elephants, we were able to successfully dart and translocate the entire family back into the safety of Tsavo East National Park. [Read more about the operation]

One fire in the Chyulu Hills National Park was attended to by the Aerial Unit; however, ground teams had largely succeeded in putting out the flames. The fixed-wing aircraft’s main purpose was providing coordinates to the ground team for places where small fires were still smouldering along the edge of the burned area. These were quickly attended to by the team on the ground and extinguished before they could reignite a larger bushfire.

One of our helicopters also conducted the medivac of a young boy from Kone town on the Eastern boundary of Tsavo East who had been bitten by a snake. He was flown by SWT with his parents to Mutomo, where he could receive the medical care needed.

Wildlife sighting highlights for the month included a pack of 25 wild dogs and a herd of 300 elephants.

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.
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