During the month of August, 2011, there were several cases of wounded elephants caused by wire snares, arrows and or spears in the Mara ecosystem particularly in Koiyaki and Transmara areas. These cases were mainly attributed to incidents of human-elephant conflicts in community areas. Other cases included a buffalo found with an arrow-head stuck on the back and a buffalo rescued from a deep well in Mara plains camp in Olare-Orok conservancy, Mara. A cheetah with severe traumatic injury of unknown etiology on the left front leg was also attended to. More detailed reports of all the animal cases attended to during August are highlighted in the report below.
Treatment of an injured cheetah in Koiyaki Conservancy Mara
The cheetah was sighted by tourists and community wildlife scouts in Koiyaki Wildlife Conservancy, it was emaciated, weak and limping caused by an extensive injury on the left front leg. It was unable to hunt on its own and it had to be treated immediately before the condition got worse. After searching for it for sometime, the cheetah was found lying alone under a tree next to the road within Koiyaki Conservancy.
The cheetah was darted from a close distance using 150mgs of ketamine combined with 1.5mgs of medetomidine hydrochloride on the left thigh; it took about 6 minutes for the drug to take effect. It was then blindfolded and transferred to a cool shade under a tree from where it was examined and treated. Both the eyes were covered with opticlox eye ointment to avoid desiccation and conjunctivitis while it was recumbent. The dart was removed and dart wound treated using Opticlox eye ointment.
Examination and treatment
The cheetah was very much emaciated and was feeling a lot of pain on the injured leg. The vital physiological parameters were monitored and recorded as follows; respiration rate 20 cycles/minute, deep and regular, pulse rate of 120 beats/minute, strong and regular, body temperature was 37 degrees Celsius, all the mucosal membranes had pink normal colour and capillary refill time (CRT) was 2 seconds. It had some external parasites such as ticks and lion flies on the skin. The left front leg had a deep cut on the digital pad which was still bleeding and when pressed the cheetah reacted to pain, the cause of the injury could not be ascertained, but required treatment so that the animal could resume hunting.
The wound at the paw was well debrided and cleaned using clean water and then 10% hydrogen peroxide; it was also topically treated using a tincture of iodine applied on it and then sprayed by oxytetracycline spray. The animal was further treated using antibiotics (Amoxycillin) Betamox and dexamethasone administered intramuscularly to counter inflammatory reactions and to reduce pain.
Blood samples were collected in EDTA coated tubes and plain tubes coated with clot retractor and kept in a cool box, tissue and hair samples kept in ethanol solution and ectoparasites such as ticks and lion flies collected and stored in 70% ethanol. These samples have been processed and stored in KWS lab for further analysis and for health monitoring purposes.
The cheetah had fair prognosis after treatment but it required provision of food for at least a week before regaining enough strength to hunt on its own.
After treatment, the animal was revived from anaesthesia after about 45 minutes using 50mgs of Atipamezole Hcl administered intramuscularly; it took about 10 minutes to rise up. It was to be monitored on a daily basis by the Mara North community scouts who would then report on its progress regularly to the veterinarian just in case it required further treatment or any assistance to enhance its recovery.
Rescue of a buffalo with an arrow stuck on the back in Koiyaki Conservancy Mara
An adult male buffalo was sighted with a small arrow sticking on its back in Koiyaki Conservancy, the arrow had pierced through the shoulder muscles causing a lot of traumatic injury and pain to the animal. It was found lying in a pool of water within the conservancy. A decision was made to immobilize it and save it from the pain and suffering.
The buffalo was captured by darting using 7mgs of etorphine combined with 50mgs of xylazine on the right thigh, it became recumbent after about 6 minutes, the arrow was quickly removed and the wound cleaned and treated with antibiotics. The injury was only through the soft muscular tissues of the shoulder that was not life threatening except for the pain. Blood and tissue samples were collected before revival of anaesthesia. It was then revived from anaesthesia using 12mgs of diprenorphine hydrochloride combined with 5mgs of atipamezole hydrochloride administered through the jugular vein.
The buffalo had good chances of recovery after the removal of the arrow and treating the wound on time before it developed septiceamia.
Treatment of a wounded male elephant in Mara Triangle
This was a case of an adult male elephant (bull) which had several infected wounds on the right side of the shoulder, on the back and right thigh. The wounds were already infected and had a lot of pus oozing from the wounds. The elephant was darted from a vehicle using 18mgs of etorphine Hcl combined with 1500 i.u of hyaluronidase, the drug took effect after about 15 minutes and it became recumbent.
Examination and treatment
The wounds were examined and probed using a long tissue forceps and swabs. They were cleaned using water, exudates and necrotic tissues squeezed out. Then further chemically debrided using 10% hydrogen peroxide draining all the accumulated pus and tissue debris, and later treated with a tincture of iodine and oxytetracycline spray. There was no foreign material retrieved from the wounds.
The elephant was further treated using long-acting oxytetracycline and dexamethasone administered intramuscularly. Blood and tissue samples were also collected and preserved for further laboratory tests such as detection of bovine tuberculosis antibodies.
Revival of anaesthesia and prognosis
After treatment the elephant was revived from anaesthesia using 36mgs of diprenorphine hydrochloride administered through the superficial ear-vein. The elephant had a good prognosis after the treatment since the wounds did not penetrate into the joints or abdomen. Treatment was also done at the right time. The elephant was still active and in good body condition by the time of treatment. The Mara Conservancy rangers were advised to monitor its progress until recovery.
Treatment of injured elephant calf in Mara Triangle
This was a case of an elephant calf which had a traumatic injury on the left front leg, the wound penetrated into the tarsal joint and bone flakes from tarsal bones could be felt when probed deep using fingers. The entire leg was swollen and the calf was in deep pain as it tried to move following the rest of family members. The calf was captured by darting on the left thigh using 5mgs of etorphine Hcl and treated using long-acting antibiotics and antinflammatories to help reduce pain and further inflammation. After a quick treatment, it was revived from anaesthesia and guide to join its family that was a few meters away. The calf had fair chances of recovery after treatment because of the risk of arthritis.
Treatment of wounded sub-adult elephant in Koiyaki Conservancy Mara
A sub-adult male elephant was found limping and grazing alone in Koiyaki Conservancy, Mara, it had a large swelling of the right hind leg and exhibited carrying lameness as it attempted to walk. The other family members had abandoned it and left behind since it could not cope up with speed of the family. The elephant was visibly under an intensive pain that required urgent veterinary attention. The elephant was captured by darting using 10mgs of etorphine Hcl on the right thigh and the drug took effect after about 8 minutes. It had a long standing injury on the tarsal joint of the right hind leg which had begun to heal in a swollen manner. The swelling was slit open by a scalpel blade and all the pus and tissue debris squeezed out. The wound was further probed using a long tissue forceps and gauze swabs to ensure that there was no foreign material in it.
The wound was then properly cleaned and debrided using water and 10% hydrogen peroxide, then treated by topical application of tincture of iodine and oxytetracycline spray. Other treatments by intramuscular administration of long-acting oxytetracycline and flunixine meglumine were instituted.
Revival of anaesthesia and prognosis
The elephant was then revived from anaesthesia using 36mgs of diprenorphine hydrochloride administered through the superficial ear-vein. The elephant had a good prognosis after the treatment but had a high risk of developing arthritis through bacterial infection of the wound. The Koiyaki conservancy scouts were advised to keep monitoring the animal and report on its progress.
Rescue of a male buffalo stuck in a well in Olare-Orok Conservancy
This was a case of an adult male buffalo that was found stuck in a well in Mara plains Camp, the well was about 15 feet deep and half full of water. The buffalo was almost completely submerged into the water and just about to drown. Immediate action was taken by the camp managers who started pumping out water from the well and called the Mara veterinary team to come and help rescue the buffalo.
The buffalo was darted using 5mgs of etorphine combined with 40mgs of xylazine on the neck muscles, then the horns were tied by along rope that was being pull upwards from the well to ensure that the buffalo did not drown after being narcotized. The buffalo was then pulled out using a tractor and a winch taking all precautions not to injure it on the sides of the well as it got out. The operation was quite tedious owing to the heavy weight of the buffalo, depth of the well and steepness. But eventually it got out after about 4 hours of struggle. Unfortunately it died shortly after being rescued from the well. The camp manager was advised to make sure the well is completely covered and fenced off to avoid the risks of animals drowning into it.
Desnaring of an elephant calf in Mara Triangle
An elephant calf of about 6 months old was found with a tight wire snare cutting through the left front leg in Mara Triangle. It was with its mother in a large herd of elephants. The calf was in pain, the leg was swollen and the wire could still be seen hanging from the wound. The wire had caused a very extensive wound round the foot and continued to cut deeper into the muscles as the animal walked. The veterinary team then decided to immobilize it and remove the snare.
Chemical immobilization and treatment
The elephant calf was captured by darting from a vehicle using 4mgs of etorphine Hcl, the drug took effect after about 6 minutes and the calf went recumbent. The rest of the elephant family including the mother was successfully scared away by vehicles and gun shots in the air.
The wire was quickly cut off using a wire cutter and the resulting wound was cleaned and debrided using water and 10% hydrogen peroxide, then treated by topical application of tincture of iodine and oxytetracycline spray. Other treatments by intramuscular administration of long-acting oxytetracycline and flunixine meglumine were instituted.
Revival from anaesthesia and prognosis
The calf was then immediately revived from anaesthesia and released back to join the rest of the herd, it was still weak and could only move with a lot of difficulties. The calf had good chances of healing after removal of the snare and treatment, the only risk was if the lower part of the leg became gangrenous and sloughed off.
Incidents of elephant mortalities in Mara area
During the month of August there were two incidents of elephant mortalities reported to the veterinary unit in Mara. One of the cases was a 4 year old male elephant that was found dead a few kilometers from Oloololo gate, it had both the tusks intact and the carcass was still fresh but almost completely preyed on by vultures and hyenas. It was reported that the young elephant was seen limping a few days ago before being found dead later on. After a close observation of the carcass, the elephant was found to have a fracture of the femur bone of the right hind leg. Due to the fracture, it was unable to move and hyenas would have taken advantage and killed it as an easy prey. The two small tusks were recovered and taken to KWS custody in Ewaso Ngiro.
The other incident of elephant mortality was that of a full grown bull that was found lying dead on the slopes of Oloololo escarpment. It was reported by the community scouts in Mara North Conservancy. The carcass was about 3 days old and had started decomposing when it was found. It had both the tusks intact at the time of postmortem. It was then examined and found to have a deep bullet wound on the left shoulder that penetrated into the thoracic cavity, the bullet head could not be traced into the soft tissues but the wound extended into the lungs and heart. Blood traces could also be traced along the elephant track as it moved shortly before death. There were no signs of struggle at the site where the elephant died meaning it just fell dead after it was overwhelmed by the internal organ injury. The elephant was suspected to have been shot by a poacher or someone trying to scare it from the farms but it took off with an injury and died after moving for about 1 kilometer. The tusks were removed and taken to KWS custody in Kilgoris.
Study of gastrointestinal parasites and genetic variation in Mara wildebeests
An investigation was conducted on migratory wildebeests to determine the various species of gastrointestinal parasites infesting the gastrointestinal system of wildebeests and compare this with other animal species in the Mara ecosystem. About 120 wildebeests carcasses found dead along the Mara river were opened up and examined for GIT parasites. Feacal samples and adult worms were collected from the GIT system. Adult parasites were preserved in 70% ethanol while feacal samples were refrigerated immediately after collection from the wildebeests. Both morphological and molecular tests will be applied on the parasite samples to determine their species and predilection sites on wildebeests in comparison to other animal species. Tissue samples cut from the ears were also collected and preserved in 70% ethanol for studying the genetic variation between the migratory and resident wildebeests in Maasai Mara.
There is an increase of incidences of human-wildlife conflicts resulting into many cases of wildlife injuries being reported in the Mara ecosystem that require veterinary intervention. The veterinary unit in Mara managed to attend to all reported cases of wildlife injuries and sicknesses and conducted investigations into the gastrointestinal parasites of wildebeests. KWS acknowledges and appreciate the support of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust towards provision of wildlife veterinary services in Maasai Mara and other parts of the Central Rift Conservation area; this has significantly enhanced the wildlife conservation status in these areas which are facing the challenge of human-wildlife conflict and loss of wildlife habitat.
Report by: Dr. Domnic Mijele