Mara Mobile Veterinary Unit - October 2009

Summary The veterinary activities were quite successful during the month of October, the veterinary unit in Mara managed to attend to most of the reported cases in Maasai Mara and Narok areas


The veterinary activities were quite successful during the month of October, the veterinary unit in Mara managed to attend to most of the reported cases in Maasai Mara and Narok areas. Some of the cases attended to include treatment of common zebras in Narekiangare area, rescue of an elephant calf from Keekorok area which was transferred to the elephant orphanage in Nairobi for tender care. Two male elephants were treated for severe injuries near Oloololo gate, Maasai Mara. One of them had good chances of recovery from the injury while the other had poor prognosis but is still being monitored. A male buffalo that was found with along spear sticking on its back was also captured and treated. The recent droughts have led to an increase of livestock incursion into the Mara National reserve and cases of human-wildlife conflict are also on the increase. The reported elephants and buffalo could have been attacked by local herdsmen grazing their livestock in the reserve at night.

The veterinary unit was also involved in the initial stages of setting up bovine tuberculosis investigations research project in Mara and Amboseli National park. Further details of these cases are highlighted in the report below.

Treatment of an adult female zebra with ligament sprain on the left front leg in Narekiangare

This was a case of an adult female zebra that was found limping in a herd of several other zebras in Narekiangare area. It was visibly in pain but the cause of injury was not known. The vet team decided to capture the zebra for examination and treatment of the limb.

The zebra was captured by chemical immobilization through darting using 5mgs of etorphine hydrochloride combined with 70mgs of Xylazine hydrochloride and darted on the left thigh; the drug took effect after about 5 minutes.

The affected leg was palpated, flexed and examined; it was found that the animal had a sprain on the left front leg. It was then treated using long-acting antibiotics and dexamethasone administered intramuscularly to treat any opportunistic infection and reduce inflammation, pain and swelling.

The animal was then revived from anaesthesia using 24mgs of diprenorphine hydrochloride and 5 mgs of atipamezole hydrochloride administered through the jugular vein. The prognosis was good after the treatment and the animal had good chances of healing.

Rescue and treatment of a snared common zebra in Narekiangare area

This was a case of a male adult zebra that had been sighted with a tight wire snare cutting through the fetlock joint of the right front leg, it had stayed with the injury for a number of days and was unable to move and graze together with other zebras.

The vet team decided to capture the zebra then remove the snare and treat the inflicted injury. The zebra was then captured by darting using 5mgs of etorphine hydrochloride combined with 60mgs of xylazine hydrochloride on the right side of the shoulder.

The wire was then cut, retrieved from the wound and removed completely leaving an extensive wound on the fetlock joint. After removing the wire, the wound was treated using 10% hydrogen peroxide and a tincture of iodine applied topically on it and later sprayed using oxytetracycline spray.  After all the treatments, it was revived from anaesthesia using 12mgs of diprenorphine hydrochloride combined with 5mgs of atipamezole hydrochloride administered through the jugular vein and the animal released back to the wild after successful treatment.      

Postmortem examination of an elephant which was found dead in Olare-Orok Conseravncy, Mara

This was a carcass of a young elephant that was found dead within Olare-Orok Conservancy in Maasai Mara, the carcass was more than 1 week old and was completely decomposed hence no accurate diagnosis could be made from it. However, the security personnel in the conservancy reported that the elephant was seen limping and unable to keep pace with other elephants, then a few days later it was fond dead. It was therefore suspected to have died of an arrow or spear wound. Incidences of elephants being attacked by locals have increased in the Mara ecosystem due to raging droughts and increased livestock incursion into the reserve in search of pasture.

Rescue and treatment of a speared African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) in Maasai Mara

An adult male buffalo was found in a painful situation trying to walk with along spear sticking on its back within Maasai Mara National reserve. It had extensive haemorrhage at the back from where it was stabbed by a spear. It was not immediately known who attacked the animal but it was suspected that it was attacked by cattle herdsmen grazing in the reserve at night. Ruminal contents were also seen oozing out through the spear wound a clear sign that the spear penetrated right through the rumen and possibly into other stomach chambers. The buffalo was in a very painful situation and was unable to move with the spear still sticking at the back. This incident occurred along the Keekorok – Sarova road.

Capture and treatment

The buffalo had become so aggressive following the attack and just when the vehicle was approaching it for darting it charged at the vehicle and knocked the vehicle several times by its horns. Finally it was captured by darting using 5mgs of etorphine hydrochloride combined with 30mgs of xylazine chloride, it took about 7 minutes for the drug to take effect and the animal became recumbent. The spear was quickly pulled out and the wound probed using a long forceps, the extent of injury in the abdomen could not be immediately established but it was so severe and life threatening.  

The buffalo was also paralyzed on the hindquarters caused by the spear that pierced through the para-lumbar fossa just close to the vertebral column injuring some of the lumbo-sacral nerves. And so it had to be euthanized because it had no chances of recovery and also to alleviate pain and suffering.  This is the height of human-wildlife conflict within Maasai Mara National game reserve. The recent prolonged drought has led to an influx of livestock into the reserve in search of pasture, this has increased the intensity of human activities within the reserve leading to a lot of insecurity for wildlife particularly to the endangered species like rhinos and lions. Sometimes lions are attacked by livestock herders at night particularly when the lion attempts to prey on the livestock.

Rescue of an orphaned elephant calf from Mara to an orphanage in Nairobi

This was a very young male elephant calf that was rescued by the Mara rhino patrol team in a place called ‘Kissinger’ near Keekorok lodge within Maasai Mara. It was approximately 2 weeks old, found wandering alone in the wild with no signs of other elephants around. The rhino patrol team managed to get hold of it, put it into the vehicle and brought it to the warden’s office, then immediately informed the vet to come and attend to it.

The calf was then examined by the vet and found to be in a stable health even though it was emaciated and quite dehydrated, it was also very weak likely hypoglyceamic. It was then covered using warm blankets, then clean water and appropriate milk formular was ordered from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. These items were flown to Mara within a short time, then the animal was immediately fed using a plastic teat and treated using amoxicillin injection. The calf was then flown to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust animal orphanage in Nairobi for tender care. It had good chances of surviving in the orphanage because it had not been infected by any disease and had a very good appetite.

Treatment of an injured male elephant near Oloololo gate in Maasai Mara

This was a case of a sub-adult male elephant which had a severe wound on the lateral side of the left front leg and a deep wound at the back. The wounds were already infected and full of maggots, it was suspected that the animal was attacked with arrows and later on acute inflammation and cellulites led to these extensive wounds on the leg and the back.  This elephant was sighted by the County council rangers near Oloololo gate of Maasai Mara who immediately informed the vet to attend to it. It was already weak, emaciated, moved with a lot of difficulties and septiceamia was almost setting in.

Chemical immobilization, examination and treatment

The elephant was darted from a vehicle using 10mgs of etorphine Hcl and 1000 i.u, the drug took effect after about 5 minutes and it became recumbent. The most severe wound on the lateral side of the front leg was cleaned with a lot of water and gauze swabs trying to remove all the mud and maggots, then the wound was probed using a long forceps to find out if it penetrated deeper into the tissues. After proper examination, it was realized that there was no bone infection and the wound was only affecting the soft tissues. The wounds were further cleaned using 10% hydrogen peroxide and draining all the accumulated pus and tissue debris, then later treated with a tincture of iodine and oxytetracycline spray. Further treatments by intramuscular administration of long-acting oxytetracycline antibiotics, multivitamins and dexamethasone were provided. Blood samples were collected for testing of various infections including bovine tuberculosis.

Revival of anaesthesia

After treatment, the elephant was revived from anaesthesia using 24mgs of diprenorphine hydrochloride administered through the superficial ear-vein. It was to be monitored closely by the Mara rangers who would report its progress regularly to the vet for further treatments.

Treatment of a sub-adult male elephant in Mara Triangle

This was another sub-adult male elephant with an extensive injury on the medial aspect of the right front leg.  The wound was on the lower extremities of the leg and white eaglet birds kept pecking on it hindering the healing process. The wound was also heavily contaminated by mud but had some signs of healing; it had developed some granulomatous tissues which is a good sign of a healing wound. This elephant was captured by darting from a vehicle then examined and the wound treated routinely using hydrogen peroxide and tincture of iodine. Other treatments using antibiotics and antiinflammatories were also provided. Blood samples were collected for further disease investigations. After treatments, it was successfully revived from anaesthesia and released.

Investigation of Bovine tuberculosis prevalence and comparison of performance of new diagnostic test systems suitable for detection of M. bovis in wildlife and extensive farmed livestock in Maasai Mara and Amboseli NP, Kenya.

Project overview

Bovine tuberculosis caused by Mycobacterium bovis is one of the zoonotic diseases that have been selected and characterised by World Health Organization (WHO) as “neglected zoonoses” in Africa. The disease is considered as an exotic disease in Southern and East Africa, most probably introduced by cattle herds during colonization in the 19th and 20th century (Myers and Steele 1969).

In recent years it has become evident that the role of wildlife in the epidemiology of bovine tuberculosis has been greatly underestimated, both in developing countries as well as in the developed world (Michel et al. 2006).

In Kenya, the prevalence of bovine tuberculosis in wildlife is still unknown (Tarara et. al, 1985) Koech, 2000, estimated bovine tuberculosis prevalence in cattle of Narok and Nakuru districts of Kenya at 2% maximum. These findings still required further verification given the risk posed by high level of livestock-wildlife interaction and movement of wildlife and pastoralists across borders.

In Africa, the consumption of raw milk and raw meat, and the increase in bushmeat consumption as a cheap source of proteins, are some of the principal routes for human contaminations with bovine tuberculosis (Eric et al., 2005).

Once introduced into the wildlife-livestock interface, Bovine tuberculosis cannot be eradicated by traditional control programmes (Michel et al. 2005). Due to the lack of an effective vaccine at present, it is almost impossible for affected African countries to prevent further geographic spread and additional spill over to other species.

In this proposed study, investigations on the prevalence and distribution of M. bovis in cattle, sheep, goats and selected wildlife species in the vicinity of Maasai Mara National Game Reserve in Kenya will be carried out. It will also involve the detection M. bovis in pilot studies in known and possibly infected wildlife species in the same area.

And finally this study seeks to compare the performance of the newly developed rapid serological test (STAT-PAK) and Gamma-interferon assay test (Bovigam) using tuberculin skin test and cultivation as baseline for diagnosis of bovine tuberculosis (BTB) in livestock and wildlife in Maasai Mara and Amboseli ecosystems.

The results from these objectives will help determine the extent of existence and spread of Bovine tuberculosis in Kenyan wildlife and livestock and design an appropriate control or eradication measure. The suitable diagnostic tests will then be adopted for use in future diagnosis of Bovine tuberculosis in wildlife and livestock in the affected areas. Control or eradication of Bovine tuberculosis will help reduce the prevalence of human tuberculosis and reduce the economic losses due to human treatment and deaths including economic losses from livestock production occasioned by Bovine tuberculosis.

During the last two months, the process of identification of some cattle bomas selected randomly within the vicinity of Maasai Mara and Amboseli National park has been done. A total of about 60 bomas have been selected in the two study sites for the purpose of livestock sampling and testing for bovine tuberculosis. Some trial tests have also been done on a few cattle and wildlife but the real work is due to begin later in November, 2009. A detailed progress report on this work will be available by the end of January, 2010.


The Central Rift veterinary unit through the support of Kenya Wildlife Service and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) responded to as many animals as possible both in the Mara ecosystem and Narok area. During the month of October, various wildlife species including elephants, common zebras and buffalo were treated for injuries of varying extents. Most cases reported were due to injuries caused by human-wildlife conflict incidences particularly on elephants coming from crop farming areas of Transmara District. 

Report by: Dr. Domnic Mijele