Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit - February 2009

Introduction Described in this report are the activities for February 2009 as well as two cases attended to in early March before this report was prepared


Described in this report are the activities for February 2009 as well as two cases attended to in early March before this report was prepared. There were 12 cases that were reported to the unit in February. Ten of these cases were found and attended, one was not found and the operation became too risky for the personnel in the other. In the same period we collared two elephant bulls in Lamu.

The cases in detail

The first report was received on 5th of February from Olerai community land next to Amboseli national park. The report was of an elephant bull with a large wound on the right hindquarters from unknown cause. We responded immediately the report was made and found the bull elephant in the company of five other bulls. It was immobilised with Etorphine hydrochloride and an arrow head retrieved from a subcutaneous pocket of pus on the lower side of the wound. Infection was spread under the skin with lots of pus and necrotic (dead) tissues. There was no muscular involvement. The pus was drained out and an incision made on the lower part of the injury to create drainage. The wound was cleaned thoroughly with hydrogen peroxide and lots of water and the necrotic tissues trimmed out. It was thereafter infused with dilute Lugol’s Iodine and an amoxicillin antibiotic ointment. Long acting amoxicillin antibiotic cover was given systemically. The prognosis for recovery was good. Recent reports indicate that the elephant is frequently seen and the wound is healing nicely.

From the same herd there was a large bull slightly lame on the right fore leg which had raised concern to the game scouts. However, there was no physical injury that was visible neither was there any swelling on the affected leg. There was sign of mild pain when walking but the animal could bear much of its weight on the leg. We suspected a sprain of the carpal joint resulting from the difficult rocky terrain in the area. Intervention was considered not necessary but the scouts were to monitor the progress.

On the same day we were requested to examine and advice the way forward regarding a sickly 20 year old elephant bull on the Tanzanian side of the border. The elephant had been seen in the same general area for four days and was neither feeding nor searching for water. The body condition was poor. It had no physical injuries. It would occasional stretch the legs which could have been a manifestation of abdominal pain. Groaning vocalisation and occasional kneeling on the front legs were some of the other signs reported to us. These were however not observed in the period we examined the elephant. There was no feasible treatment that could be given. Poisoning in the farms across the border in Tanzania was suspected. The elephant was to be monitored and a further decision was to be made depending on the progress. It was put down several days later at the same spot after its condition deteriorated.

The following day before we departed Amboseli back to Tsavo, we received the report of a 3-4 weeks old elephant calf that had been retrieved from a swamp by rangers at Kitirua area in Amboseli. The calf was confined by the rangers overnight. It looked healthy and we made arrangements for it to be airlifted to Nairobi for rehabilitation and eventual release into the wild. At the time of preparing this report, the calf was reported to have adapted well to the rehabilitation program.

On the 11th of February we were informed of a female adult eland with a snare on the left hind leg at Bamburi Haller Park. The eland was very elusive to approach and it disappeared into the forest and was see again two days after when the snare was observed to have come off. A day before this case there was an elephant with a snare on the left hind leg at Kamboyo in Tsavo West. The operation however became very risky because of thick bushes which made approach which was only possible on foot very difficult. The elephant was also in the company of four other bulls which complicated it even further. An attempt will be made when it reappears in a better terrain that will not endanger the personnel.

Between 12th and 17th February we collared two elephant bulls, one at the Tana Delta and the other in Nairobi ranch both in Lamu district, Coast province. The project is a collaboration between KWS and Save the Elephants and aims to understand the elephant movements in the area. Four animals were to be collared comprising of two (male and female) in Nairobi ranch, one (male or female) in Tana Primate Research and another male or female at either Kiwayu or Boni or Dondori. Only 4 bulls were found, one at the Tana Delta and three in Nairobi ranch. No elephants, bulls or family herds, were found in the other targeted areas. There was however signs of activities of elephants but terrain and thick forests complicated both aerial and ground search. The GSM/GPS collars will be sending data via satellite. They have a self release mechanism that will trigger after two years and the collar will fall off from the elephant. Another operation will be organised to collar two females at an appropriate date.

Another case was that of a female buffalo at Satao in Tsavo East with both hock joints injured possibly from a predatory attack. It was in poor body condition, dehydrated (sunken eyes) and was unable to stand. It was euthanised to prevent further suffering. Also euthanised was a bull elephant at Olbili near Ol Donyo Wuas with a serious injury at the lower left fore leg near the carpal joint possibly from a spear that entered at the anterior and exited from the posterior aspects of the leg. The carpal bones were also affected and grating sensation of the bones could be felt when probed with a pair of forceps. There was heavy infection and the joint was likely infected. Much of the sole was detached from the foot pad. The entire leg was swollen and the animal could hardly move when approached on foot for darting as approach by vehicle was impossible because of bushes and rocky terrain. It moved only about five metres before the effects of the immobilisation drug took effect and it went down. We considered euthanasia the best option to stop further suffering.

From Ol Donyo Wuas we passed through Kimana sanctuary where Imbirikani group ranch game scouts were tracking an elephant seen lame on the left hind leg. They thought the female elephant which was in a herd of about 10 had an injury although they could not approach too close to confirm. However, we did not see any injury but the animal was naturally lame because the leg was slightly shorter. The warden Kimana sanctuary who joined us to examine the animal confirmed to have known the elephant for many years and that it was born with the abnormality. No intervention was done.

During the month we also examined and diagnosed hyperkeratosis of the skin of the foot at the junction of the sole/slipper/pad to be the condition afflicting Sian, one of the elephants under rehabilitation at the Ithumba elephant stockades.  It is affecting the right hind leg. The condition is normally caused by prolonged irritation of the skin of the foot which stimulates deposition of extra keratin with resulting thickening of the skin. Treatment includes thinning of the skin by gentle abrasion using a hoof rasp. A mixture of vegetable oil and mineral oil may be used to soften the skin to avoid cracking.

The extent of hyperkeratosis in Sian is rather advanced and thinning may not be effective. There are signs that the affected part may soon get detached as it is loosening out from the rest of the skin. We did not consider incising it out now to be prudent because of post-operative bleeding and secondary infection. The animal is able to ambulate without signs of pain or lameness. It will be monitored closely to assess progression before we decide the next cause of action. The body condition isn’t as bad as alleged compared to the other elephants in the facility. However, the upper teeth are completely worn and have cavities which could be interfering with feeding. However, the teeth will be replaced with time.

A two and half year old elephant calf was reported wandering alone at Ziwani farm next to Tsavo West with no other elephants in sight. However, we found it down and unable to stand up and was euthanised with 30ml 20% pentobarbital sodium. Another one year old calf was also put down after it failed progressively became weak and failed to stand up at the Voi elephant stockades. The calf had survived a bus accident at Bachuma area in Tsavo East in which two other elephants died.

The two elephants attended to in early Match and mentioned above were from the same family and are thought to have been injured across the border in Tanzania. One, a ten year old female had two spear injuries, one at the axial (inner) side of right carpal joint. This injury was quite deep and the carpal bones could be felt on probing. The other was on the left mammary gland going under the skin up to the right gland. Examination revealed that the chest cavity was not affected. Both wounds werefresh without any infection. They were cleaned and treated topically and systemic antibiotics given. The prognosis is guarded because of the injury on the leg which could complicate healing if the joint becomes infected.

The other was an adult female with what seemed to be an injury from a high velocity object that penetrated the mid right fore leg from the side exiting from the opposite side. The wound was very narrow which means it was most likely a bullet. Although difficult to assess, it seemed the bone was not affected because the animal did not appear to be in a lot of pain. It could walk without much noticeable lameness and could bear full weight on the leg which is not the case if the bone was affected. The other injury was on the lower left abdominal area which was narrower that the one on the leg and not deep (it did not go beyond the skin).

Although difficult to determine the cause, we thought it was inflicted by an arrow. Injuries of elephants with arrows made from nails and without hooks are not uncommon in Amboseli. The arrows which are at times poisonous are easily plucked out by the elephant and leave very narrow penetrating wounds that may not be easily noticed until complications set in.  Both injuries like in the first elephant were fresh and no infection had started to set in. they were cleaned and treated topically and intramuscular antibiotic cover administered. The prognosis for recovery seemed better than for the juvenile elephant. Both animals were also given an anti-inflammatory drug (Dexamethasone) injection. They will be monitored closely and updates relayed to relevant authorities.