Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit - July 2010

Introduction The month of July like the previous month of June witnessed a drop in rainfall within the Tsavo ecosystem forcing many wild animals to wander out of the park in search of forage and water


The month of July like the previous month of June witnessed a drop in rainfall within the Tsavo ecosystem forcing many wild animals to wander out of the park in search of forage and water. The most affected species are the elephants, leading to an increase in conflicts and consequential rise in injuries inflicted by the community. Of late there is an increase in snaring cases as opposed to the previously used arrows and spears.

Very high tensile wires are on use in most of these cases, which make it difficult for the elephants to free themselves. The wire cuts through the skin and muscle tissues in the ensuing struggle causing severe pain and suffering. Several cases were handled here and included fitting of satellite collars in lions in Amboseli National Park, treatment of several elephants with limb injuries and a zebra foal with an open complete fracture of the radius and ulnar.

Treatment of an injured zebra foal

This zebra foal was spotted by tourists limping badly on the front limb with a visible wound on the injured leg near Voi Safari lodge along the water pipeline within Tsavo East National Park

Darting and treatment

The foal was darted using 3 mgs of etorphine mixed with 10 mgs of Xylazine. It took about five minutes for the drug to take effect.

On closer examination it was discovered that the fracture was complete complex and open with little chance of it healing especially in the wild. A decision was made to euthanize it to alleviate more suffering. 

Euthanasia- 10 mls of euthatal was administered by quick I.V.

Amboseli Lion collaring exercise, 2nd July 2010.

Amboseli National Park is one of the parks under the unit’s jurisdiction and was undertaking a lion collaring exercise occasioned by an increase in lion/carnivore-community conflict. The exercise was meant to understand the movement patterns of Amboseli lions and what drives them.

Four lions were collared, two males and two females, one male and a female being from one pride and the rest from different prides.

All the darting was carried out early in the morning or late in the evening to take advantage of the cool temperatures as most immobilization drugs interfere with thermoregulation.

Darting and collaring

Kip (AG 452)

Kip was darted at 0723 AM in the morning using 150 mgs of ketamine and 150mgs of xylazine mixed in the same dart. A second dart of 150 mgs of ketamine and an equal amount of xylazine was added at 0745 AM and he was fully immobilized at 0745 AM.

Approach was done in a vehicle and the lion probed to ensure that it’s fully anaesthetized.

Collars were placed around the neck and screwed to fit well and slightly loose to prevent strangulation.


He was revived at 0835 am using 2 mls (10 mgs) of antisedan administered intramuscularly.

He slowly walked to the nearby bushes to conceal from the heat and further disturbance.

Ambogga (AG369)

Ambogga resides on the northern part of the swamp and is usually found in the company of his brother patrolling the expansive area to keep off new males.

Darting and Reversal

Ambogga was nervous and it was not easy to approach him, he was found near a wildebeest kill enjoying his breakfast.

Darting was attempted but the lion ran towards the long grasses where he was pursued and finally darted at 0747 AM using a combination of 300 mgs ketamine and a same amount of Xylazine.

The drugs were topped up with 150 mgs ketamine and an equal amount of xylazine at 0806 AM.

He was successfully collared despite threats from his brother and a female who had camped nearby wondering what was happening.

He was revived at 0910Am with no complications.

Belter (AG370)

Belter is a young female lioness found in the same territory as Ambogga and suspected to be his cubs.

Belter was calm and darting was easy and within minutes he was down after only 300 mgs of ketamine and 300 mgs of xylazine were used.

Collaring was done easily and revival was rapid after administration of Antisedan.

Amy (AG 451)

Amy is one of the females in Kips pride and was selected due to the nature of the females not leaving the pride as opposed to the males who occasionally move out to breed with other females.

Darting and reversal

Darting was done using 300 mgs of ketamine and an equal amount of xylazine.

The drugs were topped up again after 20 minutes when the lioness did not show signs of going down.

After sufficient anaesthesia had taken effect the lioness was collared and revived, then monitored until she was fully awake to prevent attacks from buffaloes and other herbivores.

NB: several tissue, blood and feacal samples were taken from each animal collared and appropriate medication administered to control infection.

Treatment of an injured elephant at Kimana Gate near Amboseli National Park.

Darting and treatment

Just after the collaring exercise came a report of limping male adult elephant at Kimana gate within Amboseli Park.

The elephant was approached and darted using 18 mgs of etophine alone at 1213 PM in the afternoon.

It took 7 minutes for the elephant to go down into sternal recumbency, for which it was pulled to lateral recumbency to avoid suffocation.

Examination revealed a cut on the trunk and a swollen limb.

The wounds were washed with a mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide, iodine applied and a final spray of oxytetracycline administered on the wound.

Long acting antibiotics were given parenterally and the elephant revived using 60 mgs of diprenorphine.



The mobile vet team received reports of two abandoned elephant calves aged about 1- 2 years, one near ziwani area and the other near Rombo trading centre with a spear lodged in its head from the warden tourism Tsavo West National Park Mr. Joseph Gichohi.

The team decided to start with the rescue of the injured calf at Rombo, and headed straight from Amboseli where they were on a Lion collaring exercise. The team arrived in Rombo at about 2 PM in the afternoon of 7th august 2010.

Arrival and rescue

On arrival at Rombo Kenya wildlife service station the team was directed to the site of the rescue next to Maili Tatu dispensary by a ranger from the station. The calf was swiftly spotted heading to its feeding and hiding area from a nearby river with a big spear protruding from its head and folded backwards. The spear head was lodged between the eyes and suspected to have pierced into the nasal passage.

Several attempts to approach it proved futile as this injured calf chased anybody on site through thick bushes and thorns.

After an hour of struggle she was finally subdued by a dart with 4 mgs of etorphine darted by the vet while perched on a tree.

Examination and transport

This brave little chap had a lot of strength and determination, and the spear was lodged inside the sinuses to an extent of the vet using a wire cutter to pull it out. About 20 cm of the spear was inside the bony sinuses.

It also had several other wounds with the one near the tail being very deep and fresh!

The wounds were cleaned and iodine applied then sprayed using oxytet. Wound spray.

Parenteral long acting amoxicillin was applied intramuscularly together with dexamethasone to combat shock and multivitamins.

With the assistance of the local community she was loaded into the Vet vehicle, tied firmly and driven to Voi, where the team was joined by the desnaring team near ziwani.

On the way she was monitored and despite problems with the vehicle she arrived safely in Voi and placed alone in one of the stockades for preparation to airlift her to Nairobi.


This elephant calf has a strong will to survive and if the spear wound is well taken care of then she will live to be a heritage of this country.

Treatment of an injured elephant Bull near lualenyi Ranch.


Lualenyi is a community conservation area where we have a high population of wild animals as well as domestic stock. Competition for the scarce resources has led to conflicts between the pastoralist and the wildlife.

The elephant was spotted near the watering hole with a big wound on the front limb and signs of pain.

Darting and Treament

Darting was done using 18 mgs of etorphine alone and it took about 6 minutes for the elephant to be fully immobilized.

The wound was thoroughly washed using diluted hydrogen peroxide and all the dead tissues debrided.

Iodine and antibiotic spray was applied together with long acting antibiotics and anti inflammatories.


60 mgs of diprenorphine administered in the ear veins.

The elephant was up within a minute.


Good, full recovery expected.

Sick elephants near bachuma gate within Tsavo East National park.


The two male elephants were reported sick near Bachuma gate on the southern end of Tsavo Park with one showing severe lameness and the other just lying down and unable to rise.

Darting of the lame elephant

Darting was done using 16 mgs of etorphine alone at 1215 PM, and was fully immobized at 1220PM.

Left knee joint was found to be swollen and some pieces of arrow head retrieved from the wound. The joint depicted complete destruction of the synovial membranes and a lot of pus was oozing.


Purulent arthritis of the left knee joint which was considered untreatable in field condition and the elephant was euthanized to prevent further suffering and pain to the animal.

Second recumbent elephant

This was reported and the team rushed in only to find that it had died a few minutes ago.


Revealed massive peritonitis with purulent peritoneal fluid.

Cause of death



The unit still faces an uphill task in fulfilling its mandate within the area under its jurisdiction due to the massive distances it has to cover within short notices. The numbers of cases are still high due to the ongoing dry spell being witnessed in the Tsavo ecosystem.

Finally I would like to thank the sponsors of the unit VIER PFOTEN and The David Sheldrick Wildlife Tust for the immense support to the unit. Not forgetting the Vet. Department Kenya Wildlife Service, Nairobi and the entire staff of The Kenya Wildlife Service.

Report: by Dr Jeremiah Poghon

The Mobile Veterinary Unit operated by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust working with The Kenyah Wildlife Service and funded by Vier Pfoten