Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit - July 2013

Introduction The month of July witnessed an increase in veterinary cases handled by the unit by a big margin with arrow wounds in elephants showing a sharp increase followed by snares and rescues


The month of July witnessed an increase in veterinary cases handled by the unit by a big margin with arrow wounds in elephants showing a sharp increase followed by snares and rescues. Elephants have started to abandon their calves as they cannot keep up with the herd that now has to travel long distances in search of food and water. With the dry spell expected to continue for the next few months, cases are also expected to be on the increase.  Hot spotsfor poaching still remained around Dakota, Satao and Ithumba in northern Tsavo East National Park.

Treatment of a young injured elephant bull in Kilaguni, Tsavo West, 6th July

The initiative undertaken through SKYVETS initiative managed to assess an injured elephant bull with an old cut injury to the trunk.The adult male elephant was seen walking with a trunk which was thought to be almost severed off and had great difficulty drinking water.

Immobilization and treatment

EtorphineHcl 18mg + Hyaluronidase 5000IU, in a 3 ml Dan - inject dart was prepared from a helicopter.On quick examination it was confirmed that the elephant had been wounded but the wound had healed. The cut had gone to about half of the trunk. The elephant could easily insert his trunk deeply into water and drink, though with some minor loss. He was also in excellent body condition. The injury was deemed not a problem.Anaesthesia was reversed using 60 mg of diprenorphine into the ear vein.

Treatment of a snared elephant cow in Kanderi swamp, Tsavo east, 9th July

The initiative undertaken via the SKYVET programme involved flying a vet from Nairobi to save a choking elephant.An adult female elephant was seen walking carrying a long winch wire snare on the neck region.The elephant cow was darted using 18mgs of etorphine mixed with 5000 iu of hyalase from a vehicle. The wire snare was removed.The wound was discharging pus and had a putrid odour. The wound was cleaned with copious amounts of water and dead tissues removed then cauterized with dilute hydrogen peroxide. Antibiotics and multivitamins were administered and the elephant finally woken up.

Examination of a dead elephant bull in Ngutuni area of Tsavo east, 10th July

The elephant bull was reported looking sickly near Ngutuni sanctuary adjacent to Tsavo East National Park. The vet team rushed in to find it had succumbed. The elephant bull with big tusks was examined and found to have a deep arrow injury at the left front limb.Probing of the wound revealed a deep 30cm hole in the leg deep into the joints and oozing pus caused by an arrow wound. Joint injuries are always difficult to treat.

Treatment of an elephant orphan (Mbirikani) at the Voi stockade, 15th July

The orphan rescued in June after its mother fled was given a repeat treatment as the infection was still present and the swelling still there. It was immobilized using 4 mgs of etorphine in a dan inject dart system.The snare wound on the right front leg was cleaned with water mixed with hydrogen peroxide, splashed with iodine and long acting antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.Mbirikani is now recovering well in Voi.

Treatment of an injured male leopard in Komboyo, Tsavo west, 18th July

The leopard was injured by community members near Emali area after preying on livestock. KWS personnel moved in and trapped the leopard which was brought into Tsavo West National Park where it received treatment before it was referred to Nairobi vet clinic for specialized care.

The wound around the groin was cleaned and topical antibiotics applied. Long acting antibiotics and dexamethasone was also administered. Supplementary feeding and water was given to the leopard.

Treatment of an injured elephant bull in Dakota area, Tsavo east, 19th July.

The elephant bull was spotted with a group of others near a water hole in Dakota area of Tsavo East with two septic wounds on both sides of the body.The elephant was immobilized using 18 mgs of etorphine in a dan inject dart system.The now septic arrow wounds were washed with water mixed with hydrogen peroxide, doused with iodine, sprayed with covered with a final cover of green clay. The elephant was rolled over using ropes and a vehicle and the wound on the other flank treated too as above. He was finally woken up after anaesthetic reversal using diprenorphine.Prognosis is good and full recovery is expected.

Rescue of two elephant calves in IrimaTsavo east and PikaPika in Taita ranch, 20th and 21st July

With the dry weather hitting Tsavo conservation area the elephants are abandoning their weak calves who cannot keep up with the herd. Two calves were rescued after being found in the park, one had a broken bone and the other was found alone.The elephant calf with a broken leg was separated from its mother after the mother was immobilised and the calf taken away. The other was captured physically.Both calves were taken to Nairobi Sheldricks nursery where sadly their injuries and conditions were fatal and they passed away.

Trimming of an elephant tusk that grew into the skull in Satao, Tsavo east. 22nd July

The female elephant with the left tusk growing towards the skull trimmed in the year 2004 but has since grown back into the skull. She was immobilized using 16 mgs of etorphine in a dan inject dart system and went down in 6 minutes. Being the matriarch she chased the vet car until drugs took effect hence separating her from her family.A third of the tusk was sawn off and the wounded facial tissues cleaned and treated.Gauging from the last time the horn was trimmed;she will be eligible for the trimming after 8 years that is 2021.

Treatment of an injured elephant bull in Sala,Tsavo east 23rd July

The injured bull was found in a group of 3 elephant bulls who were all injured. He was treated first as he appeared more injured. Immobilization was done by darting the elephant with 18 mgs of etorphine in a dan inject system.

A small injury from the hip signified a bullet injury with no exit. The nearly fresh wounds were washed with antiseptics and iodine. He was given antibiotics, dexamethasone and multivitamins.Prognosis is guarded.

Treatment of severely injured elephant bull with an arrow injury along Galana near Sala, Tsavo east 23rd July.

The big bull spotted together in a group of three elephants all injured was immobilized shortly after treating the elephant above.18 mgs of etorphine was used in dan inject darting system.The elephant ran and fell after few hundred next to Galana River. An arrow head was retrieved from deep in the abdominal muscles and huge amounts of pus and necrotic muscle tissues cleaned out leaving a huge gaping wound on the left flank.

Copious amounts of water mixed with hydrogen peroxide were used to clean pus debris from the wound. Iodine was splashed on the cleaned wound and a final cover of green clay applied. Long acting antibiotics and anti-inflammatories were administered intramuscularly.Prognosis is guarded.

Treatment of an elephant cow with hind limb lameness along Galana River, Tsavo east 24th July

The next day the vet team visited the Galana River again to revisit a case of an injured elephant bull left untreated after darkness fell in the previous day. The young elephant cow was darted using 16 mgs of etorphine in a dan inject dart system. The injury on the left front limb was thought to have been caused by a bullet shot.The injury was treated topically and long acting antibiotics and painkillers injected.Prognosis given was guarded.

Treatment of an elephant bull with abdominal arrow wound along Voi river near Dakota 24th July

After the Galana operation was concluded, the team headed towards satao-dakota area where several injured cases had been reported the previous day.The bull was found with a group of other family members. He was pushed out of Voi river and separated from the other elephants and darted with 18 mgs of etorphine in a dan inject dart system.

A protruding arrow head was removed, the wounds cleaned with peroxide, iodine and oxytetracycline spray. A final coat of green clay was used to cover the injury.Prognosis is good.

Treatment of an injured Black Rhino calf within Rhino range, Tsavo east 25th July

The rhino calf was reported limping and had difficulty following her mother within Rhino range Tsavo east national park. A chopper was called in and both mother and calf were immobilized. The mother was immobilized using 4.5 mgs of etorphine and 80 mgs azaperone but didn’t take effect necessitating a repeat darting. After the mother was fully anaesthetised the calf was immobilized using 0.5 mgs of etorphine and 10 mgs azaperone.

The calf was treated for severe lions attack wounds on the left elbow and the groin area. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatories were administered and the mother and calf’s anaesthetic were reversed and both walked away.

The calf’s condition deteriorated further after which rescue was undertaken and sadly the calf died.

Treatment of a wounded elephant bull near Satao camp Tsavo east, 26th July

Satao camp within Tsavo East national park is an important area for spotting injured wildlife especially in dry periods. An elephant bull was reported with an arrow head still stuck on the side of the body.Immobilization was done using 18 mgs of etorphine in a dan inject dart system.The elephant had to be rolled over as it fell on the injured side. An arrow head was pulled out, wound cleaned using water mixed with hydrogen peroxide then iodine is infused into the wound and a final coat of green clay applied.The anaesthesia is finally reversed by injection of diprenorphine at 3 times the etorphine dose.  Prognosis is good.

Attempted rescue of an elephant cow with a wire snare on the neck in Kasigau ranch, 28th July

Kasigau ranch is one of the dispersal areas of elephants within the Tsavo ecosystem. Elephants move into these areas especially during the dry seasons.The young elephant cow appeared near the dam with a tight snare around the neck. The choking snare was so tight the elephant was unable to move away at daybreak. The vet team rushed in only to find the poor elephant having fallen down and succumbed minutes before. The tight wire snare around the neck had cut through the trachea and the elephant was breathing through the perforation on the neck.It was concluded that this was a case of poaching using snares.

Treatment of a former elephant orphan (Mulika) for arrow wound in Ithumba, Tsavo east 29th July

The former orphans return frequently to Ithumba elephant stockade for water and sometimes feed supplementation. On this day the young elephant that has taken the role of a matriarch returned to the stockade with an arrow wound on the left rib cage. The arrow wound was so deep that if it wasn’t for the ribs to stop it, then definitely it was a fatal shot.She was separated from her tiny calf and darted using 16 mgs of etorphine. It took several minutes for the arrow head to be retrieved from the wound. The wound was then washed with water mixed with hydrogen peroxide, iodine applied and a final coat of green clay given.Long acting antibiotics and anti-inflammatories were also administered.

She was woken up by injection of diprenorphine at 3 times the etorphine dose. Prognosis is good.

Treatment of an injured former elephant orphan (Challa) at Ithumba, Tsavo east, 29th July

Another elephant orphan also appeared at Ithumba stockades with an arrow head stuck at the base of the trunk. He was immobilized using 14 mgs of etorphine in a dan inject system. The deeply embedded arrow head at the base of the trunk removed, wounds cleaned and disinfected. Green clay was applied to the wounded area.  Prognosis is certainly good.

Treatment of an injured hyena in Teita sisal estates 30th July

The seriously snared hyena was found near a waterhole in Teita estate near Mwatate. He was immobilized using 120 mgs of ketamine and 3 mgs of meditomidine. The wire snare cutting deeply into the neck was removed and the wounds cleaned. The Hyena was translocated to Tsavo east research station for treatment before eventual release back to the wild.   He unfortunately succumbed to its injuries few days after translocation.

Other cases handled by the Unit during July

On the 29th July a one year old elephant calf was rescued from Pikapika area of Taita Ranch after being found wandering alone. The calf was taken to Voi elephant stockade where it sadly died from its condition.

A security dog (soffy) was treated in Voi vet clinic for anorexia and impaction. All parameters were normal and he was covered with antibiotics, multivitamins and purgatives. Prognosis is good.

A lone elephant calf aged eighteen months old was rescued from Lualenyi ranch near Taita salt lick sanctuary on the 31st July. He was airlifted to Nairobi elephant orphanage where he has found a new home and has been named Vuria.

An elephant bull was treated for a snare of the left front limb near Kilalinda/kaluku area of Tsavo east along the Galana River. The deep cutting snare was removed, wound cleaned and treated. The operation was done with assistance of a helicopter hired by the David Sheldrick wildlife trust. Prognosis is good.

Two other elephants were treated by the SKYVET initiative near Manyani field training camp for arrow wounds on July 18th. The elephants were deemed out of danger after the treatment.The first big bull elephant had a wound on his left flank, which was successfully treated.

The second bull was treated only a few kilometers from the first bull at Manyani in Tsavo West.  The wound was caused by a poisoned arrow and was fairly severe. All hands played a role in quickly administering drugs and cleaning up the wound before waking the big bull up to go on to live a another day.


The Tsavo vet unit was faced with a great challenge of attending to all cases of wildlife injuries and rescues reported within the region during July. There has been an upward increase in cases reported and this is attributed to a change of tactics by poachers from the use of the loud guns to silent arrow shots. Luckily not all poisons used in arrows are effective in killing their victims affording us the chance to save them. Cases are expected to assume an upward trend in the several months to come.

The unit appreciates assistance offered by the skyvet initiative that has come in handy to save this important resource.

Finally we would like to acknowledge the great assistance extended to the unit by our donors ViER PFOTEN through the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT). We are glad to work together in saving this invaluable heritage.

Report by: Dr Jeremiah Poghon