Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit - September 2010

Introduction The month of September has been a challenging month and like the previous ones the unit has been finding itself almost always on its toes due to the high number of cases reported from the region, top on the list are injuries in elephants and lions


The month of September has been a challenging month and like the previous ones the unit has been finding itself almost always on its toes due to the high number of cases reported from the region, top on the list are injuries in elephants and lions. The dry spell and lack of water within most areas in the park has forced a lot of animals to move out of the park bringing them into direct conflict with the local communities, which in most cases humans emerging the victors!

The unit also handled a case of sickness in a security dog based in Tsavo west with a dilapidating sickness with very poor body condition.

Other interesting cases are those of greening of Galana River which raised complaints from communities downstream, this was suspected to be caused by an Algal bloom due to pollution of the River upstream. Officials from the National Environmental Authority (NEMA) were also involved and samples were collected and submitted to the government chemist for analysis.

1. Treatment of a security Tracker dog in Tsavo east 3rd September

Moss a security dog from Tsavo West National park fell ill with a strange and wasting disease not common in dogs, further examination revealed a mixture of systemic infections leading to a complex/ syndrome like case. After thorough investigation a tentative diagnosis of Erlichiosis/trypanasomosis complex was arrived at.

Due to the limited diagnostic capability in the field, the dog was referred to the University of Nairobi veterinary Clinic for specialized and has since recovered and but under veterinary supervision to access his suitability in operational areas.

2. Rehabilitation of a young Lion in Tsavo East National Park 4th September

The sickly looking male young lion was seen resting in a shade beside the road by tourists who passed the information to the unit. The young weak and emaciated lion was accessed and declared unfit to withstand long periods of immobilization!


Drugs were administered by embedding long acting amoxicillin tabs into a piece of meat which he took hungrily and rushed back to the bush! A repeat dose was given after he reappeared on the 5th day from the first treatment. Meat supplementation was given again.

NB: This lion was supposed to be taken to Nairobi orphanage but lack of facilities has left the unit with no choice but to rehabilitate the lions within there areas!


A long overdue rescue centre should be built in Tsavo conservation area to ease congestion at our Nairobi orphanage and assist this critically endangered species.

3. Elephant autopsy at Ngutuni next to Tsavo East National Park 6th September.

Autopsy Report

Report of a dead elephant carcass was made to the unit by the manager of Ngutuni lodge, autopsy was carried out on the carcass and it revealed a subcutaneous abscess which had ruptured into the peritoneal cavity causing severe peritonitis and bacterial septicaemia.  

With the thick skin covering abscesses in elephants, most animal are at risk of this highly infective material finding its way to inner body cavities leading to fatal results.

4. Lioness with porcupine quills stuck on the chest, 9th September.


Reports of injuries in lions continue to remain high in the unit, in this case a lioness suspected of killing a porcupine got a rude shock when she was left with several porcupine quills sticking from her body. While being searched to alleviate it of its suffering, she managed to remove the rest of the arrows except one that was deeply embedded in the chest area.

She was finally located resting beside a buffalo carcass near Ngutuni lodge.   

Immobilization and Treatment

Immobilization was done using Ketamine/xylazine mixed in a dan inject low power remote propelling system, the lioness walked a few meters to a nearby tree before the drugs took effect.

She was physically examined where the quill was removed and antibiotics administered parenterally on the wound, dexamethasone was also given IM.

Further examination revealed signs of diarrhea suspected caused by food poisoning occasioned by eating decomposed carcasses like the one she was found with.


She looked healthy and expected to survive well after the intervention.

5. Injured Elephant Bull at Enkii Area in Kuku Ranch near Chyulu national Park, 14th September.


Injuries in Elephants is still remain a big concern to the unit, in this case a giant bull was spotted by Rangers of a Kuku community Ranch moving sluggishly with a big swelling on the shoulder!

Immobilization and Treatment

Immobilization effected by remote administration of etorphine in a dan inject system at 12 35 PM and was fully immobilized at 12 42 PM. He went down into sternal position that is not good for respiration and was pulled to lateral position by use of the vet car.

Physical exam revealed a swelling on the right side of the shoulder after aseptic aspiration and a wound near the elbow joint.

The abscess was lanced open and thoroughly cleaned using a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water in ratio of 1:1, Tincture of iodine applied and a final spray of oxytetracycline Hcl made the day.

Parenteral amoxicillin and dexamethasone was also given.


Good, rangers to keep an eye on it for sometime.

6. Treatment of a lame elephant Bull at salt lick in Taita wildlife sanctuary, 15th September.


This elephant is suspected to have been treated previously on 11th August where an arrow head was removed from its right foreleg.  It was seen still limping badly around salt lick lodge within Taita Hills sanctuary.

Immobilization and Treatment

Immobilization was done chemically using etorphine alone and it took around 5 minutes for him to go down.

Physical examination of the wound revealed a deep penetrating wound without any foreign object or pus!

Antibacterials and antibiotics were applied including dexamethasone for pain relieve.


Good, needs close monitoring for a month.

7. Rescue of a lioness that from a pit in Baomo area in Tana River, 20th September.


Tana River is home to a highly endangered and protected Red colobus monkey! The thick forest and protected habitat provides home to many other species of wild animals which include lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants etc.

The lioness slipped into a pit constructed for water storage purpose in the nearby community area, it was accompanied by the pride that left her after several attempts to rescue their colleague failed.

Immobilization and Rescue

Immobilization was done using low power dan inject darting system loaded with 300mgs Ketamine and Xylazine.

After she was fully anaesthetized, the vet and three other persons entered the pit using a ladder, loaded the sleepy lioness to a stretcher and lifted it out using ropes assisted by members of the local community.

Treatments were instituted to cover the lioness against opportunistic infection that could occur due to stress.

She was finally released in the nearby thicket, a place known to be their territory.


She is expected to rejoin the pride after that.

8. Examination of a sickly captured lion at kuku ranch, 21st September.

This young male lion was trapped and finally captured after reports of attacking and killing about 18 goats belonging to communities in Kuku Ranch.

The lion was taken to Komboyo Park Headquarters for a decision on its fate!

Immobilization, treatment and revival

Immobilization was done using a mixture of Ketamine and xylazine in equal portions.

A general and detailed examination was done on the lion to rule out any deformities that could have made him prey on goats.

It revealed no anomaly in the anatomy that could make him not hunt effectively and eating of goats could be due to inexperience and being left alone.


The lion should be kept in captivity as any release will lead to retaliatory attacks from the community.

9. Elephant with a wound on the abdomen in Lualenyi Ranch, 22nd September.

The community ranches still maintain a lead in animal injuries cases due to security issues.

This male elephant was spotted with an abdominal wound and a hanging piece of skin tissue near the injured area.

Immobilization and Treatment

Immobilization was done using Etorphine Hcl alone in a dan inject darting system. Full immobilization took about six minutes.

A big chunk of skin suspended from the abdominal wall was cut off leaving an area with pus and debris. Probing of the area revealed a razor sharp arrow head that injured the vets’ fingers.

The wound was thoroughly cleaned using antibacterial agents, finally iodine and oxytetracyline spray was applied.

Parenteral antibiotics and a final coat of green clay used to cover the wound.


Guarded- Expected to heal if the infection does not enter the peritoneal cavity.

10. Veterinary intervention on a limping young elephant at Taita hills sanctuary, 22nd September.

This young elephant was spotted alone wondering in the bushes and literally walking on three legs while carrying the suspected injured one.

He was immobilized quickly but examination revealed no injury or sign of pain.

He was covered with drugs and the left hind limb was suspected injured straightened and some physiotherapy applied.

On revival the elephant could be seen using the leg again.

Nb: It must have been an old injury case that healed but the animal still registering false pain on the use of the limb.

11. Sick elephant in kiwanja Ranch of Kasigau division, 24th September.

This elephant was reported in the afternoon of 24th September with signs of weakness, sluggish walking and oozing of pus from the flanks.

Immobilization was tricky due to the thick bushes in the area.

After darting, she had difficulties in breathing and attempts to revive her and infuse respiratory stimulators proved futile. She died within minutes.


Revealed a body score of less than 2 in a scale of 1-5.

There were copious amounts of pus in the flanks which penetrated to the abdominal cavity causing peritonitis.

There was little chance of its survival, the tusks were removed and handed over to the warden in charge of the area.

12. Snared female elephant calf at Bakari area along Galana River near Tsavo east Park, 25th September.

This lonely elephant calf of about 4 years old was sited browsing along Galana River alone with a massive wire around its neck. When the team got to the area she was found trying to splash the wounds on the neck with soil to keep off flies.

Immobilization was done using etorphine alone.

The high tensile wire around the neck was cut and the wounds cleaned with antibacterial agents leaving a raw gaping wound behind the neck. 

Betamoxx LA was administered IM.


Very good, healing expected within weeks.


The past 3- 4 months has experienced a dry spell in the region covered by the unit, pushing most wild animals out of the park in search of forage and water, Consequently increasing conflicts between communities and the wild game.

Most of the injuries occur from arrow shots, snares and finally spears thrown at the elephants.

The aim of injuring the elephants has moved from usual conflicts to poaching as an arrow lodged in an elephant finally leads to infection setting in and death of the elephant.

The units’ staffs of a Vet and a driver are inadequate given the massive weight of its patients who sometimes have to be moved, pulled or turned.

The unit will Endeavour to discharge its mandate of alleviating suffering in this ever dwindling part of our heritage!

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