Watch: 12-Hour Saga to Free a Trapped Bull

Published on the 22nd of April, 2024

It was Friday night when our Kaluku Operations Room received the call: Coming back from a patrol, a SWT/KWS Anti-Poaching Team had discovered a large elephant stuck in mud. Darkness had fallen and it was too late in the day for an extrication operation, but we had a plan.

A recumbent elephant — even a full-grown bull — is easy pickings for poachers or predators. Leaving him unaccompanied overnight was out of the question. Instead, our rangers stood guard by his side and looked after him from darkness to dawn.

At first light the following morning, 13th April 2024, it was all systems go. The SWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Vet Unit drove over from Voi, while the SWT helicopter flew to the scene with all necessary equipment. Fortunately, the KWS had a bulldozer nearby, which was used to dig out an exit ramp.

By this point, the bull had been recumbent for at least 12 hours. He was numb and weak from the struggle to free himself. The team tried to lift him using special elephant straps, but he promptly fell down. It was time for plan B.

Using the bulldozer, the team flipped the elephant over. After waiting several minutes to give him a rest and get the blood flowing, they once more affixed straps around his torso and gave him a lift. This time, it worked. He took several slow, wobbly steps and then stood still, gathering himself. KWS veterinarian Dr Limo assessed his condition and concluded that he was exhausted but in otherwise good condition.

The operation didn’t end there. The team continued to monitor the bull for the rest of the day, quietly shadowing his movements from a distance. With each passing hour, his strength returned. He eventually disappeared into the bush, closing this 12-hour saga as nothing more than a blip in his many decades of adventures.

Sharing this story on Earth Day has special significance. This bull’s saga unfolded due to natural circumstances: We have had extraordinary rains in Tsavo, and runoff turned an inconsequential mud bath into a life-or-death situation.

All too often, however, mankind is the culprit behind our field emergencies: a tiny calf orphaned through human-wildlife conflict, a giant tusker targeted by poachers, even the two-year drought that was certainly exacerbated by climate change. Human actions have reshaped Earth in such a dire, dramatic way that it is incumbent upon us to balance the scales in any way we can.

As David Attenborough so aptly said:

The fact is that no species has ever had such wholesale control over everything on Earth, living or dead, as we now have. That lays upon us, whether we like it or not, an awesome responsibility. In our hands now lies not only our own future, but that of all other living creatures with whom we share the Earth.

Thanks to supporters like you, we are able to rise to the challenge of this ‘awesome responsibility’. If you are in a position to give, celebrate EarthDay by donating to our field conservation work — every contribution makes an enormous difference!

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