Launched in April 2013 the DSWT/KWS SkyVet program has been a huge success. Over this period to date SkyVet has treated 80 emergency wildlife cases. Most of these cases were elephants wounded by poaching activities whilst other endangered and threatened species were also saved and given a second chance including the Grevy’s Zebra, Lion and Rhino.
This invaluable service sees Kenya Wildlife Service Veterinary Officers flown all over Kenya, answering any emergency calls within hours giving the injured animal the very best chance of survival. Over 70% of these cases have had a successful outcome and injuries which would have otherwise killed the animals within days have been treated efficiently and effectively with follow-up treatment available when needed.
During December 2014 the SkyVet initiative carried on working through the holiday period and treated three injured elephants needing emergency care. The first was a large 40 year old bull sighted on Loisaba Ranch in Laikipia reported to have pus oozing from the head region suspected to be a bullet wound. The veterinary officer was flown to an airstrip close to where the elephant was browsing and was soon on foot covering over 3kms on rocky terrain finding a good position to dart and treat the bull. Two vehicles were needed to turn the bull on to the correct side in order to expose the wound before the vet could get to work.
The examination revealed a fracture on the right frontal bone and there was purulent discharge accumulating under the skin created by a bullet head, so the wound was thoroughly cleaned with copious amount of water and any debris was removed and swabbed clean with hydrogen peroxide before the bull was injected with antibiotics. The bull has since been monitored and is recovering well from his injury.
The second case took place on the 22nd of December at Ol Malo Ranch in Laikipia where another large bull elephant was reported to be limping and was suspected to have an injury on the left foreleg. A plane was sent with the KWS vet to Ol Malo airstrip and the elephant in question was soon found in a herd of five others although he was somehow isolated and was heard to be grunting in pain and was very restless. The injury was confirmed to be on the left foreleg as the elephant exhibited a non-weight bearing lameness.
The veterinary team had to rely on the assistance of the local rangers as the terrain was very rough yet a good darting position was found and the bull was darted, going down after 12 minutes. The examination revealed a severely swollen footpad and was treated immediately by lancing the swelling to drain the bloody fluid which was about 50ml in volume. The site of inflammation was also cleaned with water before flushing with a tincture of iodine and injecting the bull with antibiotics. The elephant recovered smoothly from anaesthesia before slowly getting up and re-joining his herd. The rangers on the ground have continued to monitor his progress and are pleased with his recovery.
The third case saw a KWS veterinary officer flown to the Masai Mara on the 24th December 2014, Christmas Eve, to treat a young elephant with a snare embedded in its forelimb. The young elephant was easily darted but protected by its mother and family herd. Eventually a team of vehicles managed to move the herd away but the calf’s mother remained, stood over her then recumbent infant and charging any vehicle that came to close. The decision was made to dart the mother as well in order to reach the young calf to treat, and as soon as she was down the team rushed in to treat the young elephant’s injuries.
The snare was deeply embedded in the lower part of the forelimb and had to be removed using wire cutters. The resulting wound was cleaned with water, hydrogen peroxide and iodine, before being packed with green clay. The vet then administered antibiotics before reviving mother and baby to reunite with their herd.
The SkyVet program is made possible by the dedicated KWS Veterinary Officers who are called to duty at a moment’s notice and to the generous financial support of Lori Price who’s passion for elephants and Kenya’s wildlife means the DSWT can provide the funds, skills and winged logistics needed to ensure any emergency case is given a second chance at life through the Sky Vet Program.