One afternoon, two creatures harmed by the human hand. This was the mission our Sky Vets was confronted with, after a speared elephant and a snared giraffe were reported in the Mara. While both patients will survive, the first was left permanently blinded in one eye.
It all unfolded on 3rd July, when the manager of Naboisho Conservancy spotted an elephant with a speared eye and a giraffe with a snare around its neck. With the SWT/KWS Mara Mobile Vet Unit on leave, we mobilised Sky Vets. Sky Vets, our aerial veterinary unit, was created for this very purpose. Not only is it able to access wild patients in remote locations, but it also provides coverage when teams are on leave, ensuring each ecosystem in our remit has consistent veterinary coverage.
The SWT helicopter flew to Nairobi, where it picked up KWS veterinarian Dr Poghon and brought him directly to the Mara. First up was the elephant. After our pilot landed the helicopter, the team gathered in the waiting vehicle. The bull succumbed to the anaesthetic in a thick patch of bush, which complicated the treatment significantly.
When they finally reached the bull, the team discovered that he had two large spear wounds flanking his right eye. Sadly, an even greater tragedy was hidden within: The spear had severed the optic nerve, causing irreversible blindness. While the bull will never see out of that eye again, the team successfully treated the wounds and Dr Poghon is confident that he will make an otherwise complete recovery.
With their first treatment complete, the team drove to the giraffe, who was being monitored by Naboisho Conservancy rangers. She had a large snare around her neck, with a long length of wire dragging in her wake. Dr Poghon darted her from the vehicle and treatment commenced in the middle of the Mara plains.
This treatment had a better outcome: The snare was fairly fresh, as it had not yet tightened around the giraffe’s neck. With no wound present, the team was able to remove the wire with relative ease. We have seen the lethal results of a snare left untended for too long, so everyone felt enormous relief to reach this beautiful female in time. She walked off into the Mara plains, standing tall, regal, and — crucially — snare-free.
This is a difficult time across Kenya, as failed rains drive competition over resources between wildlife and the communities who live alongside them. Although the Mara is not experiencing the drought that has struck many other parts of the country, we have witnessed an uptick in human-wildlife and poaching cases. While the giraffe walked away from her skirmish with humans scot-free, the elephant was not so lucky. However, given that he could have lost his life to a spear, as too many creatures do, we can consider it a relative success that he emerged alive and with partial sight intact.