Treating a Bull Elephant with the Canine Unit

Published on the 2nd of May, 2022

The SWT/KWS Canine Unit was created to further our conservation work in the field. As an extension of our anti-poaching operations, they are usually sniffing out illegal activity or tracking down perpetrators. But this day was different.

On this particular afternoon, the Canine Unit was given a very unique mission. Aya and her handlers found themselves looking after a supersized veterinary patient — one of the very creatures they are working so hard to protect.

It all began during a routine aerial patrol of the Tsavo ecosystem. Our pilot spotted a bull elephant with a wound on his bum, which was seeping puss and visibly infected. Based on its location and appearance, it looked suspiciously like a wound inflicted by humans.

The pilot passed on the information to the SWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Vet Unit, who initiated a treatment. As our helicopter collected KWS vets Dr Poghon and Dr Limo from the Trust's Kaluku Field Headquarters, our fixed-wing pilot circled back to locate the patient again. Meanwhile, our Canine Unit, who was patrolling in the area, mobilised to the scene.

It took a long time to find the patient again, but our pilot’s perseverance paid off. It was a miraculous sighting: After the initial sighting, the bull had ventured down towards the water and covered his wound with mud, almost hiding it completely. With the coordinates confirmed, the helicopter flew to the scene. Dr Poghon darted the patient from the air and then the pilot shepherded him towards where the ground teams were waiting.

The moment he succumbed to the anaesthetic, treatment commenced. Dr Poghon and Dr Limo reported that the wound appeared to be caused by a sharp, metallic object, likely a spear. Fortunately, it was fairly fresh and the infection had not spread.

Throughout the entire treatment, Aya stood by and observed proceedings. A dog with her level of training and talent isn’t fazed by much, and the appearance of a recumbent elephant was no exception. She seemed curious but not overly concerned about everything unfolding around her. Her handlers kept her entertained with her favourite kong toy, which she brought over to the patient.

With treatment complete, the elephant rose back to his feet and lumbered off into the Tsavo wilderness with a good prognosis. Meanwhile, Aya hitched a ride back to her kennel for some well-earned rest. Tomorrow, she would be back in the field, working to protect this elephant and all his wild friends.

Saving Wild Lives

From pilots to canine trackers to vet teams, our teams work hand-in-hand to protect vulnerable habitats and the creatures who call them home. Discover all our field-level conservation projects here in Kenya.
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