Keen eyes and a rapid response have ensured that this sub-adult female elephant is now free from the unimaginable pain she was suffering as a result of a wire snare that was cutting into her left ear and neck.
It was on the afternoon of Saturday 22nd February when one of our field personnel was sent a message from Adriano, an honorary warden and guide, who’d sighted an elephant with a snare around its neck. He’d had the foresight to take and send photographs, which showed a sub-adult female in a herd of some 25 elephants.
The SWT Operations Room in Kaluku was promptly informed to prepare to mobilise for a potential treatment, while the photos were shared with KWS Vet Dr. Poghon, of the SWT/KWS Tsavo Veterinary Unit. He agreed that the elephant required urgent attention to remove the snare. It was 3pm so the late hour was a challenge. Back in Kaluku the Trust's field headquarters, the helicopter was prepared, along with all the necessary veterinary equipment (straps, water, medications, green clay and wire cutters and more) and by 3.30pm it was on route to Voi to collect Dr. Poghon.
With the vet and one of his assistants on board, the team proceeded to the location of the sighting, known as Ibis point, west of Tsavo East’s Sala Gate. Arriving at 4.20pm, the team sighted two large herds of elephants on either side of the Galana River. This raised a concern that it might take some time to identify a single sub-adult among so many elephants, with only a thin cable snare to set her apart from the others. Fortunately, as with the original sighting by Adriano, keen eyes came into play when one of the team spotted the female off to the side of the helicopter on the first pass, Ben noticing an elephant with a clearly floppy ear; damaged by the snare that was cutting into it.
The terrain in this area is open along the sides of the river and so, with no fear of losing sight of her, they were able to quickly land to allow Dr. Poghon to carefully prepare a tranquilliser dart with the correct amount of the immobilisation drug for her size. Minutes later the helicopter lifted again, and the patient was immediately spotted, so Andy, our pilot came in close to allow Dr. Poghon a steady platform to administer the dart, which he did with his usual accuracy and speed. Once the dart was in, the helicopter climbed up and gently steered the elephant in the direction of the assistant vet and field support who were now waiting on the plains with all the gear – having disembarked for this purpose when the vet was preparing the dart. Five minutes later the drowsy female slowly sank to her knees and toppled onto her side just a short distance from the two-man ground team.
The vet was dropped off next to the sleeping elephant and immediately began assessing her injuries, before setting about removing the snare with a pair of wire cutters. The snare was made from a high tensile cable - most likely a clutch cable from a vehicle! Once the snare was cut free, the wound was thoroughly cleaned and dressed with green clay to aid the healing process, before antibiotics and anti-inflammatories were administered.
Dr. Poghon advised he was ready to revive the elephant and all the gear was loaded on board the helicopter and secured so that the team could start up and be ready to lift once the reversal injection began to take effect.
It took her several attempts to raise her head, before a more exerted effort saw her get back to her feet and slowly wander off towards the rest of her herd, which had remained close-by at the river. Dr. Poghon is confident of a good recovery of the neck wound.
We share with our team the massive sense of relief and pride they felt late on Saturday afternoon, when acknowledging that the fast, efficient and coordinated response of the Trust's airwing and SWT/KWS Veterinary Unit meant this vicious biting snare was no longer tormenting this young female elephant.