Elephant Treatment - True Courage

Early on the morning of Saturday 19th April, Angela Sheldrick was contacted by Benjamin, the head Keeper at Ithumba who had sighted an injured elephant while driving on his way to do an errand

Early on the morning of Saturday 19th April, Angela Sheldrick was contacted by Benjamin, the head Keeper at Ithumba who had sighted an injured elephant while driving on his way to do an errand.  It appeared to be in a critical condition with his back hunched and with one front leg extremely swollen.  A message was also sent to the DSWT’s Ithumba anti-poaching team who were immediately deployed to the location of the wounded elephant in order to monitor his condition and help to coordinate veterinary treatment.


A phone call was immediately made to KWS veterinary officer Dr Poghon based in Voi who heads the Trust run Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit (sponsored by Vier Pfoten) in order to prepare him for a flight to Ithumba in order to treat the elephant as soon as possible.  Nick Trent who handles the Trust’s field operations immediately took off in the Trust’s Cessna 185 from the DSWT’s Kaluku HQ in Tsavo, to collect Dr Poghon and his assistant along with their medical supplies.  With the support of the aerial surveillance unit the veterinary team was able to avoid a slow 200km drive to northern Tsavo East, saving precious time as it was clear from all communications that this case was urgent.  In the meantime the Trust’s team at Ithumba prepared everything needed for the treatment, loading enough water into the Land Rover whilst a tractor was arranged to be on standby to assist should the bull fall badly after his anaesthesia.  KWS rangers were also collected from their security outpost. 

On arrival at Ithumba Dr Poghon prepared the dart and walked into the dense bush to get close enough to fire the tranquiliser. The bull was soon located close by, standing in the shade of some thorn trees.   Although clearly in much pain the elephant had some energy to make a mock charge at the approaching team but not enough to make an escape.  The dart hit the mark and the elephant hobbled fifty meters before standing still as the drug took effect, and soon laying down onto his left side.

Normally the removal of poisoned arrows, which was what was ailing this elephant, is a fairly simple and quick operation taking about fifteen minutes, yet this was going to be a different concern as is was soon apparent having approached the sleeping elephant that there were five arrow wounds on his side and a huge swollen leg on the other side. The vet stood in disbelief, taking in the options and weighing up the decisions he must make.  In addition he noticed fresh scars on the elephants face and sides, an indication that he had already fallen once and had spent considerable time and energy struggling to get up. Somehow he did.

Work started by removing the arrows and cleaning the wounds. The first two were fresh, the poison still black, the others were older.   It took half an hour to clean the wounds on the one side. Then the elephant was turned over in order to treat the other side.

Two more arrows were removed from the opposite side and a hugely swollen leg was worked on, the vet draining out pus and cleaning around wound, which took another half an hour.  Luckily it was a cool day and it even rained a little during the operation.   Dr Poghon gave the odds of the elephant surviving at 50/50 as he injected this magnificent animal with the revival drug. Shortly afterwards the bull woke up, but didn’t move, he just laid there calmly, wide awake, breathing and listening but seemingly without the life force to get up.  The whole team wondered if he had given up. 

The team quickly leapt into action and hooked a rope around his tusk as he lay conscious, positioning the tractor.  Slowly the head of the young bull was lifted up as the tractor moved slowly forward.  At this point his head began to rise and with all the bulls remaining courage he strained and used the rope to pull himself up.  The bull paused for a few seconds before raising his huge body, fighting against the pain as he put weight on his swollen leg.  He transferred his weight to his good leg, rocked his body back and forth and slowly strained his rear legs straight, and stood.  As the big elephant maintained his balance he gently slid the rope off his tusk with his trunk.

What a moment! What courage! What a fighter. He stood a while watching the team around him, those that helped him.  No aggression was shown, as the bull understood that he had been helped.  Knowing how much suffering this elephant had experienced at the hands of men, as poachers had so barbarically pummelled him with poisoned arrows - yet this courageous elephant still defied death, and it was clear he understood.

The bull hobbled off a few meters into the shade where he rested to regain his strength. The team members involved in helping this unfortunate bull were overjoyed, each and every one present felt that they had achieved something truly special that day, helping an old friend by providing relief from unspeakable suffering – feeling like a job well done – and that there might be a chance he was found in time.

The Ithumba anti-poaching team have been checking on him daily, reporting that each day he seems to be growing stronger, his limp becoming less noticeable.  This courageous bull has chosen to stay close to Ithumba and to the teams there, taking water from a nearby watering hole, feeling content as he slowly recuperates. 

25th April - NEW UPDATE - 

It is with heavy heart that we have to report this brave young bull has succumbed to his injuries a today 25th April  -  Kenya is robbed again of another treasure, a young bull taken out in the prime of his life unable to live the full life he deserved all for some miserable ivory.

Together with KWS anti poaching efforts have been heightened, the men fueled by what they witnessed the day this bull was operated on, and we are pleased to report 5 poachers were arrested over a span of three days – we feel sure the ones responsible for this young bulls agony.  We only hope the judicial system does its bit and that the punishment meets the crime. 

Please help our mobile veterinary unit however you can by donating through our website https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/is/donate_now.asp