It was on 20th September 2009, a Sunday afternoon, when our veterinary unit operating in the Central Rift region and based in the Masai Mara received a call from a patrol unit in the Mara Triangle about an elephant calf they had spotted with a tight wire snare on its neck. We immediately swung into action by checking and arranging all the equipment and drugs we would require for the operation. Within 1 hr we arrived at the spot where the calf and its mother were accompanied by the matriarch and another 2 younger elephants. The calf was approximately 9 months old and we agreed that the only way we could remove the wire snare from its neck would be by sedating her and her mother and scare away the rest of the family members using our vehicle, as they appeared very protective.
We successfully darted the calf followed by the mother with the anesthesia and they both went down, but to our dismay the matriarch refused to leave the spot where the calf was lying. Time was crucial to us and every second mattered; it could mean the difference between life or death to the calf or the mother or both of them.
With the knowledge that Elephants are extremely protective of their young ones and family members, we decided to take a risk and save the lives of the two elephants that were down and approached the matriarch slowly but carefully in the vehicle, trying to push her away knowing all too well that she could become very aggressive given the situation. True to our fears, the Matriarch with long very slender tusks responded fast by smashing the front custom-made bumper of our vehicle and every time she did it, she broke a piece of her tusks.
Iam the Mara Vet’s assistant and driver, and have worked with The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust for seven years, first as an elephant Keeper, then a desnaring team leader (I am a university graduate) and now with the Mara Veterinary unit. Nothing can really prepare you for a situation of this nature. All this time, I was sweating, adrenalin pumping, but was determined to save a life. By blocking the calf from the matriarch’s view with the car, a team member with a wire cutter managed to leap out of the car and get to the calf, cut off the snare and inject a revival drug into her ear vein, all in a matter of minutes. We then repeated the same trick with the mother in order to inject her with the anti-dote. All the while the car received more smashes from the agitated matriarch. I was mindful that I must face her front on, as the custom made bumper offered us much protection, and with each collision made the car rocked, but the bumper continued to protect the body work and engine and us. The Matriach sadly broke both her beautiful slender tusks in her valiant efforts to protect the family. During this part of the operation nobody was taking any pictures! In the end we had managed to save and protect the elephants, remove a life threatening snare, plus our team members who were all unhurt (but shaken), and we arrived back to base happy and proud of what we had achieved. We all have a story that will stay with us for a lifetime, one that I will be telling my children and grandchildren. A story that graphically illustrates the bonds of elephants and the lengths they will go to in order to protect their family and loved ones.
I finally would like to take this opportunity to thank my team mates, our management, financiers and donors for the invaluable support accorded to this unit without which the unit would not operate. Thumbs up to you all!!
Written by Felix Micheni, 3rd October 2009 Mara Vet Unit