Let us not be complacent about the plight of elephants in Africa

Let us not be complacent about the plight of elephants in Africa

Let us not be complacent about the plight of elephants in Africa.  They are constantly under threat, not just through poaching to satisfy the illegal ivory trade driven by China, who is the single largest buyer of illegal stocks, but also due to increasing  human wildlife conflict, as human populations expand and cultivate and occupy ancient migratory routes, through climate change and loss of habitat.   Today’s elephants suffer greatly at the hands of man.  The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Veterinary Units come across many of these cases and are sometimes fortunate enough to be able to treat and save the animals, but all too often our intervention comes too late.  Seeing such decimation monthly against the backdrop of the CITES Secretariat now allowing the sale of the Southern African stockpile, including that of Zimbabwe, and sanctioning China to become a legal bidder, is shocking, to put it mildly, in view of the known fact that China is the largest dealer in illegal ivory and as such responsible for fuelling poaching throughout Africa..   Zimbabwe has, and is, massacring its elephants wholesale, turning them into biltong and crocodile food, exchanging ivory for guns from China to kill its own people and turning its country into a faunal desert.  Why should they benefit financially from this stockpile sale sanctioned by CITES?   Why does CITES favour the richest countries in Africa and ignore the plea of the poorest, who have already lost most of their elephants to China?

China’s insatiable demand for Ivory will surely see the end of Africa’s elephants and that the CITES Secretariat, charged with overseeing the protection of the world’s endangered species, should ignore the advice of its own agencies such as TRAFFIC, ITIS and MIKE, all of whom acknowledge the threat that China poses to elephants, and also ignore the advice of Africa’s poorest countries, is surely unforgivable.   It is also extremely demoralizing to organizations such as ourselves who work tirelessly to try and save elephants, and have to constantly witness firsthand the suffering, death and destruction resulting from the illegal ivory trade.  More shocking still is to  know that the British Government under Gordon Brown was a party to the decision taken by the CITES Secretariat, irrespective of the evidence, and despite the advice of those in the know.   This is a betrayal of the wishes of the British people as a whole who care and care deeply about the survival of elephants.   It makes a mockery of CITES revealing it in its true colours - an organization driven by trade, rather than the protection of the world’s most endangered animals.

Below are some of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Veterinary Unit elephant cases for the month of June.

This sub-adult male elephant was sighted near the Main Governors Camp in a swampy area in the Masai Mara, approximately 5 years old.  He had a deep penetrating wound on the left shoulder that extended to the scapular bone. The wound was heavily infected and discharging pus and obviously extremely painful as he could not move much and preferred staying alone in a swampy area where he could readily get water and food.

The elephant was darted and the wound was examined and probed by gauze swabs attached to a long forceps. Most of the soft tissues were infected and the wound had pierced through to the scapular bone. It was full of tissue debris and pus accumulation. The wound was cleaned with water mixed with 10% hydrogen peroxide and later treated with a tincture of iodine solution. Other treatments included administration of long-acting (20%) oxytetracycline intramuscularly and multivitamins. The wound was also sprayed with oxytetracycline spray to keep off flies and enhance healing.

The prognosis is good after the treatment as fortunately he was still in good body condition and only the soft tissues were infected.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Tsavo mobile veterinary unit was called upon to administer treatment of another spear injury, this time on the left thigh in an elephant bull at Oldonyo Wuas in the Chyulu Hills. The intervention was done at the right time just when the infection was starting to set in. The wound was cleaned thoroughly and treated topically and systemic antibiotics administered. We do expect this elephant to recover without further complications.

Very sadly we had to euthanize a seventeen-year old female elephant at Satao in Tsavo East National Park.   She suffered a horrendous injury caused by a tight cable snare around her neck. This had caused an extensive deep wound, particularly on the lower side of the neck. The prognosis for recovery was extremely poor and she was put down to stop further suffering. 

In June an eight-month old elephant orphan calf was sighted by tourists alone at Lake Jipe in Tsavo West National Park.  When our Ziwani desnaring team and veterinary unit caught up with the calf it became obvious the calf suffered from extensive injuries that were heavily infected. As a result of not having the protection of her herd this orphan calf had sadly been spotted too late, not before predatory attacks (possibly hyena) had destroyed the anal region and the tiny calf could not have survived without intensive reconstructive surgery, and even then the prognosis would still have been guarded. Euthanasia was considered necessary to stop further suffering. This was achieved with 40ml of 20% Pentobarbital sodium (Euthatal®).