During the peak of the dry season in Tsavo the DSWT’s aerial and ground units are on high alert for increased poaching activities within the Parks and Protected Areas. The months of August to October historically see heightened poaching of elephants due to the lack of available water sources, when animals are forced to congregate around the remaining watering holes and rivers before the rains break in November.
August this year was particularly fraught with poaching throughout Tsavo East and West. During this month both Dr. Poghon of the Tsavo Veterinary Unit and Dr Njoroge of the Amboseli Veterinary Unit treated 5 injured bull elephants within the Ithumba area and 10 elephants in Kamboyo in Tsavo West, whilst attending to numerous other cases throughout the Tsavo Conservation Area.
In Ithumba, on August 12th, it was a relief to finally see Mwende’s father return to the stockades with a number of his male friends. This huge bull, who fathered Mwende with ex-orphan Mulika and Yetu with ex-orphan Yatta, hadn’t been seen by the Keepers for over a year. Yet on closer inspection the Keepers were distraught to see that both Mwende’s father and two of his bull friends had septic arrow wounds. We are sure that Mwende’s father knew that if they returned to the stockades they would get the help and treatment they needed because this continuously happens with the injured bulls in the north; they all come to Ithumba when in need, understanding that there they can be helped.
The Keepers immediately notified the DSWT Aerial Unit who arranged for Dr Poghon of the DSWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit to be collected from Voi in the DSWT’s helicopter and flown directly to Ithumba for immediate veterinary intervention. On arrival at Ithumba and after an aerial search of the area, Mwende’s father was not spotted immediately but two of his injured bull friends were seen.
Dr Poghon was dropped at the scene and met by one of the DSWT’s vehicles. The veterinary team chose one of the injured elephants to treat first and darted it from the vehicle whilst the helicopter was used to keep the elephant from running into thick bush. On inspection a penetrating arrow wound was found on the left abdominal wall and treated successfully.
After the team was finished with the treatment of the first elephant, they embarked on treating the second one, a huge bull with large tusks who also had severe arrow injuries. Again the elephant was darted from the vehicle whilst the helicopter was used to keep the elephant from hiding in the thick surrounding bush.
On immobilization the elephant landed on its injured flank, requiring the use of ropes and a tractor to turn him over in order to access the injured side. Dr Poghon was soon treating the penetrating arrow wound on the elephant’s left abdominal wall and successfully managed to remove all the pus and necrotic flesh before administering all the necessary medications. Daylight was fading after the first two successful treatments, yet Mwende’s father was still injured and was somewhere in the area.
At first light the Ithumba Keepers had sight of Mwende’s father so Dr Poghon immediately returned to Ithumba with the DSWT’s Supercub and helicopter for assistance. This familiar big bull was soon tracked and immobilized by Dr Poghon using a Dan injectdart rifle from a vehicle whilst the helicopter was used to keep him in a clear area for treatment.
After 12 minutes he went down, firstly lying on his chest but finally falling on his injured side. Ropes and a tractor were again used to turn him over to access his injuries.
A penetrating arrow wound was observed on the left abdominal wall and an incision was made at the lowest point of the wound in order to drain away the pus and cut out the dead flesh before cleaning the wounds, administering antibiotics and finally covering the wound in green clay to aid healing.
Mwende and Yetu’s dad has remained in the area with his friends and they have regularly been seen since undergoing treatment; thankfully all their wounds have healed beautifully so they have all made a full recovery.
A day after these three treatments the DSWT rangers patrolling within the Ithumba area, spotted another two elephants with possible arrow wounds. This time the DSWT helicopter collected Dr Njoroge of the DSWT funded Amboseli Veterinary Unit and headed to Ithumba for immediate veterinary attention. On both days Dr Njoroge attended to the two bull elephants who both had septic penetrating arrow wounds. He treated both successfully giving them a good prognosis and quick healing time. Dr Njoroge soon returned to the Tsavo West area where we treated another 10 elephants, 9 of which had arrow injuries and 1 had a deep spear wound.
With 15 elephants treated in the space of 2 weeks, August has been an extremely demanding month for the DSWT’s Aerial, Veterinary and Anti-Poaching Units, yet despite these challenges just one of the elephants treated was given a guarded prognosis due to the severity of his wounds, whilst the remaining 14 are expected to make full recoveries. The DSWT rangers and pilots will continue to monitor these bulls to ensure follow up treatments are given if necessary.
For the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust team, who work together with KWS daily throughout the Tsavo Conservation area, being in a position to action timely and effective response to these cases and to be able to save so many is a huge accomplishment; this is especially true for the magnificent bull that fathered two of our wild born babies in Ithumba. We know, through years of experience and undeniable evidence that it is no accident that they return to us for help.
Through the Orphans’ Project, Aerial, Veterinary and Ranger Units, the DSWT together with KWS have saved the lives of many elephants. Together our four mobile veterinary units and our Sky Vet Initiative have attended 1,689 elephant cases to date. None of this would be possible without the support of VierPfoten, Jorge Companc, Alexia Renehan, The Minara Foundation, The Samuel J. and Ethel LeFrak Charitable Trust the Trust’s many donors.
Our Anti-poaching teams together with KWS have been busy and have arrested many poachers this month, the details of which will be coming out in the anti-poaching reports for August.