March has been a demanding month for the DSWT's Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit and KWS Seconded veterinary officer Dr. Poghon, as well as the Trust's dedicated anti-poaching field teams and the aerial surveillance unit, as Tsavo East National Park continues to be targeted by poachers despite an increased security presence. Greater focus is being placed on the northern sector of Tsavo East where aerial patrols carried out have been recording an increase in the numbers of shooting blinds within close proximity of drying waterholes. Poachers from the Wakamba tribe use such blinds and hides to fire poisoned arrows at wildlife coming down to drink, and with fewer waterholes left for wildlife to use the poachers take advantage of the dry seasons to be more targeted in their approach.
During a four day period a total of five injured bulls were sighted, three with minor wounds capable of healing without veterinary attention and two that required urgent treatment. Finding and treating a wild elephant, capable of covering tens of kilometres within a day, requires patience, skill and an intimate knowledge of their behaviour. The DSWTs field rangers were at hand to assist the KWS field veterinary officer Dr Poghon in tracking and locating the cases with the support of the DSWT pilot and the aerial surveillance plane.
On arrival at Ithumba, Dr Poghon and his team were surprised when the area was suddenly blessed with some rain. This was good news for everyone but was a concern for Dr Poghon who was worried that the bulls he needed to treat may stay out in the bush with water now plentiful rather than return to old watering haunts, where the teams would be able to easily locate them. Despite apprehensions thankfully later that evening one of the bulls Benjamin, the Head Keeper at the Ithumba stockades, had identified wearily approached the designated waterhole for a drink. Dr Poghon expertly darted him and the Nyati anti-poaching team set off to track him as he charged into the bush. On closer inspection the extent of the big bulls injuries became apparent revealing five badly infected wounds all caused by poisoned arrows. Dr Poghon treated him quickly as the last light faded before the bull was back on his feet. The next day he showed remarkable trust in his rescuers by returning to the same waterhole this time bringing with him another injured bull.
This other large bull was known to be more wary so with great care and patience Dr Poghon watched and waited in the scorching sun for several hours before he had a good enough shot to dart the bull with a tranquiliser. Once hit the bull took refuge with a group of other elephants under a tree and soon succumbed to the sedative, collapsing on his haunches next to a large acacia tree. This is a dangerous position for a sedated elephant to be in, so immediately and with great care the bull was manoeuvred on to his side where his breathing would not be uninhibited by his massive weight. Treatment was again swift and two poisoned arrow wounds were identified and treated before the bull was revived, and he rocked himself dazedly back upright and returned to his friends.
Soon after this treatment Dr Poghon had to leave on an emergency call in the Chyulu Hills National Park where a rhino had been sighted with a wire snare around its neck. Dr Poghon will return soon to check up on these hugely threatened animals and continue to try and reverse the cruel effects of poaching. In the meantime the DSWT's field teams at Ithumba will keep an eye on the recovery of their recent patients whilst the Nyati Anti-Poaching Team will work alongside the Kenya Wildlife Service in an effort to keep the area safe.
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