Rapid Response Saves Two Bulls in Tsavo

Rapid response to any wildlife emergency is vital in determining the ultimate outcome of any mission

Rapid response to any wildlife emergency is vital in determining the ultimate outcome of any mission.  Every week the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust/Kenya Wildlife Service field teams operating within the greater Tsavo Conservation Area are tasked with the huge responsibility of ensuring Tsavo’s elephants and wild species have the protection they need in order to survive the increasing pressures of poaching, human-wildlife conflict and habitat destruction.

Within a single day these frontline units can respond to numerous reports.  The 23rd July 2014 was no different as the teams received reports concerning two large bull elephants both with suspected poisoned arrow wounds.  One report came from Tsavo West and the other from Tsavo East, not far from the site where just two months ago famous Big Tusker ‘Satao’ became yet another victim of the poacher’s arrow, having died before anyone had a chance to discover him and his fatal injury.

Dr Poghon was immediately tasked with responding to the Tsavo East case, heading to the Dakota area where hundreds of elephants are converging because of the few permanent water points still accessible for wildlife.  Unlike Satao, this bull was lucky enough to get immediate veterinary assistance having been sighted by the Dakota Kenya Wildlife Service team who noticed blood flowing from the bull’s left hind leg.

The elephant bull was soon found feeding nearby in the company of another bull.  Dr Poghon and the DSWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit team prepared the immobilization drugs and the elephant was darted with ease. It took five minutes for the dart’s drugs to take effect and the patient fell on the right side, luckily leaving the injured leg easily accessible for treatment.   The wound was washed and cleaned exposing a small injury typical of an arrow. The deep wound was examined and a metallic object could be felt lodged 10cms beneath the skin. The wound was widened to allow for extraction and after a 15 minute struggle a sharply pointed arrow head was finally removed to everyone’s relief.

The arrow head would have killed this elephant had it targeted the thoracic area where the vital organs are located; a death shot which is what could have killed Satao so swiftly.   Yet with rapid response available through the DSWT/KWS mobile veterinary units, aerial surveillance unit and anti-poaching ground teams, this Dakota bull was given a second chance having received treatment less than two days after the shooting and having the veterinary team on standby should follow-up treatment be needed. 

Whilst Dr Poghon was heading to his case in Tsavo East, Nick Trent, one of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s pilots based in Tsavo, was directing an aerial training patrol with two KWS pilots over Tsavo West.  It was during this patrol that Nick sighted the second wounded elephant and DSWT/KWS Amboseli vet Dr Njoroge was alerted for veterinary support.   DSWT Helicopter pilot Humphrey Carter collected Dr Njoroge, coordinating activities with pilot Nick who was monitoring the location of the big bull and arranging for an anti-poaching ground team to be on site for back-up support.

With all teams ready and in position the elephant was successfully separated from his small herd and driven gently by the aircraft to an open area where the ground team and vehicle was waiting. The bull was darted first time and the helicopter landed close by giving Dr Njoroge easy access to his patient.

Treatment began immediately as Dr Njoroge set to work cleaning out the wound, which was soon confirmed that it was indeed caused by a poisoned arrow.   The vet cut the external wound in order to clean out the dead flesh below the entry point of the arrow whilst also cutting below the wound to create a drain and following up with all the necessary medications needed to encourage fast healing.   After 45 minutes of treatment Dr Njoroge finished his operation by injecting the revival serum and within two minutes the big bull began to stir and soon stood slowly up finding his feet before walking off slowly to regroup with his friends.

Like Dr Poghon, Dr Njoroge gave this bull another very positive prognosis and is hopeful that he will make a full recovery.  Two mighty elephant bulls have been given a second chance at life made possible by the teamwork and response systems in place, which help to ensure that one of Kenya’s most revered and most threatened species will survive and continue to walk the lands where they ultimately belong.