Relief for elephant bull in the Masai Mara

Published on the 7th of August, 2019

On the Sand River in the Masai Mara reports were received about a young bull elephant with a spear embedded in his hind quarters and, with the Trust funded Mara Mobile Veterinary Unit taking their off days at the time, alternative arrangements had to be made for this urgent case. The SWT Sky Vet was called upon with KWS vet Dr. Ephantus Ndambiri and SWT elephant Keeper Peter Mbulu making up the team on this day.

Share the article

The logistics were duly coordinated, arranging an aircraft to fly Dr. Ndambiri and Peter to Keekerok airstrip in the Mara. Simultaneously plans were put in place with the Mara Senior warden Mr. Nkoitoi, who had ensured his rangers observed the elephant while help was sought - concerned the bull might disappear across into Tanzania and go untreated, given his close proximity to the border. Mr. Nkoitoi arranged for a vehicle and rangers to be available for the Sky Vet team's arrival at the Keekerok airstrip, touching down at 2.00pm on Saturday 3rd August, they were whisked straight to the scene.

The Sand River is a beautiful river of crystal clear water, lazily flowing over a bed of sand, punctuated with giant boulders, washed smooth over time by flood waters. The river’s banks are fringed by sausage and fig trees and a more idillic setting anywhere would be hard to find. At this time of year the wildebeest migration is in full swing in the Masai Mara, with the hills to the horizon's edge littered in animals for as far as the eye can see, and so it was on this day too.

The family herd were feeding on the tall grass, still green from recent rains, and the young bull with the spear still wedged deep into his flank was in their midst. The vehicle was tasked with driving off-road close enough for the Vet to be able to dart the elephant from the safety of the car, but the protective herd did not make matters easy. Once he had succumbed to the drugs and finally fell to the ground, the matriarch and the others rushed to his side to try to lift him, with much trumpeting from the alarmed herd.

The team banged the doors of their landcruiser in an attempt to chase her and the others away, and finally it became possible for Dr. Ndambiri to rush out from the car to the recumbent elephant so he could access his patient. He immediately ensured the elephant's trunk and airways remained safely open, before setting about treating his injury. In the fracas, when he fell to the ground and while the herd were trying to lift and protect him, the spear had dislodged itself. The deep penetrating wound was duly cleaned and later packed with natural green clay to help draw any potential sepsis before injectable antibiotics were administered and the elephant revived. He was awake almost immediately after Dr. Ndambiri administered the revival drug, and slowly struggled to his feet but, bewildered by events, he ambled off in the opposite direction with a very sore behind but finally free of the encumbering spear.

This was an unlucky elephant to have this happen to him in the first place, and while we will never really know the full story behind his spearing, he is at the same time a very lucky elephant that the spear lodged where it did as opposed to in his stomach. Had it hit his middle, given the depth it penetrated, it would have most surely pierced through his stomach wall resulting in a very different outcome. Thankfully due to a quick response by the teams involved; the Mara Warden and his rangers, KWS Researcher Vasco Nyaga, and the SWT, who fund the Sky Vet team, we could ensure this young bull, safe amidst his loving family, will make a full recovery. Thank you to all those who worked hard to bring about this positive result.