Saving a snared elephant calf

Published on the 8th of April, 2021

As we are reminded time and again, snares are an incredibly cruel threat to wildlife. Laid by poachers, these simple loops, made from either wire, cable, rope or nylon, lie in wait to entangle any unsuspecting creature who crosses their path.

On the afternoon of 6th April 2021, Batian Craig alerted us to the plight of a snared baby elephant in Ndera Community Conservancy. His frantic family was still in the area, but a rope snare was affixed to a deeply embedded stake, anchoring the calf to the spot and spelling out certain tragedy if we didn’t immediately intervene.

This was all unfolding along a remote sector of the Tana River, making the rescue mission extremely challenging. Our Airwing is poised for situations like these, so the helicopter flew Dr Poghon of our KWS/SWT Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit to the scene. The journey wasn’t without complications of its own: With the rains just arriving, the weather is tumultuous at best, and the pilot had to dodge dramatic thunderstorms along the way. Meanwhile, at the conservancy, a community scout and some altruistic locals used a small dugout canoe to cross the river and took up position near the baby, monitoring the situation until the rescue team arrived.

The calf cut a heartbreaking figure, tethered to his lonely spot at the river’s edge. His mother and a bull were still in the area, standing vigil about 50 metres away. After dropping Dr Poghon and his assistant on the ground, the helicopter took flight again. Given the mother and her friend’s proximity to the scene, and knowing how protective elephants can become when their loved ones are at stake, it remained a very real possibility that the two adult elephants would move in. To protect the ground teams, our pilot circled overhead to monitor the situation.

It was a sweltering day, but the team forged ahead, persevering through high temperatures and extreme humidity. Once the baby succumbed to the anaesthetic, the rope snare was easily cut away. Their intervention was timely: Stretched taught from the calf’s desperate attempts to free himself, the snare was inhibiting all blood flow to the foot and a wound was beginning to form. Fortunately, help arrived in time to spare this baby from a tragic end.

The calf’s mother had valiantly attempted to free her baby, as indicated by broken vegetation all around the site. That made it all the more gratifying to watch the calf run off into the forest once he was revived, making a beeline for his mother. We can only imagine how relieved she was to see her beloved baby emerge through the trees and be reunited at last. For the team, they were left feeling a sense of accomplishment, thankful to be in a position to right such wrongs so that this elephant family could remain intact.

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Our Airwing and Ground Teams operate Kenya-wide: To mitigate the threats facing wildlife and come to the aid of wild animals in need.
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