When an elephant calf becomes snared, a whole lifetime is at stake. Snares are set to catch animals for bushmeat, but because they are indiscriminately placed in wildlife corridors, no creature is safe from them. Small elephants are particularly susceptible. Walking through the bush, they unwittingly pass through the concealed wire loop, one end of which is affixed to a solid base, usually a tree. As they struggle to free themselves, the snare tightens around them, creating a noose.
Over the years, we have treated numerous snared elephant calves. Enkesha and Mwashoti stand out as two particularly severe cases, changing the course of their lives forever. We recently rescued another orphaned snare victim from Tsavo, who is now safe and recovering at our Nairobi Nursery. Her story is soon to be told.
In a single day in October, our SWT/KWS Mara Mobile Vet Unit treated a trio of calves who had wire snares slicing into their necks. We received the distress call from Mara Triangle at noon: Three snared calves, all less than two years old and therefore milk-dependent, had been reported. As we often see with elephant victims, each one had managed to rip the affixed end of the snare from its base, likely with the help of their mothers. In the process of freeing themselves, however, they actually tightened the snares taut around their necks. Their wounds were turning septic, creating life-threatening situations for all three babies.
The first patient was just ten months old. The snare was cutting through her neck and jaws, partially severing her trachea. The second patient, who was about two years old, had a similarly grievous injury. The snare had created a dreadful vice, encircling his neck and intercepting his jaws. The third patient, a 20-month-old female, had a snare slicing through her neck and foreleg. For each of these babies, a simple wire loop turned the fundamental acts of nursing, drinking, and walking into pure agony.
In all three cases, the protective mums refused to leave their babies’ sides. This may make treatment a bit more complicated, but it is the best case scenario: Wherever possible, our goal is to keep wild families together. In the first and third operations, Dr Limo darted the mothers so treatment could safely commence. In the second operation, Mara Elephant Project provided aerial cover to keep the protective mother away. Rangers and personnel from the Mara Conservancy, Anne K. Taylor Fund, and Mara Elephant Project provided additional ground support for all three treatments.
It is heartbreaking to see any creature endure the agony a snare creates, but especially a creature so young. Fortunately, these calves were discovered in time. After cutting the snares away, Dr Limo thoroughly cleaned and treated the resulting wounds before reuniting the patients with their mothers. He is cautiously optimistic that all three will recover, but rangers will closely monitor each baby’s progress should they need additional care.
The fight to save snare victims continues across Kenya. Just a few days later, our SWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Vet Unit (Funded by Vier Pfoten) was called to treat a nine-year-old elephant who had a snare around his neck. Fortunately, help arrived before the snare had caused lasting damage — but had it been left untreated, it could have very possibly claimed his life.
A simple wire snare could have robbed these calves of the lifetime they are just embarking on. Your support makes it possible for our Vet Units to rapidly answer the call for help, and give these little individuals the future they deserve.