Sky Vets – An Epic Mara Venture

On the 3rd of June DSWT were alerted by Governors Camp to a male lion who had been sighted with a torn scrotum

On the 3rd of June DSWT were alerted by Governors Camp to a male lion who had been sighted with a torn scrotum. Simultaneously an injured elephant had also been reported by Rangers in the Siana Conservancy.


The Sky Vets Team was mobilized as the Mara Veterinary Unit was away on leave.  A chartered aircraft left Wilson carrying the KWS Vet, Dr Dominic Mijele and landed at Musiara airstrip by 11.50am. The male lion was located and darted by approximately 12.25 pm which proved a tricky task as he was located in thick bush. Once the lion was fully sedated the examination revealed that his scrotum had been torn open and the left testicle had been exposed. Unfortunately the damaged testicle was already infected and had to be removed, but luckily the right testicle was unharmed. The operation took an hour and half as the vet had to negotiate and close off important blood vessels which could bleed out. He was then treated with antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers whilst the scrotum was stitched back together preventing further infection.

The Governors Camp Guides were then left to ensure the lion woke up and was well whilst the vet team rushed back to the plane to fly across the Mara to attend the next case. After a ten minute flight the plane touched down at Siana Airstrip and was met by the Siana Conservancy Rangers who had been monitoring the injured elephant. The Vet Team once again prepared the tranquilizer dart and headed to the elephants location. The injured elephant was a very large bull with huge tusks and was browsing peacefully not far from the airstrip. He had two large swellings on the side of the abdomen most likely caused by a foreign body, such as an arrow or spear, resulting in an internal abscess. The bull was unperturbed at the Teams approach and they were able to maneuver easily into close range to dart him. However, even though the shot was good and the dart landed well in his rump, the tranquilizer did not release properly and the bull escaped into the bushes.

Despite his injury the Bull was still strong and managed to outrun the vehicles easily. The Rangers and Vet had to go on foot to track him down, but they only managed the occasional glimpse of a disappearing rump. He was clearly too agitated and distressed to be treated that evening so eventually the Team decided it was best to leave him alone for the night and try again the next day. In the meantime Sky Vets had received a call about another injured lion that needed treatment. It was too late for the Sky Vet Team to locate and treat the lion that day, so with the generous assistance of Governors Camp they stayed overnight and headed out early the next morning.

The next morning the Team were driven to the male lion’s location where he was hidden under a large tree for shade. The Vet expertly darted him and he moved off a short distance as the drugs took effect. However, the lion fought the sedation and after 15 minutes he had to be darted a second time to ensure he was sedated enough for the Team to safely approach him. The vehicle was then able to pull up close to the lion to shade him from the intense heat of the morning. A blanket was placed over his head to protect his eyes, but he was still twitching and growling so the vet had to inject another dose of tranquilizer.

The examination revealed the lions left paw had three very deep wounds.  These wounds were cleaned, treated and stitched to prevent any infection. He was also given painkillers and antibiotics before being carried back to the shade of his tree, which took over 15 people as he weighed close to 300kg. Again whilst the lion was being treated the Vet received another urgent call so the Rangers were left to monitor him whilst the team jumped back into the vehicle to attend another case.

The drive took another hour and it was almost midday by the time the team reached the next case, which was a female zebra in the Mara Triangle with an arrow lodged in the right side of her upper thigh. On examination, the arrow was seen to be very deep but had luckily run under the surface of the skin. Some of the skin had to be cut in an attempt to remove the arrow which had hooked sides so could not be simply pulled out. Unfortunately the arrow head was caught on a blood vessel which ruptured when the arrow was removed. The zebra was now in danger of bleeding out, but thankfully everyone on site was there to help and the wound was packed with swabs and pressure applied until the bleeding eventually stopped.

After ensuring the blood vessel was closed the swabs and padding had to be sealed with green clay. Any attempt to remove the swabs could aggravate the blood vessel and restart the bleeding. It was not possible for the vet to stitch the vessel or wound together without causing more damage. However, the arrow had not entered deep into the thigh muscle so the zebra should heal quickly and as the wound heals the swabs will naturally be pushed out. The vet reversed the anesthetic and the zebra came around quickly. She was strong and jumped up, then cantering off to join the rest of her herd. Two lives were saved in this case as the zebra is pregnant, but both mother and foal have a strong chance of survival. Many thanks must be given to the members of the Mara Triangle Community who reported the case to the Vet Team.

Before the Zebra case was finished yet another call was received regarding an injured rhino near Little Governors Camp. So again the Team rushed back to the vehicle and was speedily on their way to help. The male rhino was being monitored by rangers so was quickly found. The vet darted the rhino rapidly and as anticipated the rhino made a dash for the bushes. Expertly two vehicles managed to head it off and keep up with the rhino as the drugs took effect. Bravely the KWS ranger jumped out so as to be close at hand when the rhino finally went down. Suddenly the situation took a dangerous turn as the rhino managed to get stuck in a mud wallow. Due to the sedation he was unable to pull free or fall to the side and went down head first. Everyone involved leapt into action to help the struggling rhino as it was at risk of suffocating. Many men were needed to lift up the head and roll the injured rhino over on to its side out of danger.

Examination revealed the rhino had a large dinner plate sized wound on its right side that was extremely deep, caused by parasites. The team quickly cleaned the wound with Hydrogen Peroxide and Iodine before medicating and applying Green Clay. The rhino came round quickly and disappeared off into the bush. It is thought that this case may require a repeat treatment but the prognosis for a full recovery is very good.

After three cases it was getting late in the evening, but as the team headed back to the plane another urgent call came in regarding a giraffe that had been injured by an arrow near Keekerok. It was too late to fly there so Governors Camp again kindly accommodated the team for another night. Sadly the giraffe passed away and the team arrived early the next morning for a postmortem. On examination of the wound, the vet found a small arrow head which had penetrated the top of the thigh. The arrow head had been poisoned and the tissue around the entry point and up to the bone was totally necrotic. The giraffe had lost a lot of condition which suggested she had carried this injury for a significant amount of time.  Even if the team had reached her the day before, there would have been nothing they could do but euthanize her.

The elephant in the Siana Conservancy had still not been sighted since the first attempted treatment. The Sky Vet Team did not have the necessary ground team to launch a full scaled search, but the Mara Vet Unit was due back on duty and they will make every endeavor to find and treat him as soon as possible.

We are thankful to all the guides, rangers and members of the community for locating and reporting these cases and also for continually monitoring their progress. We are also grateful to the ground support provided by the lodges and conservancies for helping the DSWT/KWS Sky Vet initiative and for providing accommodation.