On February 25th, while following footprints outside of the Tsavo National Park, KWS Rangers heard gunshots and headed to the location. As they approached there were more gunshots and chaos as elephants crashed through the bush towards the KWS Rangers. The poachers and KWS Rangers opened fire on each other, but there were no casualties and unfortunately the poachers then fled. It was dark and therefore too dangerous to pursue armed poachers into the night so the rangers began the search for any dead or wounded elephants. A KWS Officer then called the Trust for aerial support to help in the hunt for the poachers. At 07:00 the next morning the Trust's Top Cub headed out to pick up the KWS officer at a rough bush landing strip outside the National Park. The other Cub had already departed and was heading north on regular aerial patrols.
The KWS Officer directed the plane to the GPS coordinates where the firefight took place and a systematic search began. The Rangers on the ground had found a fresh elephant carcass with its face hacked open and the tusks missing; obviously a casualty from the night before. The plane continued searching for more casualties whilst the Rangers searched for the poachers footprints. Despite regular transects across the area, ensuring that the ground was covered well, nothing else was seen. Further afield two small herds of elephants were seen and the aerial support team flew over to check them, but luckily there were no injuries.
The KWS Rangers then picked up tracks of men moving fast to the east and the Cub flew ahead to look for bomas (herds of cattle in their holding pens). Six bomas were found and there GPS coordinates were noted as they are places where the poachers could try to melt into the surroundings. A ground team was quickly dispatched to begin gathering any clues from the herders, which is a huge task. Sometimes clues arise, and sometimes the poachers seem to vanish into thin air. However, the Rangers will continue with their investigations until they are sure they have exhausted all options.
It was very frustrating and upsetting for all involved because another elephant had been slaughtered mindlessly for its ivory.. There could well be another victim out there that we missed in the vast landscape somewhere riddled with bullets and surely dying a slow death.
On the return flight the Cub passed over a rare Martial Eagle perched majestically in a tree top and by chance spotted a herd of ten elephants off to the right. The plane was running low on fuel but diverted to check them out. Immediately, it was clear there was a casualty. A young bull was trailing at the back of the herd with a large wound on his right side. The pilot decided to land nearby to save fuel and to call Dr. Poghon, the KWS Vet. He got airborne once more to check on the position of the elephants and then landed to meet up with the Vet Team. The plane was pushed off the road and the Trust's vet vehicle was used to head the short distance off road to the elephant.
The dart had already been prepared and the driver skillfully separated the young bull from the herd, pulling up close behind him. He ran and pus shot from the wound on his right side. The vehicle pursued the elephant a short distance and then he stopped and faced us. As he turned to head off again, Dr. Poghon professionally fired off the dart and it hit the base of the bull's tail. The team then retreated briefly as the darted bull headed off and was temporarily joined by another bigger bull.
It didn’t take long for the dart to take effect. The bigger bull moved off whilst the patient wobbled for a moment and then stood still. The Vet Team disembarked, pushed him over onto his side and set to work quickly. Three KWS vets began treating the severe wound on his side which was giving off a putrid smell. A huge abscess was cut open discharging a mixture of pus and sand. A large piece of dead muscle was pulled out and an arrow removed from inside the wound.
Water was continuously thrown on his ears to keep him cool during the whole process. Finally the wound was packed with green clay and he was brought round. He regained consciousness and two minutes later he was standing on his feet. He turned to the Vet Team as if to say thank you and then rejoined his herd.
What started as a disappointing day turned out to be a successful one; this young bull will survive and hopefully he will grow strong and live a long and full life. As the team headed back to the road they disturbed five lions hiding from the mid afternoon sun which was an extra bonus.
It was a long day for all concerned a day of mixed feelings, of both success and failure.
Reports from the Field -
David Sheldrick Wildlife trust
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