A particularly cruel death for an animal is as a result of poison carefully coated on an arrow head which detaches from the shaft on impact and travels into the body. There the poison enters the blood and disrupts the rhythm of the heart as well as leaving necrotic flesh and a painful wound. The Giriama people whose tribal homeland is the coastal belt of Kenya are the best poison arrow makers. This lethal poison is made from the bark of the Acokanthera tree yet not all Acokanthera trees are deadly, only some, and the poisoned arrow making technique is only known by a few people. The bark, berries, leaves and fruit of a potent tree can all be used to make a thick tar like substance and sometimes even lizards, shrews, snakes and other creatures are combined into the mixture, which is believed by some to contribute to its lethal affect. The poison is then plastered on the metal arrowhead and wrapped in a protective cover of thin leather cloth, which is removed just before the arrow is fired at its target.
Irrespective of where the poison enters the body the victim is doomed, yet mercifully today's poison makers are not as skilled as those of old, and if the arrowhead can be removed and the wound cleaned, disinfected with long acting antibiotic administered before the animal is revived after darting, the elephant can be saved.
Another commonly used mode of poaching is snaring. For elephants the poachers fix cable snares (usually winch wire) to sturdy trees near elephant pathways. These hidden traps are indiscriminate - a snare can fasten around a leg, a trunk or a neck or an elephant or a body part of any animal. An elephant calf without ivory can be equally as vulnerable to this mode of poaching as our recent orphan Mbirikani graphically illustrates. The cables create excruciating wounds that slowly debilitate the animal until they succumb to their injuries.
The DSWTs funded mobile veterinary units, which are operated in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service, have saved the lives of numerous animals lives including close on 1000 elephants to date. These are all animals that would have died without veterinary intervention. This month alone, KWS veterinary officer Dr Poghon seconded to the Trust's funded Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit has saved numerous poisoned arrow cases with one brutal cable snare case on the 31st July.
In recent months the spike in poisoned arrow poaching is alarming. This form of poaching is very challenging to combat because a single poacher with a quiver of arrows can wreak havoc, ambushing a watering point at night - and given their bush prowess, they are very difficult to catch, for these are people totally familiar with their environment and the ways of the wild, and they know how to live off the land for months at a time until they have achieved their aim.
Constant patrolling on the ground and aerial support along with assistance from the neighbouring communities who offer intelligence about poacher's movements is vital in helping combat this menace, but the challenge at this time is on an unprecedented scale.