The Trials and Tribulations of Elephants - The Tsavo Veterinary Unit March 2012

Awareness of the relentless international trade of illegal ivory is spreading worldwide and poaching is becoming a universal word, yet the struggles that  Africa’s diminishing elephant populations face continue

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Awareness of the relentless international trade of illegal ivory is spreading worldwide and poaching is becoming a universal word, yet the struggles that  Africa’s diminishing elephant populations face continue.

Our Veterinary Teams and Anti-poaching Units all too often uncover the suffering of elephants at the hands of man.

A poacher will use several methods to hunt and kill an elephant for its ivory.  In Tsavo a poisoned arrow is one of the most cruel and common methods.  Laced with a deadly poison made from acocanthera shrubs, the toxin is frighteningly effective. 

For some elephants, death by poison is agonisingly slow.  Last month our Tsavo Veterinary Unit found several fresh carcasses, most victims of a poacher’s arrow.

Satao camp is located within the southern area of Tsavo East, and the boundaries of the south represent a core poaching hotspot using predominantly poisoned arrows.   An adult male was found recently dead at watering hole within this vicinity, the autopsy revealing a typical deep arrow wound.

A day later another elephant was found; luckily the severely poisoned wound was yet to take its life.  The elephant was quickly sedated and operated upon. Hanging parts of skin and dead flesh on the left side of the abdominal wall were cut off, pus was drained and the wound was cleaned using a mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide and then finally doused with tincture of iodine. An oxytetracycline spray and green clay was finally applied. This elephant was given another chance at life. 

On the very same day after saving this massive bull our team encountered a dead elephant calf. Post mortem examination revealed emaciation and deep penetrating wounds on various parts of the body suspected to be due to lion predation attempts.  A slow death from bacterial septicaemia followed.  This tragic case was very likely a result of the calf’s mother being poached. 

Whilst hunting for ivory, poachers are also involved heavily in bushmeat snaring.  Although not always targeted at elephant herds, a snare is a lethal threat for all animals. In the Taita Hills Sanctuary a young calf accompanied by its mother was sighted at a watering hole with a tight wire snare lacerating its trunk– a life-threatening wound.   The calf was temporarily separated from its mother and carefully de-snared, its wounds thoroughly treated and antibiotics applied. The mother was soon allowed to re-join her calf.

A poacher’s presence has many consequences on the elephant herds of Kenya.  The effects of firing just a quiver of arrows into a herd or placing one wire snare can affect many elephant lives and cause agonising suffering for the victims and their dependent young.

Our field teams need your support to continue to operate through these troubling times - preventing poaching and its inevitable effects and protecting wild lives.  We would like to thank Vier Pfoten for their steadfast support of DSWT's Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit working together with The Kenya Wildlife Service.