In July 2012 a huge wild bull elephant aged at approximately 40 years old, now known to everyone as Mshale (the Swahili word for arrow), was treated at the Ithumba Orphans Rehabilitation facility in Northern Tsavo East National Park, having been targeted by ivory poachers. Fortunately Mshale made it to the safety of the Ithumba stockades before his deadly suppurating poisoned arrow wound ended his life, and with the support of the DSWT's Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit and veterinary field officer Dr Poghon, a poisoned arrow laced with Akokanthera toxin was removed from deep inside the bull's great body before he was given full treatment and revived. Having thankfully healed entirely, Mshale soon became a regular wild visitor at the Ithumba stockade, enjoying the safe access to the regularly filled water trough, the company of the ex-orphans, whilst becoming curiously accustomed to the human Keepers who helped to save his life.
Since Mshale's senseless attack last year the DSWT's Tsavo field teams and aerial surveillance unit have been keeping an eye on this majestic big tusker, knowing full well that he is a prized trophy for many greedy ivory poachers plaguing the greater Tsavo Conservation Area, yet the demand for ivory has reached such dangerous heights that Mshale, despite all of the Trust's and the Kenya Wildlife Service's efforts in providing security and protection, once again became a target of the vicious and cruel ivory trade.
At the beginning of March this year on a routine aerial surveillance patrol, the DSWT's low-flying aircraft visited Ithumba and picked-up the KWS Platoon Commander to take him on a flight over the Tiva River to look for an impressive 500 elephants reported within that vicinity the other day. On returning the Trust's pilot, Nick Trent, spotted a very large and heavily tusked male who was limping badly with a wound on his rump clearly visible from the air. The Nyati Anti-Poaching team was immediately deployed and found the bull protected by two equally impressive males. On closer inspection the team recognised the bull as Mshale. Benjamin, the head keeper of the Ithumba stockade, knows him as one of the biggest tuskers in the area, known also to be a remarkably calm and well respected bull by all the other elephants and especially the ex-orphans. It was a great sadness to once again see this remarkable elephant in such a distressing state, having treated him before for exactly the same cruel abuse, but the team immediately set to work to make sure Mshale would survive yet again from the hands of the poachers.
As it was too late in the day for the Tsavo Veterinary Unit to depart on this mission, early the next morning the DSWT aircraft flew to Voi to collect Dr Poghon and take him swiftly to the last sight where Mshale was spotted. Once at Ithumba Dr Poghon was collected by the ground team and transferred by road to the waterhole in the search for the wounded Mshale, whilst the aerial unit spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon up in the air, but sadly Mshale was nowhere to be seen. Dr Poghon spent the night at the Ithumba stockades waiting to begin the search again in the morning, which thankfully proved to be a success as Mshale had returned to the same waterhole to quench his thirst and soothe his festering wound. Within an hour Mshale was darted and treatment was underway. Dr Poghon, the Nyati Team and the majority of the Ithumba keepers all worked hard to treat him whilst keeping him cool with lots of water over his huge ears and chest. On his rump there was an abscess the size of a basketball from which Dr Poghon had removed not one but two poisoned arrowheads and had to cut away several kilos of dead tissue.
After this lengthy operation Mshale began to stir, so the wound was quickly filled with naturally-acting green clay to seal it whilst he was given all the necessary medicines and antibiotics needed to fight any infection. The team then all stood back and worried over whether or not he would be able to stand due to the severity of his injuries, but thankfully Mshale was still strong and managed to stand within a few minutes. He stood gazing at his human helpers for a few minutes and then with a knowing look he limped back off in to the bush.
All at the DSWT are very much hopeful of another successful recovery but of course during these worrying times, the fear that Mshale will never get the chance to live out his long magnificent years in peace is painfully heart-breaking. The DSWT will continue to monitor Mshale and provide the best of protection possible to him and the vulnerable elephant herds of the Tsavo Conservation Area, but without a global change in attitude, especially from Far Eastern nations, all elephants that carry ivory, even those with small tusks, will continue to be under siege, driving these incredible animals towards extinction.
Yet in the current climate what is equally as important and perhaps even more achievable, is the need for enhanced law enforcement at a field level, especially at known ivory ports as Kenya is fast becoming known as a hub for the export of ivory, even when such ivory isn't even from Kenyan elephants. Until investment is made in increasing security at key hot-spots such as Mombasa and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, ivory will be able to continue to move freely to its ultimate destination. CITES must make it clear to nations with elephant populations and those with ivory consumption that they will be punished through fines and a lack of international funding if they do not take immediate measures to enhance their border security and better protect their existing ivory stockpiles.
To help support the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's anti-poaching teams, aerial surveillance aircrafts and veterinary unit in working together with the Kenyan Wildlife Service in protecting and keeping these Emperors of Tsavo safe please donate through this link: https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/is/donate_now.asp