During routine aerial operations over the greater Tsavo Conservation Area at the end of last year, the DSWT’s pilot, Nick Trent, and the DSWT’s Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit headed by KWS Field Veterinarian Dr Poghon, went to great lengths to save the life of an injured baby elephant. Here is Nick’s story:
"Soon after I was airborne from Ithumba having been monitoring the northern area of Tsavo East National Park, I received a call over the radio that the veterinary unit needed help locating a wounded baby elephant. I headed south to Sobo on the banks of the Galana River.
Having searched the area from the air with GPS coordinates given to me by the veterinary unit, the baby and mother were soon sighted on the river bank of the Galana. Dr Poghon and his team were unable to cross the river and were located on the ground on the opposite side of the river to where the calf was in trouble. I landed on the road next to the vet unit vehicle so that a plan could be made.
After short discussions I was airborne again with Dr Poghon on board, his dart gun ready in the back compartment of the aircraft. We circled the mother and wounded calf hoping to drive the mother off in order to safely tranquilise the calf, but the mother only drew closer to her injured baby to naturally protect her. We looked for a place to land on the north bank of the River, but nothing was going to work as the salt-bush was too dense to safely land in. We flew north to see how far it was to the nearest road, finding that it was fifteen kilometres across impossibly rough ground, plus a long trip round via Galana, so we landed back on the road again to discuss plan B.
The only real option was to cross the river ourselves, so I asked Dr Poghon if he could swim and his nervous answer was that there was very little water where he grew up, meaning swimming certainly wasn’t a skill of his! After some convincing that the crocodiles and hippos were not a serious threat, although certainly a possible danger, the Dr and his two Kenya Wildlife Service rangers agreed to give it a go. We all stripped down to our underwear and carrying the necessary supplies above our heads slowly swam across the Galana River to where the mother and calf were.
Having made it successfully across the river unharmed, it was soon clear the mother of the injured calf had no intention to leave or move off, so with an expert shot of over 100m Dr Poghon darted the mother right on target from a safe spot at the edge of the river, waiting just five minutes before she was down.
We moved in quickly to make sure she had fallen safely and quickly turned our attention to the calf, which was about 4 years old and naturally aggressive, so he was darted as well in order to be able to treat his wounds. While the mother was cooled down with water from the river the vet set to work on the calf. It did not take him long to determine that the suppurating wound on the front leg was so severe that the calf would never make it, so after all this calf’s terrible ordeal and our efforts Dr Poghon made the tough call to put the calf down.
The mother was woken up with an injection in her ear before she briefly checked on her dead calf and then headed off on her own to join the rest of the herd. Though her heart was full of sorrow, she was spared the ordeal of seeing her calf die. Hopefully once she re-joins her family she will have another chance at being a mother again soon."
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