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Tsavo East, Tsavo West, Taita Salt Lick, Rukinga Ranch, Amboseli, Siana Springs in Mara.



MONTHLY AERIAL SUMMARY Activities for the Aerial Unit throughout December were largely dominated by Human-Wildlife Conflict cases along with veterinary treatments. As is often the case in December and the green season, the focus shifts away from illegal activities and towards elephant activity outside of the Parks due to the planting season within the communities adjacent to National Parks and protected area boundaries. With the onset of the rains, which are usually at the beginning of November, but were delayed this year, those that often are involved in illegal activities within the Park look to return home to plant crops on their small holdings. Unfortunately, elephants sometimes also leave protected areas and can find themselves on farmland amidst human settlements. They are not always after crops, but when they do wander onto farms, they can do huge amounts of damage in a relatively short amount of time. For this reason, the Trust devotes a considerable amount of energy and resources to pushing them back into the protected areas and out of danger. This serves to keep the elephant out of danger, but also buys extensive goodwill from communities who suffer loss of crops on a yearly basis, and sometimes even life when forced to protect their farms.

One of several elephant treatments taking place in December

Responding to a report of elephants outside of the Park

The Trust received several reports of “crop-raiding” elephants in December. In some cases, they were easily located and pushed back into the Park, however, on a number of occasions, fixed wing aircraft were deployed to locate the elephants when vague reports were first received. The helicopter was then instrumental in pushing these elephants out of farmland and towards protected areas. One effort was unsuccessful, as multiple attempts were thwarted by a large uncontrollable crowd of people desperate to be a part of the action; as the very stubborn bull elephant approached the fenceline, a large group of bystanders got in the way and made the situation too dangerous to continue. Fortunately, a couple days later, the same elephant was successfully coaxed through an open gate and back into the Park and the whole situation was defused. The other incidents were extremely effective in pushing the elephants back into the National Park through gates as well as by dropping the fencelines to accommodate the elephants’ movements.

Elephants being pushed back through a lowered fenceline in the park

As has become an annual pattern, a large congregation of elephants collected on and around farmland at the foot of the Sagalla Hills near Voi in December. The helicopter, with some assistance on the ground, was able to push the herd into neighbouring Sagalla Ranch; however, in the process, the pilot noticed one of the elephants with a suspected arrow wound on its flank. The Trust’s Cessna 206 was immediately sent to Amboseli to collect the Mobile Veterinary Officer Dr. Kariuki in the absence of Dr. Poghon who was on leave. The treatment was successful, and the elephant has a good prognosis for a full recovery. Several other vet treatments also popped up in December requiring aerial assistance to get the Amboseli Vet on site. The furthest afield was a female elephant with a possible spear wound on her abdomen, having been sighted near Siana Springs in the Mara. The vet was airlifted from Amboseli and flown to Siana Springs by the DSWT Cessna 206 as Dr. Limo, the Mara Unit Veterinary Officer was on annual leave at the time. The wound was severe, and the cow was in a very weakened state, so despite having the large abscess cleaned out and been given long-lasting antibiotics, it is expected that a follow up treatment will likely be necessary in the future. The team was massively relieved, however, when after several failed attempts, the female elephant was able to get to her feet and chase off a stray dog that had ventured too close.

Siana Springs elephant treatment

In the Tsavo Triangle, another bull elephant was sighted by fixed wing aircraft earlier in the month with what appeared from the air to be an arrow wound on its side. It turned out to be a tumour and although surgery to remove the tumour was not possible, it is hoped that it is not cancerous and aside from possible discomfort, is not life threatening. In addition to these vet treatments, the Aerial Unit was also involved in two rescues of elephant calves which were airlifted by helicopter to the Trust’s Nursery to be cared for. One calf was badly injured with a snare cutting down to the bone. The Amboseli Vet was flown in to treat the wound and given the state of the elephant and the absence of its mother and herd, the decision was made to rescue it after removing the snare and cleaning deep lacerations that the thin cable had made in its leg. Unfortunately, the young calf died during the flight to Nairobi still in the care of the KWS Veterinary Officer.

Capturing the calf with the snare

The Trust’s helicopter was also instrumental in a multi-organisation operation to rescue a KWS ranger who had been struck by a wild rhino while out on Patrol in the Chyulu Hills National Park on the morning of 20th December. It transpired that the Kenya Wildlife Service team and Big Life rangers were on a security patrol and were following the tracks of a rhino through dense vegetation rooted in lava when the accident occurred. The Sheldrick’s helicopter pilot immediately responded to the report. The helicopter spotted the recovery vehicles first, and then the rangers in the lava forest, who were carrying the casualty on an improvised stretcher. A suitable clearing was found a few hundred metres from their position for the helicopter to land. Once the injured ranger arrived, he had to be moved onto the helicopter stretcher which had been placed on a blanket on the ground, so that his wounds could be inspected, and emergency first aid administered by DSWT pilot Andy Payne. His left lower leg had an exposed fracture of the tibia and a large open wound, whilst his right lower leg had a nasty open wound and was badly swollen. Andy cleaned and dressed the wounds before splinting the legs and gave the injured man medication for the pain. He was then loaded on-board the helicopter, with a colleague for company in the back. The patient was quickly airlifted to Nairobi for further care and is doing well thanks to the timely effective and efficient support he received from all concerned.

The injured ranger arriving in Nairobi

Photographs copyright © 2019 The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Profile for David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

DSWT Aerial Surveillance Unit Report December 2018  

DSWT Aerial Surveillance Unit Report December 2018