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Throughout the month the Aerial Unit conducted ongoing patrols across Tsavo East and Tsavo West, the Chyulu Hills and Amboseli.



Above and beyond the high levels of injured elephants sighted from the air, numerous shooting platforms were discovered and destroyed during September as well as a shooting blind which was investigated by the helicopter and was confirmed to have been unused for a while. Seven elephant carcasses were spotted and reported to KWS during the month whilst frequent herds of cattle were sighted in Tsavo East and West, as well as charcoal and logging operations. It’s been a busy month for the Aerial Unit, but a very rewarding one.



September has proven to be a month of elephant darting, similar to this time last year. The month began with a report of a very large bull with a swelling on his side that had been seen by a tourist. While the Aerial Unit set out to locate this big bull it was soon determined that the bull had sadly died near Buchuma Gate and the tusks were soon recovered by KWS Rangers. As a result of the death of this big bull the Aerial Unit searched around Buchuma, Dakota, Satao and the north-east of Tsavo East National Park around Sala Gate, and in doing so the pilots sighted numerous bull elephants suffering from suspected arrow wounds, some fresh injuries and some older.

A total of 13 bulls were darted and treated by three different KWS vets within September, assisted by the DSWT AntiPoaching teams based in the area as well as the DSWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit. The Senior Warden of Tsavo East NP accompanied the teams for a full day during this period and witnessed first-hand the suffering caused by arrow wounds and the efficient work of the KWS and DSWT ground teams as they worked together. On one of the many days of elephant darting operations the DSWT Super Cub sighted 11 bull elephants with varying degrees of arrow wounds. Aerial photographs were taken by Veterinary Officer Dr. Poghon to determine the more serious cases, saving time and helicopter hours. Some elephants were looked at more closely from the helicopter by Dr. Poghon, who soon made the decision to dart two of them for treatment. The helicopter, working in tandem with the Super Cub and the anti-poaching ground units, has proven to be very effective in supporting essential veterinary work. A film and story of one of the treatments of the big bulls completed during the month can be viewed here.

The Cessna 185 collected Dr. Poghon from Voi and rushed him to Ithumba where a bull elephant had been seen with an arrow protruding from his side. The bull was darted and treated very quickly, as he had fallen against a tree restricting his breathing, giving limited time. A fresh arrow was soon removed and the bull was up within ten minutes having been given a good prognosis for recovery. During September the Cessna 185 also assisted in the rescue of the Kenya Wildlife Service Husky aircraft which had refused to start, marooned far from base. The pilot and KWS Officer were flown back to Voi and the following day a mechanic and the pilot were flown back out to the stranded plane, which was fixed and returned to base safely. The DSWT pilots of the Aerial Unit were called to support senior KWS management in locating a site for a new antipoaching canine unit, which will be established in Tsavo in 2015 with support from the DSWT.

All the DSWT aircrafts assisted for a few days in a search operation for a reported gang of poachers in the eastern part of Tsavo East NP. One poacher was captured by KWS Rangers as he went to resupply for food. Shortly afterwards KWS rangers also came into contact with the other offenders within the Park. The armed poachers managed to escape yet all of their supplies and equipment were confiscated. It was a full moon and the poachers were certainly setting out to slaughter some elephants which were in the area. KWS rangers averted a potential massacre and have reported that a follow up indicates that the poachers have fled from the region. Investigations continue as information is gathered from the captured poacher.

The helicopter assisted in the translocation of a young bull elephant with an insatiable appetite for cabbages and water melon. The bull had been terrorising the KWS Tsavo West Manyani kitchen for months and despite a previous translocation had walked over 100 miles and found his way back to the kitchen door! The elephant was very efficiently captured and ‘packaged’ for transportation to the Aberdare National Park. On a separate occasion numerous sighting by tour operators of an invalid female elephant with a calf came in during September. The Aerial Unit has flown many hours in search of this illusive elephant which travels large distances despite a large growth on her body which has distorted her backbone. She was located on two occasions but unfortunately Dr. Poghon was engaged in other veterinary cases at the time. He has been unable to give his diagnosis of her and so the search continues.

On two separate occasions baby elephants were sighted wandering alone in Tsavo East. The first one was captured by the DSWT Keepers and anti-poaching team after a lengthy search and pursuit across rough terrain. The determined keepers eventually caught the baby bull and wrestled him to the ground in a sandy riverbed. After checking him over the team made a decision that the young elephant was healthy and strong, and at around three years old it was not necessary to transport him back to the stockades in Voi. He was released to go on his way and hopefully was able to meet up with the many herds of elephants in the area. The second elephant was sighted along the river by tour operators and the Super Cub located the calf after a long search. The DSWT Keepers were again called to assess the calf late in the evening. Again it was decided that the orphan, which was four years old and doing well, was capable and healthy enough to survive on its own, especially being near a river with plenty of food and wild elephants nearby.

Photographs copyright Š 2014 The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

DSWT Aerial Surveillance Unit Report September 2014  

A September report from the DSWT aerial unit operating in the Tsavo Conservation Area.