The Unpredictable Journey of a Veterinary Marathon: From an Elephant to a Zebra Stallion

The veterinary team had an eventful week treating two large animals – a bull elephant and a zebra stallion. The adventure began when the team’s pilot spotted a group of six bull elephants during a routine patrol on 4th March 2021 in the northern sector of Tsavo East National Park. Upon closer inspection, the pilot noticed a small speck on one of the elephants’ left sides, which turned out to be an arrow wound. Despite the challenge of identifying such a small detail amidst a moving group of elephants, the pilot’s keen observation skills allowed the team to quickly locate the wounded animal and administer treatment. The team’s expertise was further put to the test when they later treated a zebra stallion, bringing a successful end to a memorable veterinary marathon.

Can you spot the problem in this picture? Our sharp-eyed pilot noticed a small white speck on the haunch of a bull. Unfortunately, we couldn’t arrange for a vet to treat it that day but we made plans for the next morning. Since our helicopter was occupied, we tried to locate the elephant on foot. However, we needed an aerial view to find him, so the original spotter flew back in the Super Cub. It took about an hour of searching, but we finally found the patient still among his group of bulls.

Most people would mistake a small spot for a harmless mark, but it actually indicates an arrow wound. Unfortunately, our efforts to reach the wounded bull were in vain. The SWT/KWS Tsavo Mobile Vet Unit, pilots, and ground teams gathered at the nearest airstrip to the bull’s location and set off on a challenging trek by foot. After an hour of driving, the road ended, and they walked five kilometers while clearing the path for the vet vehicle. However, the mission was cut short when the bull suddenly disappeared into the dense bushes, frustratingly witnessed by the circling pilot. Unfortunately, the team had no choice but to abort the operation.

After an initial setback, we didn’t give up and were back in action within two days. With the help of a helicopter, we attempted the treatment again. The original spotter located the bull with his group by the river and kept a close eye on him while circling overhead for over two hours. Our helicopter pilot brought Dr Poghon and the Tsavo Vet Unit to the site from Voi, while two anti-poaching teams moved into position in the north. We were determined to succeed in saving this patient.

Everything went smoothly this time around. When we arrived at the location, our skilled helicopter pilot safely guided the patient to an open area. From there, Dr Poghon was able to administer the necessary medication to the patient without any complications. It’s always a bit of a gamble when dealing with elephants and anaesthesia, as there’s an equal chance that they’ll fall on the “wrong” side. That’s why it’s essential to have a nearby vehicle on standby in case the patient needs assistance flipping over. Thankfully, the patient fell asleep quickly and landed on the right side, allowing us to treat the wound on his injured haunch.

Several people worked hard to save this bull’s life and give him another opportunity. Despite the challenging process of treatment that lasted for several days, the rest of the procedure went without any complications. Despite being hit by a poisoned arrow, the bull’s luck did not entirely run out. The arrow missed any vital organs, and the wound was still fresh, meaning the poison had not yet taken full effect. Dr. Poghon removed the decaying flesh, administered antibiotics and green clay, and managed to bring the bull back to life.

Although the bull had been injured by a poisoned arrow, luckily it had missed all important organs. Our team believes that this bull is currently around 35 years old, in his prime and with many more years ahead of him. Despite nearly losing his life to a single arrow, the bull did not hold a grudge against humans and recognized that our team was there to assist him. He gave us all a prolonged, steady gaze before departing to rejoin his companions, and then vanished into the vast wilderness of Tsavo.

The bull that had been rescued by the team was about to leave to return to his boy band, but before doing so, he gave the rescuers a long and appreciative look. However, the team’s work was not yet done. Upon reaching their headquarters at Kaluku Field, they discovered that one of their zebra friends was in need of veterinary assistance. This particular wild stallion was a frequent visitor to the airstrip, where he was often surrounded by his group of mares and their foals. Unfortunately, he had recently been injured in a skirmish with a lion. Although the injuries were not life-threatening, the Tsavo Vet Unit offered their help to ensure that the zebra would recover quickly.

Our veterinary marathon turned out to be quite an eventful one as we realized there were more helping hands than we originally thought. Our orphaned animals such as Scooter the warthog, Susu the eland, and Mkubwa the buffalo were present at the airstrip during the treatment, and they seemed very interested in what was happening. They even provided their expert prognosis! The treatment went smoothly, and the zebra was soon back on his feet surrounded by its family.

Susu, Scooter, and the rest of the gang of orphans eagerly stepped up to help out. This marathon highlights the essence of the Trust’s mission – to go the extra mile to save animals in need, be it a giant bull or a friendly zebra. Every animal has a social circle and a right to a future, and it is our honor to uphold those rights.


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