On Saturday the 14th of January we had a successful conservation operation helping an elephant cow in need. The elephant had a bad wound on her back right foot and due to it being unseen for a prolonged period of time, the wound progressively got worse and the animal was in need of emergency attention. Luckily, we were able to take action within a few hours of getting the call, with the help and collaboration of Painted Dog TV, we were able to save the elephant as well as her two calf’s.
One of our main goals at Conserv Earth is to ensure that we are playing our part in keeping our natural environment as pristine as possible and at the same time ensure that all animals are looked after and are thriving in their natural environment. This has become a bigger challenge over the years as a number of the wilderness areas are shrinking due to human encroachment. We took the opportunity along side Painted Dog TV to live stream the entire procedure for free to viewers world wide. Not only did this help with donations that have ensured we are able to continue to help in these types of situations but it also was a great opportunity to educate the world on how important it is to look after our environment.
It all started on Friday afternoon on the 13th of January when we initially got the call. We were out on a afternoon game drive discussing plans to connect the community and wilderness, this is hugely important as they impact one another directly, by helping one, you are indirectly aiding the other. One of the guides on Pridelands game reserve that is situated in the Greater Kruger National Park in the Balule concession found a herd of elephant. Victoria, one of the guides then mentioned that she believed she had seen an elephant cow that had an abnormal walk, upon closer inspection, she noticed the back right foot being massively swollen with a large gash on the side of the foot as well as a large cavity that had formed over time underneath the pad of the foot. After we received the pictures, we knew that this had to be acted on immediately to ensure the elephants survival, not only for the cow but for her two calf’s as well. It was already late at night when we got the go ahead to start prepping for the operation. The next task was to take place early the next morning to find the animal before the heat of the day came about.
We had a very early start to the day with alarms going off at 3:30 am. We jumped out of bed knowing we had an epic mission taking place that day. We had no other choice than to be successful and to make it work. Thankfully we had a helicopter to aid us in our search to find the elephant in the early morning as well as two vehicles helping us cover some ground. It is important that when these types of operations take place that they are done early mornings and this is because when an animal is tranquilised it cannot regulate its body temperatures. In these warmer summer months this can often become a challenge, it makes the operations just that much more of a challenge to get it done and dusted in as short a time period as possible. Myself and Brent Leo Smith set out with cameraman Matt Gie to look for the elephant. We had the entire reserve helping us and we could not be more appreciative for everyone’s time and effort in aiding to find the elephant again. After hearing on the radio that a few herds had been seen, we went to each sighting and thoroughly checked each elephant cow. Unfortunately, she was not part of any of the herds that we had been seen that morning. We continued in our search and far out in the distance Brent noticed an elephant’s ear flapping through some thicker vegetation. We went in for a closer look and much to our relief we saw the elephant that we had been searching for. There initially was a moment of relief as we now knew that we could make a difference and help the animal.
We sat with the herd for a few hours and monitored their movement. After taking note that they were not moving far at all and the fact that there was a water source close by, we knew that the herd would stay within the general area. We then decided go to the camp to get a bite to eat and get some water as we knew we had a long morning ahead of us. We left another vehicle with the herd to ensure that we did not lose them. We had then got the call to say that the vet Pete Rodgers was on his way with Gerry the helicopter pilot. It was finally taking place and this was only about 14 hours since we got the call about the elephant.
We got ready for the operation to take place, firstly Pete went up in the helicopter to identify the animal to get an estimate on the age and size as this would then determine the correct amount of drugs to be used to get the elephant down safely. He then showed the camera how he prepped the dart and as to how the process works to separate the animal from the rest of the herd to ensure that the animal is safe as well as to ensure that we were kept safe whilst working on the animal.
Once the elephant was tranquilised and sleeping, it was our time to do our thing and rectify the problem. We quickly drove up to the elephant! Firstly, we placed a stick in the trunk to keep the trunk airway open ensuring that it could breathe properly. We then used a piece of material to cover the eye as we did not want the animal to detect any movement and this also helps to ensure that the process is less stressful and has as little impact on the animal as possible. Once all was safe, Pete the vet got to work. Pete had said that he believed the wound was an old snare that had been on for quite some time and one that had fallen off naturally. He flushed with wound with a cleaning agent killing all of the maggots and ensuring that the wound was cleaned out properly, this had to be done on both wounds, on the side of the leg as well as underneath the pad of the foot. Once that was cleaned and sorted out, the elephant then got a few injections to help fight any infections that may be taking place as well as the elephant receiving a number of anti-biotics. Now during this time, it seemed that everything was going to well and there had to be another factor added in. One of the guides alerted us to a herd of buffalo that had come to check out the operation so we then had to ensure everyone was kept safe, luckily the buffalo decided to carry on the daily business and they then decided to move off.
We allowed for a group of guiding students to join us and it was a great opportunity for them to see what such an operation entailed and as to how it took place. We gave them jobs to get them involved such as monitoring the breathing and pouring water over the animal to ensure that it did not overheat. It was a great educational opportunity and even better was the fact that it all went so smoothly.
It was now time to wake the elephant up. Pete gave the reversal drug to wake her up. We all backed off to a safe distance to ensure there was minimal stress for the elephant and for our safety. We were a good distance that we were still able to monitor her as she came around and stood up. As she stood up, it is safe to say that we all had massive smiles on our faces and a great sense of relief knowing that we had done a great job and allowed for the elephant to carry on her daily activities. She then went to join her herd and we let them be.
The herd was seen a few days later with the elephant cow walking more comfortably, she was feeding and going about her daily activities looking to be a lot better. The follow up of these operations is often just as important as the procedure itself as this is when you will really see if it was successful or not. We could not be happier to see her progress after just a few days.
This was such a feel good moment making a difference in conservation and this is what we are all about. This is why we do what we do. One can safely say that this is not a job but rather a lifestyle and I could not be prouder to be part of a company that is so dedicated to aiding conservation efforts.