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Kenya vet saves lives of numerous elephants


It is an eventful year for the FOUR PAWS Mobile Veterinary Unit in Kenya, as the team faces an increasing number of poaching injuries in elephants and other wildlife. In April, 32-year old Dr. Jeremiah Poghon replaced Dr. David Ndeereh as head of the unit, after its founder Ndeereh was transferred to the Kenya Wildlife Service, where he is now in charge of lab and field diagnostics.

During the first months on the new job, taking on his dream to be working with African wildlife, Jeremiah Poghon had to observe that injuries in elephants and big cats caused by snares and arrow heads are going up dramatically. The team has to cover an incredibly large area in the Tsavo and Amboseli National Parks. Injured animals are often spotted and reported by tourists and patrol personnel.

An emergency call from the Rombo Kenya Wildlife Service Station announced a heavily injured elephant calf. On site, the team identified the calf which had a spear in its head, having penetrated too far into the nasal passage between the eyes to be able to shake the object loose. The young elephant was darted, after giving the vet unit a good chase about the thorny bushes for a full hour. The animal‘s fighting spirit impressed everyone involved and fuelled expectations that it would have the determination to recover in spite of the serious flesh wound. The iron spear was removed. Because it was logged in the bony sinuses, the team had to use a wire cutter to pull it out. After that, the wound was taken care of – as well as a second injury on the animal‘s back, presumably caused by the same hunting tool. The elephant calf was transported to Voi with the unit’s vehicle and prepared to be airlifted to Nairobi for further treatment. Asked about his prognosis for his brave patient, Dr. Poghon said: "She has a strong will to survive and will live to be the heritage of this country“.

Snare traps are a threat to Kenyan wildlife

In their work, Jeremiah Poghon and his team have to dart and treat wounded elephants almost on a daily basis, mostly limping with injuries to the limbs or trunks – the latter can cause damage to the animals’ sense of balance. Limping wild animals are easy to spot and the treatment is usually a successful one, after which the anaesthesia can be revoked and the animal released on the spot with a sound prognosis to recover rapidly. The increasing number of wire snares is a big threat to Kenyan wildlife, though. An elephant with a snare around his right ear was spotted just in time. The wire had almost split the ear in two and urgently needed to be removed, along with the dead tissue. This pachyderm was also released with a good prognosis.

Reuniting with lion Kip

Other duties include the continuation of last year’s programme of monitoring selected lions via signal collars, which regularly need to be replaced. Among three others, this collar was replaced for young male Kip, whose life had been saved in 2010 by the FOUR PAWS vet unit, after the keen big cat had got into a fight with two other males and was severely injured. Ambogga, Belter and Amy were also selected for collar placement, which has so far proven to be a successful method to keep the predators away from livestock – and thereby from angry villagers – as well as analysing their long-term movements. Another lion was treated for mange: in order to attract the animal afflicted by the skin disease, the team played sounds of a buffalo calf in distress. The broadcast immediately attracted 24 hyenas to the location. On the upside: the lion pack that was the intended audience did also show up eventually.

The Mobile Veterinary Unit is operated by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in cooperation with The Kenyan Wildlife Service - and funded by FOUR PAWS.