There are few things more harrowing in the conservation world than seeing a young animal suffering due to mans’ greed. The first time we saw the ‘boy’ was a few months ago when the 2 year old elephant calf was spotted dragging his back right leg in obvious extreme pain and discomfort crossing a road close to Matetsi Victoria Falls, West Camp. It was clear to see he had a snare caught around his leg. His mother was patiently waiting with him as the herd slowly separated from them.
Unfortunately, even with mobilising a team to track and dart the animal they moved into a deep thicket that would be too unsafe to venture in.
Fast forward two months and the ‘boy’ was spotted again, against all the odds; we though he would have succumbed to the injury, close to our bush dinner site. His mother was dutifully and patiently waiting for him as he rested frequently, lying down or throwing dust at his injured leg. One of the Matetsi team stayed and monitored him whilst the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust (VFWT) was called. They are the experts in darting and treating injured animals with Doctor Chris Foggin (Vet) and Roger Parry (Dangerous Drugs Licence) both having years of experience in these types of operations.
The plan was to track and dart both mother and baby to remove the snare, treat the leg and administer a high strength, long lasting anti-biotic. As the day would pan out it would easier in principal than in action.
Once the entire team, comprising guides, estate team and the VFWT had assembled the search was on for the injured calf. After numerous passes of the general area he was suspected of being in, he was spotted attempting to cross the road from thick Jesse-bush to open grassland. Without losing any time Roger had darted him and Chris the mother. Both elephants turned and headed into the Jesse-bush as we attempted to drive into the thick bush after them. The poor Land Cruiser scratched and pushed through the dense growth until its path was blocked by dead trees. There were different herds of elephant all around us, but concerned for the baby we de-bussed to search on foot. After nearly two hours of fruitless searching and bumping into different elephants within that claustrophobic bush we decided to check the dart site one more time before we would have to abandon our efforts.
Not 15 meters from where we initially darted, the mother and baby were concealed behind an exceptionally large Dichrostachys bush, still standing, seemingly unaffected by the drugs. A scramble ensued to re-load darts and to ensure the gifted opportunity wasn’t missed. The two were darted again, but mum refused to go down fighting the drug with all her resolve to continue protecting her baby and only after a third dart bit its mark, did she peacefully crash to sleep only feet from her young charge.
The race was on, now late into the afternoon, to remove the thick steel braid from the calf’s foot, clean and protect the wound and inject the anti-biotics. The calf decided that it didn’t want to wait for the reversal drug so started to wake up and try to get to its feet. Quickly the reversal drug was administered to mum whilst the baby was held in place to ensure it could be given its vital dose.
The team retreated quickly to safety whilst both mum and calf stood up and groggily sauntered back on their original path to have a drink from the waterhole.
Another successful de-snaring operation.
Many thanks to the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust as well as members of our Matetsi family, including Thabo, Jonathan and Trymore from our guiding team, our Estate Manager, Jannie, and Conservation Manager Brian for their efforts on this operation. Special thanks to Brian for this write up.