On 14th January 2021, we were contacted by Elephants Alive and the local wildlife Vet who bought our attention to an injured elephant bull – named Dex– who had a severe infection/ injury that looked like it was preventing him from urinating. The research team, who had been monitoring this bull for the last 3 years wanted his wound looked at by a vet and to re-collar him at the same time because his collar had stopped working. Local bee honey was going to be used to treat the injury and the new collar would assist in monitoring the progress of his recovery. They applied for permits to get permission to dart and re-collar the elephant, but unfortunately the permits were extremely slow coming through and only got approved 16th March 2021.
On the 18th March 2021, permissions finally were granted and we managed to dart and re-collar Dex! Luckily over time his injury had improved and only minor treatment was required. A new colalr was also fitted which will allow the Elephants Alive team to continue to monitor this bull for the next 3 - 5 years.
The elephant was located early morning by the research team so we knew his general whereabouts. The Helicopter relocated him and called in the ground support to the general area. When everyone was ready, the vet darted the elephant from the helicopter (hanging out on a sling to get a good shot) and then the elephant was gently ushered using the helicopter into a safe open area. The dart contained tranquilisers (drugs used were Thianial (a powerful opioid) and azaperone). As soon as he was down, the ground teams rushed into the bush toward him. The first thing they checked is that he went down safely (lying on his side, not on his chest, which would have restricted his breathing), and then they place a small stick in the tip of his trunk to keep it open which allows him to keep breathing nicely.
Once the elephant was safe and comfortable, the old collar was cut off and new collar placed on. Numbers on the collar helped the researcher line it up correctly and a counterweight was placed on the collar to ensure the GPS box stays at the top (on the shoulders) of the elephant. His wound was looked at by the vet who said it was healing nicely (and injected a dose of antibiotics just in case). Measurements and data was then collected, including his size (body length, legs, feet, tusks etc), blood was taken for DNA collection, as well as a dung sample and a piece of his tail hair cut. A hair was also cut from the tip of his trunk as there is a researcher who is doing a study on mites and elephants, and if there are mites found within the trunk hair that keep the tunk clean!
Once all the measurements and data had been collected, a reversal drug was injected into a vein in the ear (the drug used was Naltrexone), which helps to wake the elephant up. It took about 5 minutes to work before the elephant started moving and then shortly afterwards stood up. He took a few minutes to gather his thoughts and work out what had just happened, before moving off back into the bush!
POST OPERATION FEEDBACK
The operation was a absolute success and data has already been collected from Dex’s new satellite collar. The data collected aims to help us understand more about elephant home ranges and landscape utilisation, as well as info on social bonds, breeding behaviour and feeding behaviour of this incredible animals.
A very big thank you to our donors who covered the cost of the elephant collar and data package for the lifetime of the collar.