A young elephant calf (estimated at around 4-6 months old) was seen in front of a safari lodge in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve (Greater Kruger National Park) with a wire snare around its neck. The vet was alerted immediately, at which point funding was sought to cover the cost of the operation to remove the snare. A guide from the lodge keep vigilance of the young elephant and its herd until the vet arrived (about 2 hours). Thanks to our donors, we were able to offer immediate funding support for this operation and headed out straight away to the Timbavati reserve with Joel Alves, the wildlife vet.
Conditions were far from ideal- it was 12pm in the afternoon, 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 Fahrenheit). High temperatures are not ideal for sedated animals as the lose their ability to regulate their body temperature and there is a higher risk they can die from overheating. The herd were resting in a thick riverine, but after 45min of monitoring the herd, they made their way out to a nearby waterhole. The area was a lot more open, which was better for darting and to operate, but also because we gave them time to drink and the little one had a swim - this helped us a lot as they cooled themselves down!
The vet darted from the vehcile, while trying to avoid hitting the mother as the calf moved in the safety around her legs and trunk. Once darted, the calf took 3.5 mins for the drugs to take effect. The drugs used were Thianial (a powerful opioid) and azaperone. As soon as calf went down, the mother panicked and trumpeted and the rest of the herd came running to help. The mother and matriarch of the herd kept trying to make baby stand up again, using their feet and trunks to try lift it. This was a critical stage of the operation now as we didn’t want to calf to get injured from the distressed females, so we had to drive in quite aggressively to chase the herd off the calf and try move them off to give us enough space to cut the snare off. The vet had to work incredibly quickly as the protective herd watched and trumpeted from close by. Luckily, the snare hadn’t been on the calf long and hadn’t cut into the skin. The vet cut the snare off with wire cutters and injected the reversal drug, Naltrexone. It took less than a minute for the calf to wake up. From the time the dart was fired to the calf standing back up again was less than 10 minutes!
Our collective ability to respond rapidly meant we were able to remove the snare before it seriously injured the calf. A huge thank you to our donors for making this happen!