Among the Elephants Blog
March 1, 2011
David Daballen, STE Field Officer
Conducting research on elephant conservation is a process that entails a lot of activities that are carried out with the help of, and in-conjunction with our donors, researchers, KWS team and STE staff members. This is the case for the month of January 2011. On the 17th of January, Ginny Pearson, whose interest is elephants with warts, was among the team that set out to immobilize elephants suspected to have the Harpy Virus. Despite being happy to have successfully immobilized six elephants for the purposes of sample collection, only a few of these elephants were confirmed to contain the virus.
The following day, the KWS and the STE teams were accompanied by Virginia Pearson of the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University and the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, where she studies elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses.
The team was particularly interested in a calf that had nodules on her trunk. This calf had already been spotted earlier that week and it belongs to a group of elephant family known as the first ladies. Consequently, it was easier to locate the calf, her mother Graca, and the entire group of the First Ladies in the open savannah. The operation started at 9.00 by the immobilization of Graca. Dr. Mutinda, the veterinarian in charge, did the darting. After Graca had become calm, the group approached slowly, but was met by the family who had already formed a protective cluster and a few of the older members who voiced their irritation. However, they moved away fairly quickly and the team was able to jump out of the trucks and get started. The team collected nasal, oral, vaginal, and eye samples as well as blood samples from her ear. While the team was working on Graca, her calf went down, and so the team moved on to her, taking blood, nasal, oral, and eye samples. During this time, Virginia collected samples from the two trunk nodules. Both Graca and her calf were seen the next day resting calmly as the calf’s sores were healing nicely. Next on the list were Mary Todd Lincoln and her calf that were darted on the 19th of January. Same samples as were collected from Graca were collected from Mary Todd and samples of trunk nodules were also collected from her calf.
The second elephant to be darted was on 20th January and this was Himalaya’s female calf whose samples were collected as of the previous targets. This operation was also efficient and was followed by the search for more elephant targets. The search however led to the discovery of an injured Resilience from bullet wounds in her chest, left ear and the bottom of her back right leg. After the collection of samples, Resilience’s wounds were treated and she was able to walk away slowly. This was also the case with Resilience’s calf, Enthusiasm, who was also treated after the collection of samples. Unfortunately a few days prior to that, Enthusiasm was found dead after succumbing to the bullet wounds.
Unfortunately, Resilience was still suffering from her wounds on the next day when she was found standing the Ewaso River. She was darted, treated and given an antidote once again. These gun shot wounds were a result of an indiscriminate shooting that had taken place over the area. Other elephants that suffered from the gunshots included Honesty’s calf that had a bullet wound in her front right leg, and Hurri, a large bull, had a bullet wound in his rump. Resilience is still alone, as she is too slow to keep up with a group. We will monitor Resilience’s movement from our tracking program and be able to watch her progress on a daily basis. We all hope this intelligent and wise matriarch will survive. Without Resilience’s leadership, the Virtues face an insecure future.