Collaring Leakey


By Elleni Stephanou & David Daballen

Date Published

After the success of Uffe on Tuesday we had high hopes for Leakey today. Leaving before 9am we headed west to see if he was still around. It seemed he may have already crossed to Buffalo Springs and so began formulating a plan to carry out the operation on the opposite side of the river. Luckily on our drive back toward camp we spotted Leakey with another bull. Jerenimo had headed east looking for either the Spice Girls or the Samburu Schools family as other options for collaring, but unfortunately they were already on the Buffalo Springs side.

We knew again that we had a few hours of Leakey being in this prime spot before the heat would drive him toward the river. The vet was held up once more and was running late. David, Jenifer and I decided to stand guard, watching Leakey’s movements and hoping if he were to cross that it would be early so that we could follow. By 3PM, we were close to starved but thankfully Jerenimo and Daud managed to bring a lunch box out to us. Leakey had ventured to the river’s edge, and now all we could do was hope he didn’t cross.

He did. We sat and watched as he led 3 other bulls across the river into Buffalo Springs. Disheartened, we sat back; what a wasted day. The vet had just arrived, but the target had just left. David was sure that the cattle and settlements would drive the elephants back – it was a very peculiar place for them to have crossed – so we waited a bit longer. By 4:30Pom, luckily for us and the vets, the bulls had crossed back and were heading inland. The vet prepared the dart and we all got ready for the task ahead.

Leakey, being a large bull, did not take the dart too well and walked away from us with the other bulls; he didn’t look as though he was going to go down. The vet said he may have to administer more of the drug. We sat, worried for both Leakey and the vet as he drove toward the bull, a second dart ready. Again, luck seemed to be on our side as Leakey began to sway, and soon collapsed on his left side. The team dove into action, taking down measurements of tusks and feet, samples of blood and ticks, and the main task of putting on his collar. Overall the operation took approximately 15 minutes before we all retreated to our vehicles and the vet approached Leakey with the antidote.

An agonizing 3 minutes went by before he made any movement. He lifted his legs up and then swung them down, using their weight as momentum to lift his head up, but it was not enough and he kept crashing down. This happened twice more before the vet suggested we get a rope and help him. He and his assistant walked toward Leakey shouting encouraging phrases ‘Hup! Hup!’ and ‘Come on!’ as we weighed the risks involved from our vehicles. One last time, possibly with the voices as the extra ‘push’, he swung his legs down, and his head came up just far enough for his feet to get grounded and he sprang to his feet before swaying away from the vehicles and walking off into the shrubbery.

A close call, but a successful collaring nonetheless; we finally got Leakey, a big bull with big tusks. By following him for at least the next two to three years we will gain further insight into his behaviour as well as being able to track him in real time, information that will be fed to our anti-poaching operation and those of our partners in the area.