Collaring Uffe


by Elleni Stephanou, Local Intern

Date Published

Over the past few weeks we had been observing good number of big bulls coming into the Reserve from the west. Some are sexually active and others are just feeding, and we thought it would be a perfect opportunity for a collaring or two. The vet was available, so we planned for an operation on Tuesday the 30th April.

Come Tuesday morning everyone is excited. The collars are ready; the cars are packed. Now we cross our fingers and hope the elephants are still around. Driving west, David said he had seen a big group of bulls, among them Leakey, a big bull with huge tusks, so he would be a great option for the collar .

Amongst many choices a good option for the second collar would be one of the females in the Spice Girls family; a family who previously were tracked but who lost most of their breeding females to poaching and are now led by a twenty year-old female who seems not to use the Reserve like the family’s previous matriarchs.

David, Jenifer and I came across Leakey fairly quickly. He was in a prime position; not near the river, and in a relatively open area. The only problem we could see was the hot day – as it got hotter, Leakey would move closer and closer to the river before finally entering and possibly crossing it. We knew we had only a few hours before he began his trek and so called the vet to see where he was. He was just leaving Isiolo! Something had held him up and meant he left later than expected. Worried, we asked someone to watch Leakey’s movements and tell us if he was heading to the river. Meanwhile we decided to drive back to camp to get a rope before heading out east to help Jerenimo find the Spice Girls. On our way we stumbled across Uffe; a fairly large bull for his age who was also on our list of targets to collar if the opportunity arose. He previously had a collar, so is useful to keep tracking.

After a quick stop at camp we called Jerenimo who had two pieces of news; firstly that the Spice Girls had crossed the river and secondly the vet was busy with a sick elephant. A Ranger had called us saying there was an elephant lying down and not moving. Upon investigation we found a skinny bull from the Poetic family (what happened?). So, since the Spice Girls were no longer available it meant we would collar Uffe. But where was he now? It was as though all the elephants were discussing the arrival of the vet and so were heading to the river to avoid his dart! Uffe had marched from the west of the camp to the east side, and was headed directly to the river. It looked as though we would have to go for Leakey alone, but David, determined to collar Uffe, decided we should wait a few minutes and see where he was headed.

Uffe was slightly disturbed by the vehicles and started heading inland, but when the vet saw a chance he fired the dart with no hesitation. Luckily Uffe charged off inland, we tailed him, and watched him collapse under the weight of the drugs, lying perfectly on his right side.

Immediately the team jumped out of their vehicles and began pouring water over the massive heap of elephant to keep him cool. The vet proceeded to take samples, hair, blood; even a growth he would later test in the lab. Some of the team measured his tusks and his respirations per minute, the rest battled with the collar. Each exhalation trumpeted through Uffes trunk and reminded us to work quickly. After only a few minutes the collar was on, the data was collected, and it was time to revive the bull. We all retreated to our vehicles and watched as the vet injected the antidote before running back to his car.

Seconds felt agonizingly long as we held our breath. If Uffe tried to get up too quickly and fell over again, he could crush his internal organs under his own weight and die. Finally he stirred. He got up slowly and stood shakily for a moment or two before walking off further inland. With no signs of aggression from his musth, nor complications when standing from the drugs, it was a very smooth collaring.

Happy and hungry we retreated to camp for a quick lunch. Unfortunately, heading west to look for Leakey was futile- he had already crossed the river and so darting and collaring was now impossible. Saddened by the lost opportunity we returned to camp and rescheduled for Thursday the 2nd. Read on for the Leakey operation…