I have been incredibly fortunate to assist with four collaring operations in three days, two on the 18th and two on the 21st. There have been several collars sitting in camp since I arrived, but unfortunately no vet to immobilize the target elephants, as the vet for Samburu is currently on leave. When we received confirmation last Friday that the vet from Meru could offer his services, preparations were made to deploy the collars the following day.
We set off the next morning in search of two targets. After a few hours with no target sighted, we finally came across Salma Kikwete of the First Ladies family. Not long after, we located Amity from the Virtues family. Both these females are orphans whose mothers had previously been collared. The vet arrived around 4pm to assist with the two collarings. Amity was resting in an area dappled with bushes, and it was therefore necessary that we have two vehicles to ensure we could cut off the elephants if need be. Once in position, the vet fired the dart. Amity startled and the group scattered, but soon settled again. 8 min later she started to sway and finally toppled onto her side in a cloud of dust.
The team leapt into action to deploy the collar. Two camera men from the German film crew that was shooting in Samburu at the time recorded the operation. Water was poured over the elephant’s body to keep her cool. Shifra plucked some tail hairs, which can provide information on the individual’s diet. Meanwhile, I took measurements of the feet and tusks. I felt a slight shiver down my spine when I heard the heavy exhale of Amity’s breath just inches from where I crouched. Before I had fully absorbed what was happening, the collar was secured and the vet administered the antidote. Everyone rushed back to the vehicles. Amity batted an eyelid and then drowsily stumbled to her feet, a mere ten minutes after she went down. Appearing rather disoriented and bemused, she examined her new accessory with her trunk before walking back to her family who had been waiting nearby.
Only a couple hours later we were collaring our second target, Salma. She had crossed the river into Buffalo Springs shortly after we had finished with Amity. As Salma went down, we had to chase off her younger relative and the Winds 3 family, who were quite agitated and reluctant to leave their friend. There was a couple minutes delay trying to fit the collar, and this time Shifra and I had the chance to snap a few photos after recording the measurements.
Only a few days later we were back at it again. Our targets that day were two females, one from the Native Americans and another from the Refugees. We located Sudan, our target from the Refugees family, in the morning in open savannah, a prime location for immobilization. Unfortunately, by the time the vet had arrived, they had already crossed the river into Buffalo Springs. Rather than waste a collaring opportunity, it was decided that we would gather our supplies and ford the river on foot. The river is quite shallow at the moment and the deepest parts only came up to my knees, so I convinced myself that a crocodile or hippo attack was unlikely. Once across, Chris and Jerenimo met us in their vehicle and we proceeded with the operation. There was one tense moment, just after Sudan had been darted, when the orphan calf who had attached himself to her would not leave her side and there was a risk that she may crush him when she fell. It took a few attempts to finally chase the calf and the rest of the family away. The rest of the operation proceeded smoothly and she was soon back on her feet.
We successfully carried out the second collaring operation a couple hours later. We have since been on the hunt for the bull, Theresai, our next target, but as yet he remains elusive. It has been very rewarding to be involved in these operations, knowing that these collars will provide a wealth of data that will be invaluable in the battle to save the elephants.