Report on deaths of two elephants at West Gate area


by David Daballen and Shivani Bhalla

Date Published

We received a report from one of the lion researchers who is stationed in West gate saying that a sick elephant had been sighted in that area few days ago now and that we needed to go and haved look. The following day my team and I left early in the morning to see if we could find the elephant. We arrived in the general area where she was spotted two days ago and joined up with Shiv’s who works in the area.

We drove straight to Shiv’s camp, which is situated near Sasaab lodge. After some discussion about where we should look, we decided we would go in one car, since there was no need to go in both cars in this, rocky area with limited tracks.

We drove out of her camp, into this only track that everyone uses and searched for a long time. Occasionally we walked to check into some spots, which we could not access on car, and even asked local herders, but there was no luck. At four O’clock we decided to stop the search and return since our camp is two hrs away if not more.

When we arrived in Shivani’s camp we were, thirsty and exhausted ready to go back. It’s then we got another report of a dead elephant ten kilometers north west of us. It was already late and we decided we would only came tomorrow for that.

The following day we started quite early. It was about three hours drive to where the dead elephant was. We arrived at the community offices at half past nine and by then, the scouts have already left for where the carcass had been reported.

We raised the head of security Stephen on the Motorola radio, and we were able to communicate to receive more directions on where to go. We followed his instruction and after while we joined them.

It’s only after we all joined together then the head of security briefed as, on what was going on. After we started walking for about 5kms since it was rocky terrain. Meanwhile there was one scout who was at the scene and he kept updating and directing us until we got there.

The scouts, who previously found the carcass, claimed that it was very old elephant about thirty years old male. I was nervous as who it would be since most of our big males reside that area. Anyway when we got into the scene we found that she was only 12-14 years and her body was swollen which is why they thought she was a big elephant.

I looked around carefully to see if there were any signs of gunshots, or spear wounds, but it was not possible to tell as the whole carcass was swollen to the point of bursting.

There were signs of some predators as the carcass was eaten up. At the scene I showed the scouts how to identify females and males, how to estimate age, and many other important things, which will be helpful to them next time.

After performing all my duties, collecting tail hair samples, skin samples and filling the MIKE form. We started heading off to the other sick animal that we hadn’t found previously day, but now found the elephant lying down in bad state. We drove straight to where the animal was. Shivani was with sick elephant, and that helped a lot since we drove straight to where the sick animal was without wasting any time.

When we arrived at the scene we found the elephant already lying down, with very little hope of coming back to its feet. Her two and half years old female calf was still with her making sure that no-one came near or touched her mother

We all came together for a moment- researchers, scouts, and local community people who had accompanied us on this sad mission of looking for dead elephant and even the visitors that we had with us trying to agree the way forward.

We knew it would be only matter of time before this female died, since she had been found at six O’clock in the morning lying on her side. She could have been there more days. From our previous experiences this only happens when they are in critical condition. So this was almost pointless to bring a vet for treatment.

Many of were worried about what would happen with her calf. She has two and half years old. She could be big enough to join other families, and if luck comes her away she could even hook up the with mothers family! She is feeding perfectly and we did not see why she should be sent to Daphne Sheldrick orphanage.

This was nearly everyone’s opinion; We should leave the calf alone as she was big enough to survive on her own. Since there was little we could do, we thought would be good idea to leave the female and the calf a lone to reduce the stress level and avoid confusing the sad calf. We went back to our camp, and the following morning we got a report the female is dead and the calf had gone off and left her.

On the 5th of January 2009, I was patrolling the Conservation Area in West Gate Community Conservancy (WGCC) when I came across a young female elephant and her female calf on the main road (see note below for GPS location ). The 12-14 year old female looked very thin, her cheekbones were sunk in and she was not moving much. It was clear she was unwell. Her healthy 2.5-year old calf fed in the nearby bushes.

I reported this to the scouts on patrol, who had also seen her, and also to Save the Elephants (STE). David Daballen from STE came early on the 6th of January and we looked for the female however we were unable to find her.

On the 7th of January, I received a radio message from the WGCC scouts that an elephant was dying and had already lay down. I visited the location, which was towards the end of the Conservation Area, across the river. The female was laying down about 30 metres away from the riverbank (see note below for GPS location ). Her calf stood by her, wandering into the bushes at times to feed. The female didn’t move much; only to move her head slightly into the shade.

The WGCC scouts stayed with her during the entire night. I arrived back on the scene at 6 am on the 8th of January and the scouts informed me that the female had died during the night. We could hear the calf somewhere in the bushes nearby but I didn’t see her.

During the day, Kenya Wildlife Service arrived to remove her tusks. I returned in the evening but still had no sighting of the calf although it appears that she may have moved off with other elephants. I visited the carcass again the following morning and found hyena tracks all around her but the hyenas did not feed on any part of her.

It was unclear as to what killed this elephant. No obvious wounds were seen and she most likely died of an illness.

GPS location 1 37N 0313978 0073250

GPS location 2 37N 0313385 0073959