After Years Of Suffering, Elephant Finally Freed From Painful Snare
A wild bull elephant - who had been suffering for at least two years with a terrible leg injury due to a snare - was recently saved by an intrepid group of veterinarians and conservationists in Zimbabwe.
The elephant was first spotted two years ago near the border of Zambia by a local group, the Wildlife Conflict Management Chirundu Elephant Program. But an effort to aid him proved unsuccessful because the elephant vanished before conservationists could reach him.
Then, last month, the 35-year-old bull elephant resurfaced.
"He's been seen each lunchtime in the company of another three bulls for the last two days," wrote veterinarian Lisa Marabini of AWARE Trust, a veterinarian-led, wildlife conservation organization in Zimbabwe, in a newsletter. "He is feeling more vulnerable than the other three elephants and keeps his distance from people."
The elephant also had visible circular patches on his skin, likely from an infection, which indicated his immune system wasn't functioning properly.
It was clear that the snare had to be removed.
So Marabini and Keith Dutlow, another veterinarian from AWARE, drove 500 miles to tend to the suffering animal.
Snares: Deadly for wildlife
Snares are, unfortunately, the cause of much suffering for wildlife in Zimbabwe. "Snares are exceedingly common in Zim," Marabini told The Dodo. "With over 90 percent unemployment and most people living below the poverty line, many people rely on bushmeat for protein. Almost every rural and wild area that is not routinely patrolled by rangers will be subject to snaring."
Although the snares are typically set for smaller antelope like duikers and impala, Marabini said, every animal is susceptible to them, including rhinos, lions and elephants.
If snared, elephants usually break the wire off. But it will continue to tighten around whatever appendage it is on, Marabini explained to The Dodo. "Trunks can be severed, although the [elephants] seem to fare OK so long as they have at least half a trunk. Snares around the feet will eventually tighten around the pedal bones, causing crippling osteitis [inflammation of the bone]."
But mostly, Marabini said, it's a mystery, because often the elephants simply disappear.
Finding an injured elephant
Knowing where an elephant generally lives is one thing. Finding his exact location is another. And darting him [to sedate the animal] is still another. But Marabini and Dutlow, along with a crew of conservationists, began the motions for all of the above.
"The elephants are fully aware they are being stalked. Every time the team maneuvers into a potential darting position the elephant turns to face them, shaking his great ears menacingly," Marabini wrote. "On more than one occasion Keith has to wave his arms and yell at the elephant, although this only serves to make him take flight, and run out of sight."
After 45 "tense" minutes of tracking the elephant, however, the animal was successfully darted.
The drug AWARE vets used to sedate the elephant takes 8 to 10 minutes to activate. But there are many risks. One is that the elephant could fall on his trunk and cut off his ability to breathe. Even if the elephant lands on his chest and is breathing fine, the weight of his body could crush the nerves on his back legs, Marabini noted in the newsletter.
So, in order to prevent problems, the team adjusted his body.
Immediately, Marabini and Dutlow began to remove the massive wire snare from the elephant's leg. "The elephant flinches and flaps his ears. Despite him being narcotised, his right eye seems to be watching everything we are doing," wrote Marabini.
WARNING: Graphic content below
The vets then applied a local anesthetic, but quickly discovered the wound was excessively deep. "The incisions have to be widened and blood flows freely into the surgical field," she said.
After 20 minutes, the loop of the snare was cut and a 6 centimeter piece of thick steel wire was extracted from the elephant.
But much of the snare still remained.
And then, daylight began to fall.
"[We] began to think this snare will defeat [us]," wrote Marabini.
Then the vets decided to make one last attempt to remove the snare under the Land Rover's headlights and the modest illumination of cell phones.
And it worked:
"At long last, Keith triumphantly utters, 'got you, you bitch!'," wrote Marabini, as the piece of wire came out from the incision. "Elation washes over everyone present!! The stress has all been worth it for this moment."
The vets cleaned the wound, antibiotics were administered and the elephant was given a drug to reverse the sedative: "In the pitch blackness we can just make out the outline of the elephant lumbering to its feet from ten meters away," recalled Marabini.
Unfortunately, not all elephants are as fortunate as this bull. Last month, AWARE veterinarians tried to treat an elephant with an eye injury, but due to complications, the effort failed.Aware Trust
The elephant had an AK-47 bullet hole in his cheek and trunk, likely a victim of the wildlife trade in ivory.
"The holocaust of elephants has its foot in Zimbabwe's door," said Marabini. "EVERY elephant life now counts."