Elephant Caught In Snare Is Miraculously Saved
More than 200 square miles of land in southern Africa is dedicated to Malawi’s Liwonde National Park. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which helps safeguard the park’s wildlife, calls the area a “haven” for over 500 elephants, more than 600 bird species, and countless hippopotamus, rhinoceros, and other mammals, fish and reptiles. But this haven is surrounded by 17 million people, packed into country roughly half the size of the United Kingdom. The dense population results in food insecurity and resource scarcity. Those factors, in turn, drive people to illegal animal poaching for both food and income.
This is why snare traps are left in and around Liwonde, aiming to catch smaller animals, but endangering them all. According to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, more than 18,000 animals are killed annually by just 1,000 of these wire devices. One young bull elephant in September of 2014 came very close to contributing to the death toll numbers. Instead, this elephant caught in a snare, found himself being graciously helped by a group of humans who wanted nothing more than to help save his life.
As the IFAW explains, the fences used to protect the Liwonde National Park are often exploited by poachers to create the snares that end up harming the park’s wildlife. Poorly maintained boundary fences are dismantled and the material used to make the traps. IFAW began a program in 2014 to improve policing and maintenance of the boundary fences, while also sweeping the park for existing snares. However, this effort came a little too late for one young animal.
A research team notices an elephant struggling to walk with a large, gaping wound on his front left leg. A wire is seen projecting from the injury and the animal seems to be immersing the wound in water to alleviate the pain.
African Parks, who runs Liwonde, contacts the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust (LWT) and the Cluny Wildlife Trust (CWT) to assist the team who discovered the elephant. Members of each group observe the animal and determine the best way to render assistance.
A tranquilizer dart is used to subdue the large animal so the team can get to work on his wound.
When the elephant succumbs to the sedatives, a stick is placed in his trunk to allow for continuous airflow and a hat is placed over his eye to shield him from the dust, sun and other elements. An intravenous line is inserted.
Dr. Amanda Salb of the LWT works on the wound as Derek Macpherson of CWT rests a comforting hand on the elephant’s trunk.
As Dr. Salb injects more sedatives, the rest of the team works to remove the snare. The young elephant passed out on the side of the wounded leg, so helpers have to hold the right leg up for full access to the injury.
The unsophisticated trap that caused so much damage to this elephant still bears a piece of his flesh when it is finally removed from his leg.
The severe damage to the elephant’s leg is clear once the snare is removed.
A man’s hand on the seemingly infected would shows how deep the injury is – nearly to the bone.
After several rinses with a diluted Iodine solution, the puss begins to wash away. The solution also helps eliminate any bacteria that is likely causing a large infection in the wound.
After the wound was thoroughly cleaned, the vets had a better idea of the extent of the wound and the damage the snare had caused. Here, you can see the exposed torn ligaments in the elephant’s leg. This was sure to be a long recovery for this poor elephant.
The team dresses and applies “Pink Spray” to allow the wound to heal. They don’t place a bandage since they won’t be able to access the elephant to reapply new ones as needed. Bandages easily become breeding ground for bacteria and other microbes if they aren’t changed regularly and if they are likely to get wet.
Dr. Salb and Macpherson look over the young elephant one more time before waking him. This would be their last chance to treat him while sedated so they need to make it count.
Macpherson administers an antidote to the tranquilizer that will rouse the animal within a short two minutes.
Macpherson and Dr. Salb watch from a safe distance as the elephant regains consciousness. The young animal does come around without issue and, with some effort, stands on his own.
LWT reports seeing the healing elephant two days after his treatment, bathing normally and acting well. LWT believed the pain had subsided and he was on an upward trajectory towards a full recovery.
Nearly a year after the treatment, the young elephant is seen bathing the wound and throwing dirt on it, indications that he is, unfortunately, still bothered by it. LWT stated that this was not an unusual finding, as more damage than is initially seen may occur with these types of injuries. Thankfully, they are able to re-capture the animal for examination.
The follow-up examination shows that a tumor has developed from the prolonged irritation of the wire trap. Despite removing the snare and treating the visible wound, a tumor began to grow as the obvious damage heals.
African Wildlife Tracking donates a radio collar that LWT is able to fit to the elephant. This allows the organization to track and monitor his activity and continue treatment for the tumor and any other issues that may arise from his run-in with a poacher’s snare. All in all, the intervention the vets took to help this elephant gave him an incredible change for a normal life. Even with setbacks, this relatively young elephant will live much longer and lead a relatively normal and healthy life span due to these organization’s generous efforts in saving him.
This young animal was one of the lucky ones who was found in time to properly help. Initiatives like Operation Safe Haven are essential to prevent tragedies like this – and worse – from continuing in Liwonde National Park.
Find out how you can volunteer or help Lilongwe Animal Trust HERE