Poaching is one of the leading threats for species who are hunted for their products or as trophies. Among these are elephants whose desperate situation was thrown into the forefront earlier this year when it was announced that both species of African elephant are critically endangered. Fortunately, there are people and organizations working to protect these animals, and the successful rescue of even just one animal is cause for celebration among declining populations.
One such joyous scene was recently recorded by the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) in Kenya, who were alerted to a baby elephant that was trapped in a snare along a remote stretch of the Tana River. As if the location weren’t tricky enough, the calf’s increasingly anxious family were still in the area which meant a rescue attempt could be dangerous for the team. However, given the baby elephant had no chance of freeing itself from the rope snare, which was attached to a stake deeply embedded in the ground, a rescue mission was launched.
“This is the second elephant calf we’ve been called to save from a snare this year,” wrote Executive Director for SWT Rob Brandford in an email to IFLScience. “These young, innocent babies are not necessarily the poacher’s intended victim: Small to medium sized snares are often set to catch animals for bushmeat. But these deadly traps are indiscriminate and do not discern between a young elephant or an impala and will maim any animal that has the misfortune to step in them or stick their neck through them.”
The SWT now operates and funds 17 Mobile Field Teams who are poised to respond to such callouts in Kenya in an effort to reduce the number of animals, including endangered species, that are killed by snares annually. These teams work in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service to locate and destroy snares and have removed more than 160,000 to date, Brandford explained.
While the team made their way to the scene by helicopter, a community scout and some local residents were able to reach the baby elephant using a canoe so that they could monitor the situation until help arrived. Once the rescue workers were on the ground the helicopter kept an eye on the adult elephants to ensure the team remained safe as they worked. Once the baby was safely anaesthetized, they were able to successfully cut away the snare that was already cutting off circulation to the baby’s foot. For their efforts, they were rewarded with the gratifying sight of the baby running back to its family after waking from their involuntary snooze.
“Each animal killed or injured by a snare is one to many and a blow to biodiversity,” wrote Brandford. “Luckily, Kenyans are looking out for their wildlife: Tour guides, tourists and operators (although in the current climate this is happening less owing to less tourists), rangers, NGOS and Conservancies all provide eyes and ears in the field and their calls make up many of the reports we receive about injured animals.
“Our SWT/KWS Anti-Poaching Teams and Aerial Unit also help locate injured animals, providing assistance at the scene and calling in the Veterinary Teams when needed. Since the Veterinary Teams are fully mobile, operating in five key ecosystems, supported by a Sky Vets Initiative that can be deployed anywhere, we can reach these animals no matter how remote they may be.”
The SWT’s conservation projects are funded by donations and with bushmeat snaring reports on the rise their Anti-Poaching Teams are more important than ever. Visit their website to find out how you can help.