Stuck in my teeth!

by Samuel Davidson-Phillips – Conservation Officer

When working in close proximity to wild life one of the great perks is witnessing some unusual but often amazing sights. Friday the 13th was the day where we received a report from Welgevonden’s fencing team that they had observed a “pole” stuck in an Elephant’s head. This immediately raised the eye brows of management with Cobus Greyling and Samuel Davidson-Phillips heading out to investigate.

The report came from Mpofu Road quite close to Site 4. As Cobus and I began heading to the sighting we were discussing how serious the injury was by having a pole in the head? Elephants are very curious and intelligent mammals that have a tendency to investigate anything that is man-made. So we both suspected it was something that was left over from when the reserve still belonged to the farming days.

We began the ascent up the steep concrete strip road just after site 4’s access. At the top we bumped into a herd of Elephants and began looking for the individual described. The Elephants were not very welcoming to our presence and on top the steep road they became quite restless. We decided to make a hasty retreat back down the road, but in doing so a sub-adult cow came onto the road. Cobus and I couldn’t believe our eyes there was an old anchor pole stuck over the right tusk and wedged into the gum. The poor young cow must have been playing with the pole when she accidentally got it stuck over her tusk. She seemed very uncomfortable and agitated giving us a bit of a mock charge as we retreated down the hill.

When at the bottom of the hill it was decided that we would have to intervene as it was not a natural injury and wouldn’t have occurred if the pole wasn’t in the veld. A vet (Dr Paul Huber) was contacted where we could get the closest cell phone reception. The estimated time of arrival was roughly 30 min. In the meantime head office was radioed to try assemble as many tools as possible in the likelihood we wouldn’t be able to remove the pole, this included a portable generator, angle grinder, drill and various other hand tools from the workshop. Jonathon and the office ladies brought all the tools to the scene.

When the chopper and vet arrived, the description was given of the entire situation as well as the last seen locality of the herd. Cobus and I headed in the vehicle to the area with the pilot giving us a head start but quickly catching up it must be said. The pilot managed to pick up the herd including the sub-adult cow in the Taaibos valley close to site 6, the vet managed to dart the animal. While the cow was succumbing to the drugs the chopper drove the other elephants off in a different direction.

The Elephant succumbed within 6-7 minutes of being inoculated. On arrival at the scene the vet was standing by the animal and looking around and stating enthusiastically as she had fallen over a tree had caused the pole to come off on its own accord. This was great news for the entire team including myself as we were expecting the worst and coming up with innovative ways to get the pole off.

In the African bush you never quite know what to expect and this was a big learning experience for everyone involved and I’m sure after the entire ordeal the Elephant would be a lot more careful on what she plays with.