Ladies and gentlemen,
I am happy and very delighted to share with you one of my rare achievements on this planet earth…..keep reading.
I was challenged and executed the translocation of this pictured elephant bull from the community back to the Queen Elizabeth National Park where I work in Uganda.
The elephant had strayed off from the park and got lodged in 100 acres of extensive maize and cotton plantations within a municipality – just behind a heavily populated district headquarter which is about 8 kilometers from the park boundary. The incident happened on the 14th of November 2017.
Elephants are very sensitive to noise, they hate buzzing bees and chilli (red pepper). We have used these approaches to manage those that stray off to communities to crop raid. We therefore made deployments of park rangers who did their usual tricks of chasing back this crop raider through scare shooting bullets but it failed, even with an increased manpower and supported from the army. Then we brought bombs for a signal pisto.
l and usually the sound from this superior pistol gun just sends these jumbos running away but this failed too. Then our community conservation gurus came in with vuvuzelas to make a lot of noise but this failed as well, then the chilli and red pepper tricks to smoke out the elephant but the jumbo was just running around in circles with closed eyes because of the itch in the eyes, this approach even proved more dangerous to both the personnel and the elephant and the approach was called off. We learnt a lot more lesions, lone elephant crop raiders are more difficult to manage than herds.
We had one more none-invasive trick to try – to engage a chopper/helicopter to drive the jumbo back. I have darted (tranquilized) elephants before using a helicopter. Usually when the chopper lowers at a herd or individual at an angle of 30-450 or above the elephants would run and can be herded to a direction determined by the pilot.
The army surrendered their helicopter for the exercise, the D-day was a Thursday on December 7th 2017, everyone was optimistic, the pilot gave a call to our chief warden when he was taking off from Entebbe air base and said the work would be accomplished within 30 minutes. People waited, the press swam in, the local communities flooded the area, the police and rangers had a tough time getting people out of the way of the anticipated direction of the jumbo. Police tried to push people to stay inside their houses but all they got was insults, everyone wanted to just stay there and watch the exercise unfold.
The chopper arrived, landed at the airfield in Kasese, picked up one guide, who happened to be the Senior Warden In Charge of Rwenzori Mountains National Park. They flew, angled, buzzed, directed the elephant, the pilot did his tricks, the elephant instead ran to the district offices while making many more turns and even running faster than the helicopter, and the mission aborted after an hour’s trial and the chopper flew back to base. We were back to zero, the farm owners had already filed and served us with court action from their learned fellows – the lawyers demanding for compensation, lots of compensation – it’s as though these lawyers live in heaven where they did not know that we were just trying our best to make sure the anticipated destruction from the elephant was minimized, and that compensation does not exist in the laws of Uganda.
We had to do more, the rangers had done their best and they had failed, the helicopter had tried and failed. We gathered together as senior staff below a tree at the site under the stewardship of our chief warden: the engineers, the veterinarian, the administrators, the community conservation staff all putting their heads together.
We hatched a new plan and the plan was ‘’Dart (tranquilize) and translocate the elephant back to the park’’. And who was to execute this plan? Me! I was the only veterinarian on ground! I started calling for help from my 3 other veterinarians working in the organization but none of them was on air. One of these vets is based at Murchison Falls National Park, around 700km away from me, the other 2 are based at Kampala, 450km away and I learnt one of them was on annual leave abroad and the other was our vet boss with a very busy schedule.
I became nervous but the Lord patted me on the shoulders and said “Go” and I had to Go. I remembered that:-
1. I belong to a forum called Women Vets of Uganda whose logo is a T-shirt imprinted with the words “GOD FOUND SOME OF THE STRONGEST WOMEN and made them VETERINARIANS”
2. I had also completed a bible study plan called Super Seniors: Abraham, Anna, Daniel, John and Moses. These are elders in the bible whom God used to execute his difficult missions in the earlier years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Those who accepted and succeeded received abundant blessings from him and he protected them throughout the missions. But those who refused like Jonah who quietly decided to run away from God got seriously punished; he was swallowed by a fish while fleeing from Nineveah to Tarshish (Jonah 1:1-16).
We planned to dart either:-
1. Plan A: Dart with a helicopter, source for a powerful crane lorry and flat bed lorry and translocate
2. Plan B: dart from an Isuzu lorry, load and translocate
3. Plan C: dart on foot, load and translocate
The D-day again was Saturday 9th: the army was requested again to release their chopper; the HIMA cement factory was requested to help with their powerful crane lorry; the engineer was asked to look for a flat bed lorry. All arrangements went according to plan. The chopper was being cleared, the crane had been released and was on site by 11:00 hours, and so was the flat bed. The second veterinarian finally came on air and was to travel the 450km journey and arrive before the helicopter at 3:00pm that day, of course we were living in a dream world now, some miracles were being hoped for.
Then we started the briefing parade for all participating teams and allocated roles as we awaited the take off announcement from the pilot from the airbase at Entebbe, at around 3:00pm the pilot announced the earliest he would be on site was after 2 days – bang, plan A dead. We could not retain the translocation machinery for a second day.
Then plan B: report from the rangers – the elephant had increasingly become shy, aggressive and nervous over the last 3 weeks, the sound of a lorry would cause it to marathon and drive it crazy – bang, plan B dead
Then plan C swing action, now 4:00pm: sneak on foot and dart – the only challenge was that the maize was over 3 meters tall, closely spaced, and partially dry. The only way to know the location of the elephant was to climb a tall tree and scan through the plantations – bang, serious challenges and risks. A medical team was put on standby.
I carefully loaded two doses of the highly dangerous Etorphine anesthetic drug, one in the chamber of the dart gun ready to be fired, and the other in a portable container with the reversal drugs, support drugs and syringes. This was going to be my first exercise to catch a very nervous elephant that has been threatened and lodged up amidst community, let alone the translocation.
Four armed commandos were assembled, guns all coked, eyes reddened, smiles disappeared, heart rates beeped a bit faster, a bit of a sweat here and there on all our faces; the spotting teams ready on the Observation Point (OP) trees, the trucks and cranes have all taken position, five radio call signs assigned for communication, traffic police deployed, the senior warden became the “assistant veterinarian” to support the veterinary doctor (me) – bang we were ready to go.
Time up: 5 minutes, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 minutes passed by, commandos and vet/vet assistant stalking on the guidance of the OP team to check under this tree to the next and to the next, the elephant kept changing position. Sitting back now to reflect on this operation, the Lord was with us, the risks were quite high. Bang, the opportunity arose but the elephant ran wildly and we lost track but finally he was weakened by the drugs and fell. Jubilations!!
The rest is history. Thousands of people lined up the streets of Kasese to bid us Good riddance fair well, but happiness and ululations filled the late evening air in the shadows of this mountainous region where darkness casts shadows in the day. We waved back ululating, with the elephant in the flat bed truck. Everyone wanted to see, some climbed trees, others beep-jumped on toes. It reminded me of the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem during the Passover day.
I am so humbled that God made me a veterinarian and a wildlife veterinarian.
I just want to thank all those rangers and staff who put their lives at risk to have this exercise accomplished. My assistant vet, Mr Okware James and his entire team at Rwenzori Mountains National Park, my boss Mr Edward Asalu, Engineer George Isingoma, HIMA cement limited and many many others