There was also a very real possibility that Henrick or Tangles would end up in a sitting position after being sedated, putting too much pressure on their lungs so they wouldn’t be able to breathe properly this is called ‘sternal recumbency’. We’d then need to quickly flip them onto their side (This actually happened to Tangles). These are all very real challenges that involves some pretty nifty teamwork that can be potentially detrimental to the animals and the safety of the team too.
Even when sedated, elephants still communicate with their family members and so the crew is always on the lookout for anxious family members who may return to protect their loved ones. Elephants can communicate 2km to 10km away from each other through low-frequency sounds or rumbles.
But let’s circle back a bit: The experience kicks off with a detailed brief from vet in charge of the operation. The process is thoroughly explained and certain team members are assigned specific tasks.
The air team consisted of the helicopter pilot (Gerry McDonald, in this case), wildlife vet, Joel Alves, and a member of the Elephant Alive and mines wildlife monitoring crew. They set off to the skies to track down a suitable elephant in the designated area.
Once an animal has been located, it is up the incredible flying skills of the pilot to try and manoeuvre the elephant safely, into an accessible space. The crack shot darting skills of the vet then come into fruition. Once the animal has been darted, it takes a while for the drugs to kick in. Then, slowly but surely, the elephant goes down.
Then it’s time for the ground team to swiftly move in. While the satellite collar is being fitted, DNA, toenail, tail hair and breast milk (yes, you can milk an elephant) and stool samples are collected, and tusks, feet and shoulder height are measured.
Any wounds are addressed and breathing is closely monitored by placing a twig in the pachyderm’s trunk. (Did you know that an elephant has 40 000 muscles in their trunk!?). This is to make sure the air passages are kept clear and they are not under any stress. Once all is done, the antidote is administered and the ground crew back up to give the sleeping beauty the space needed to get up onto those very heavy and wobbly legs.
To see the passionate Elephants Alive team in action is something truly inspiring.
The work being done on the ground every single day by these dedicated eco-champions to protect and monitor our wildlife, restores my faith in humanity. Thank you Dr Michelle Henley and your team for making us feel so at home and for giving us a day we certainly will never forget.
There are many things you can do to help elephants and other wildlife. If you are interested in one of my upcoming wildlife fundraising expeditions – then please contact me.
Be safe out there and remember that by working together and lifting each other up, we are much more powerful.