Kenya's daily battle with the elephant poachers and their poison arrows

Mark Austin

Former ITV News presenter

The poachers of Tsavo have largely given up using guns. The chosen weapon these days is the poisoned arrow.

They stalk the elephant herds and then fire a barrage of arrows indiscriminately, hitting some, missing others. And then they wait to see which one falls to the ground.

When the vultures hover, they know it is dead and the poachers move in with their knives to sever the tusks before making off with their valuable haul.

It is the routine method of killing in Tsavo and it is taking its toll.

Sometimes elephants struck by an arrow will survive with the poison inside them. That’s when pilot Nick Trent ,who works for the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, earns his keep. Flying low over the bush his job is to find injured elephants before the poachers do.

It is a joint operation between the DSWT and the Kenyan Wildlife Service where pilots like Nick coordinates with rangers on the ground .

I flew with him as he was searching anxiously for a massive bull elephant that had been hit twice but was still alive and still roaming the wild with his injuries. An anti -poaching team was able to give a rough idea of where he may be,but Tsavo National Park is vast, thousands of square miles, and finding one elephant is not easy.

Rangers attempt to locate an injured elephant. Credit: ITV News

After about 40 minutes flying we spot him and call on the radio for the vets to move in.

With armed escort, in case the poachers are still lurking, Dr Jeremiah Poghon of the Kenyan Wildlife Service prepares a dart containing drugs to fire at the elephant. It is dangerous work.

Trying to get close enough without provoking the wounded victim,is not easy. But with one carefully aimed shot, a few minutes later the elephant has collapsed, unconscious, and the vets can do their work.

Rescuing a poisoned elephant in Kenya. Credit: ITV News
Rangers treat the wounded animal in Tsavo. Credit: ITV News
Armed anti-poaching units. Credit: ITV News

The huge patient has one arrow wound that is immediately visible. Dr Poghon cleans it out with hydrogen peroxide.

But he is concerned that the more serious ,fresher injury is on the side the elephant is lying on.

It is, quite literally, an enormous problem, which requires two strong ropes and two vehicles to solve. They manage to turn the patient over and the vets are now able to treat the second wound.

The elephant is eventually roused from its snoring slumber, and staggers to its feet. With that it wanders off unsteadily into the bush.

One elephant saved for now. But this is a daily battle,and it is not clear if it is being won.