A Good Dress Rehearsal
by Mike Loomis
March 20, 2002
I forgot to mention yesterday that, while meeting with Fiona from the Wildlife Conservation Society, we decided to exchange location data on each others' elephants. We think that many of the animals from the herds she is studying in the Democratic Republic of Congo may migrate into parts of the Tri-Nation park in Cameroon; I am also curious to learn if any elephants from Cameroon cross the river and enter Congo.
Fiona is working with Analissa Kilborn, a veterinarian also studying wildlife in Congo. She is especially interested in the Ebola virus, and has discovered that many chimps and gorillas died there during the latest outbreak of that disease.
Late yesterday afternoon, an anti-poaching team made up of men from Cameroon, Congo, and the Central African Republic came through our camp. Apparently, they received word of some possible poaching activities along the river (some gunshots have been heard), and they were on their way to check it out. They camped with us last night, and left very early this morning to investigate.
We're still in Bjembe base camp. After breakfast, we went out to the field about 7:30AM, and hiked along the river for about an hour. We found a natural salt lick, and some recent elephant tracks nearby. We followed those tracks for about an hour, and then heard some elephant sounds in the distance. We loaded up the dart gun, located even more tracks, and kept on their trail.
We soon saw two elephants in the thickest parts of the forest. The brush was so thick that would could not determine either elephant's sex or size; all we could tell was that we were looking at the rear end of two elephants.
Anyway, we fired on one and hit him. He went down very quickly, perhaps in less than five minutes. When we caught up to him, we saw that he was a half-grown male, which made him too small to collar. Our concern was that, as he grew, the collar would begin to constrict his breathing. And, given that we sometimes have trouble re-locating animals once they've been collared, we didn't want to run the risk of losing track of him and having him injured by the collar. So, we reversed the anesthetic, waited for him to wake up and move on, and then returned to camp.
So, even though we didn't get a collar on an elephant, this little exercise was a good dress rehearsal for the day in the near future when we come across an elephant of the right age and size.
Some bad news: our colleague Michael from WWF has malaria, I'm not sure how quickly he will recover. Also, we are thinking about moving our camp futher into the rainforest and further away from the river, in the hopes that we'll have better access to elephants.
I'll be back in touch again tomorrow.
About the author:
Dr. Mike Loomis is Chief Veterinarian at the North Carolina
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