A couple months ago, poachers went after three male elephants by shooting them with poisoned arrows. Fortunately, the elephants were able to get away, and what they did next was amazing.
With the arrows still lodged in their bodies, the three bulls turned to humans for help. The elephants travelled to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT), a wildlife conservation charity founded in 1977 in Kenya.
Amazingly, the elephant who led the others to DSWT had never been a resident there before. He was acquainted with other elephants who had, having mated with two orphans who were raised there and now lead their own wild herds. The bull had fathered babies with them in 2011, named Mwende and Yetu.
According to DSWT, “We are sure that Mwende’s father knew that if they returned to the stockades they would get the help and treatment they needed because this continuously happens with the injured bulls in the north; they all come to Ithumba when in need, understanding that there they can be helped.”
It is well-known that elephants are intelligent, social animals. They mourn their dead, they communicate through language, and are able to put together and retain detailed maps in their heads that enable them to navigate their territory. Researchers studying a group of elephants over a two year period found that they selected the nearest water source 90 percent of the time, sometimes setting their course from 30 miles away.
In this case, several hours after arriving at the sanctuary, the DSWT veterinary team sedated the animals and treated their wounds, then cleaned the wounds and filled them with antibiotics and protective clay.
While stories like these are quite remarkable, poaching has become far too common. In just the past three years alone, over 100,000 African elephants were poached for their ivory, and experts say that if poaching continues at this rate, elephants may become extinct within the next decade or two.
While the efforts of conservationists like those at DSWT are promising, much more needs to be done about the poaching problem if extinction is truly to be avoided.