“Much of our resilience comes from community- from the relationships that allow us to lean on each other for support when we need it most”- Anonymous
As guides we are lucky to not only meet inspiring and interesting people everyday but animals too who can teach us a lesson on life. Recently I was fortunate enough to meet a young elephant that, to me, demonstrated the true meaning of resilience.
This three or four year old elephant was spotted on evening game drive and it was noticed that it had a snare wrapped tightly around one of its back feet, which was cutting into its flesh and trailing a wire about 4m long behind it. There is always the incredibly difficult question of whether to intervene with nature in these situations but the ‘rule’ that is typically followed is that if the animal is suffering as a direct result of human doing then it is acceptable to step in and help that animal. As a result, Simon Smit and I set out the following morning to spend time with the herd and keep an eye on their movements so that when the vet and helicopter arrived, they knew exactly where to find the elephants. What ensued was the most incredible and touching four hours of elephant viewing I have ever experienced.
Despite their trauma, the herd was absolutely relaxed around us and was quite happy to have us tag along on their morning adventures. A rather ironic situation when you consider that this elephant was suffering as a direct result of our kind. What was even more remarkable was how the herd cared for and nurtured its injured youngster. We watched as the wire would snag on trees and the elephant would become trapped, unable to move any further. No sooner would this have happened than another member would arrive, gently lift and release the wire, remove any attached debris and sometimes even carefully carry the wire on its trunk for a while. Even the tiniest elephants in the group, knew that something was awry and would sprint next to the wire, desperately trying to pry loose branches that had become entangled in it as it dragged through the bush. The youngster was doing its best to treat itself and would sporadically stop to throw water or sand onto the wound or scratch it against a tree to relieve the irritation. Can you imagine this? No doctors, no antibiotics, no stitches, no painkillers and no rest. In order to eat, drink and therefore survive you have to keep moving. What a remarkable feat for such a young animal.
Much to our dismay, the herd crossed over our northwestern boundary and we were unable to follow them and witness the snare being removed. However we spoke to Edwin Pierce, Northern Section Ranger and Ecologist for the Sabi Sands Wildtuin to get the break down of the darting. “The veterinarian believes we caught the youngster just in time and that had we not intervened, the elephant would have lost its foot for sure. Luckily there had been no tendon damage to the leg yet and the vet believes this youngster will make a full recovery in the next few months”, said Pierce. What I find even more fascinating is that after the helicopter had separated the herd and darted the youngster, the mother came back in to investigate. She could easily have charged in at the veterinary team and been aggressive towards them but Pierce says that when she saw what they were doing she held back. Pierce said, “it was almost as if she understood that they were attempting to help and left the team to do so”. After waking the youngster up, the team backed off and was able to witness the herd re-uniting and the youngster up and moving on its leg again.
Despite not being able to see the snare being removed, that really was a morning that I will treasure and remember because it gave us a unique window into the tight social bond and incredible tenderness of a herd and showed us the feistiness and resilience inherent in that one very special little elephant.
Written and Photographed by: Amy Attenborough