Elephant Collared on Mt Cameroon!
by Mike Loomis
February 15, 2013
14 February—Valentine's Day in the United States and also, as it happens, my birthday—turned out to be a very interesting day. It started with us hiking to the new water area we found near the Elephant Opening. We located some fresh tracks there and started following that group of elephants. It was a long haul, and we hiked for almost four hours, including a difficult stretch across a fire burn. Eventually, the elephants stopped to rest; we were able to get closer, but the animals were still pretty alert, even though they were resting.
We were distracted for awhile when we came across a rhino viper on the trail. Once we worked our away around that snake, we could get even closer to the elephants. We could also hear them feeding, which meant that they were perhaps a little more relaxed and a little less alert to our presence. As we came around a bend in the elephants' trail, we could see them across a valley. They were in some light vegetation, about 55 meters/60 yards away. This would be a relatively long shot.
I decided to use my Dan-Inject rifle instead of the Palmer, which is the one I had used earlier. I had tested the Dan-Inject the night before and it appeared to be in good working order. Once I got situated, it was still about a 55 meter shot to the elephant; thankfully, the dart flew on a straight line and hit the elephant in a good spot.
The elephants took off and we followed close behind. After eight minutes, a moderate-sized female elephant went down in a good, safe position on relatively flat ground. We reached her quickly, attached the collar, and gave her a shot of reversal agent that woke her back up. Only about sixty minutes passed between the time the dart hit her and the time she got up to rejoin her herd.
All of us were extremely happy! This has been a tough trip and we were very excited to finally have some success to celebrate. We started celebrating as soon as the female got up to rejoin her herd, and continued to feel great as we hiked the two and one-half hours back to camp. The female is a good-sized animal with a calf, so we expect to get some good location data from her. Also, her group seems to be pretty active, so its frequent movement should give us a good idea about the herd's habitat and range.
Overnight last night, we could hear elephants within 100 meters of our camp. We got up this morning, found the spot they were occupying, and began tracking them. They had a three-hour head start on us, so I don't know that we'll catch up to them, but it's certainly worth a try. The vegetation here is very thick, which makes it both difficult and a bit dangerous. We will likely track them until 3:00PM or so local time; we'll cross a trail back to our camp around then so, if we don't gain any ground, we'll just get on the trail and head back to camp.
Eno, one of our colleagues at WWF, recommended that we leave the area, so we'll hike out on Saturday and meet the vehicle that will take us back to Limbe. Once I arrive in Limbe, I'll have a variety of reports and other paperwork to do. Once that's wrapped up, I'll likely head back to the United States and begin preparing for my next collaring mission, which will be in Nigeria in late April 2013.
About the author:
Dr. Mike Loomis is Chief Veterinarian at the North Carolina
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