Elephant Escapes Poachers Twice, Seeks Out Treatment

In the sprawling expanse of Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park, an elephant named Mshale has been fighting for his life. After taking a total of four arrows in two known poaching attempts, this animal has beaten the odds again and again. Why are poachers so determined to destroy this creature? His ivory tusks, which clock in at more than 100 pounds and are worth around $35,000 on the black market. This market wants to pack his ivory into containers, ship it halfway across the globe and carve it into little trinkets for people to wear as status symbols.

Mshale, now around 40 years old, has been roaming around the northern area of Tsavo East for some time. At the Ithumba Orphans Facility, where he visited often for clean drinking water and the company of other elephants, this large bull was well known to workers. That sense of familiarity might have saved his life in July of 2012 when poachers targeted Mshale and lodged a poison arrow into him. However, before it could take effect, the elephant lumbered to the Ithumba stockades where vets from David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) administered treatment. The arrow was laced with Akokanthera toxin, derived from the unripe fruit of a tree native to the region.

After a short recovery, Mshale made his way back into Tsavo’s wilderness. The DSWT and KWS teamed up with their anti-poaching squads and tried to keep ahead of Mshale’s movements. It wasn’t until March of this year, while doing a flyby of more than 500 elephants, that they saw Mshale again. This time he was badly limping with a wound in his back visible from the air. They set down the craft to find two other large bull elephants guarding him.

Rob Brandford relayed the scene. “He had two large and deep spear wounds which had to be cleaned. One had passed right through his ear deep into his neck; the other into his back.”

The poison spears had taken their toll. When the vet team was finally able to get Mshale sedated for treatment, they realized the wound on his rump had caused a festering abscess the size of a basketball. Pounds of dead tissue had to be cut away before the wound could be cleaned, and many working on the bull wondered if he’d ever be able to walk again.

When Mshale began to stir, they quickly treated the animal with strong antibiotic injections and packed the wound with clay, to seal it from further infection. Within minutes, to the surprise of everybody on staff, Mshale was soon back on his feet. It was said he stared at those who had treated him for a moment, before turning around and hobbling back into the African bush.

In the end, the DSWT and KWS vets have pulled four spears from Mshale in a period of less than two years. His tusks are prized objects, and demand for ivory in China and Southeast Asia has made such poaching endeavors, sadly, commonplace. Poachers, who generally work in groups of about four, use silent methods in Tsavo, such as poison arrows and traps. In other parts of Africa, guns, helicopters, and even GPS tracking methods have been used to decimate entire herds.

Kenya’s ports (many of which have been financed by Chinese investment) and busy, chaotic, international airport, have made Kenya an ideal location for the shipment of black market goods. And although last year KWS successfully seized more than 8 tons of ivory, by the time they reach it, it’s still too late for the elephant.

“We must recognize the importance of education and awareness campaigns, people need to know the truth about ivory to be encouraged not to buy it and instead to see the true beauty of ivory which is only seen on live elephants,” said Rob Brandford. Anti-poaching measures, as well as search and seizure of exports, further training and pay raises for KWS staff must be improved around Kenya to help slow the trade of ivory. However, the sad reality remains, that until consumers stop purchasing it, the poachers will continue to stalk Mshale, and elephants just like him, around Africa’s many national parks.


Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Kim B.
Kim B.2 years ago

So sad to hear that this stil is occuring. On a good note, I am happy to hear that the TV show Antique Roadshow will no longer place any Ivory Items on thier show to be appraised. This is a good first step, outside of the people who live in these areas that are trying to protect these majestic animals. I applaud the Park Rangers for trying to protect these animals. Thank you for doing a job that puts you in danger to save animals. I would do the same thing. Our Ecosystem is vey delicate.

Vicky Slay
Vicky Slay2 years ago

The problem with poachers poaching each other is that they are not worth a dime. These poachers have to be stopped and they should suffer a death penalty for what they have done. So glad this elephant survived.

Diane L.
Diane L.2 years ago

Mark D., I haven't read or heard about drones being used, but what a great idea! I've watched many documentaries on the subject and seems most of the time, rangers just can't match the poachers in "fire power" and they often are on the scene after the fact, so can't prevent the killings. Drones are an excellent way of dealing with the situation.

Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

Georgia, "oh those poor malnourished people" has been a fake and stupid argument. Locals that have a criminal nature and desire to get rich quick are approached by Asian mafia, and given high powered weaponry, even helicopters. There are plenty of extremely poor people in India who have the ethics to preserve the wildlife around them, as a valuable resource for their communities. When you're low income that doesn't give you the idea or the right to be a murdering thug.

Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

Kenya is putting a fleet of drones into operation in all their parks to catch the poachers. This was news on April 25th. These drones were highly effective in test, and cut down the poaching 96%. Let's hope they catch and kill the poachers that were so vicious toward this elephant.

Norma Garcia
Norma Garcia2 years ago

We all need to unite and stand against such cruelty to Elephants and other wild life... It needs to stop

Diane L.
Diane L.2 years ago

I had the same thoughts, Deborah. I have seen several documentaries on the subject and apparently, there just isn't enough money available for such a thing. The governments are not all "rich", and many are corrupt to the point where they just turn the other way. The game wardens are not as well equipped with guns and are therefore are at a complete disadvantage when they meet up with poachers, and feel fairly "powerless".

I've watched a trailer on one of the channels for a series about a group of mercenaries who deal with rhino poachers. They are ex-Navy Seals or Army Rangers, I don't remember, but they do whatever they need to do, regardless of how "legal" it is, to protect the few remaining animals from poachers.

Deborah W.
Deborah W.2 years ago

Those in charge never get involved in the messy job of on-the-ground and in-the-trench poaching. They pay the poor just trying to get by any way they can to do their dirty work.

No market, no need for product, the end. Very true, but in the meantime, why not issue shoot to kill laws with cash reward offered for each carcass brought in. If poaching and reward money evened out, which do you think would win?