Zim wildlife vets treat elephant with bullet in head

Aware Trust Zimbabwe via Facebook
Aware Trust Zimbabwe via Facebook

Harare - Wildlife vets in Zimbabwe have removed stinking fragments of shattered bone from the head of another elephant, which miraculously survived being shot.

Safari guides and conservationists in northern Zimbabwe's pristine wilderness area of Mana Pools suspect that "Pretty Boy" came looking for help after surviving for as long as six weeks.

The bull, believed to be around 25 years old, hung around a camp in Mana Pools for two hours at the weekend, showing absolutely no signs of aggression, while giving staff a chance to see a nasty wound at the top of his head.

Had he been shot across the border in Zambia, possibly by a poacher or a hunter and had come to Mana Pools for refuge and help?

That's what those who've had a chance to treat and observe the bull in the last few days think, although of course no one can be sure.

Battery-operated X-ray machine

Vets Keith Dutlow and Lisa Marabini from AWARE Trust told News24 that it was "amazing" that Pretty Boy actually survived the shooting in a corner of the southern African region that's notorious for poachers, but is also a prime game hunting area. 

"Five centimetres lower and he would have been dead," Dutlow said in an interview.

With rangers from Zimbabwe's state national parks authority and conservationists standing by, the vets on Monday darted Pretty Boy, who was so co-operative that he came right up to their car when they arrived in Mana Pools, which is more 340km from the capital Harare.

They used a battery-operated X-ray machine to get a better view of the bullet, which is stuck about 5cm away from Pretty Boy's wound.

The wound itself was a mess. As the vets began work on it, what looked like grey pus came oozing out. In fact it was "white pus flecked with bits of black dead bone," Dutlow explained.

Some of the fragments of bone that had to be dug out were pretty large - as long as 8cm across and 3cm wide.

'It was amazing'

Whoever shot Pretty Boy "must have been aiming straight for his head", Marabini added. 

The wound was flushed out and the elephant has been given long-lasting antibiotics. "I don't think the bullet (which is still lodged inside) will cause any more problems," Marabini added.

As in the case of Ben, the bull elephant which came to a lodge on Lake Kariba looking for help with his wound at the end of last month, Pretty Boy seems to have understood that some humans might want to help him.

Vets and anyone who's helped dart big animals know they have to be particularly wary of them the day after they've been darted in case they decide to attack.

But in Pretty Boy's case on Tuesday, he showed "no signs of aggression whatsoever", Marabini said.

The elephant placidly allowed them and a local guide to walk right up to him.

"It was amazing," the vet said.

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