July 25th, 2016
I have a story to tell and its not a nice one.
Yesterday (July 24th 2016) we got a call for help from WCS, saying that a wild baby ele with a snare wrapped around its foot had collapsed just after it had been found by some Ministry of Environment (MoE) Rangers. It was Sunday and most peoples day off so I rushed out to see what advice/help/assistance I could give. What followed was a crazy adventure that did not end so well.
Snares are terrible. They are as bad as the landmines in Anlong Veng as they are indiscriminate in what they kill.
Pigs, deer, wild cows and elephants can get equally caught up in them. In the case of this little elephant it had got his foot caught in a snare and clearly over the past few weeks it had become severely infected. By the time rangers found her/him/it (im still not sure if it was a boy or a girl but i suspect it was a she but for now i shall just say it) was severely dehydrated and soon collapsed as it tried to chase off the intruders.
At this point I got a call and ended up venturing down a mountain side to see how I could help out. With no radio or phone signal everyone was sitting around waiting to be told what to do so I sent for supplies to try to rehydrate it to begin with and to prepare to move her. Meanwhile a logging truck had been sent for (it broke down in a river and in the end a tractor and trailer turned up) as the decision had been made to try and get the ele moved out to the Keo Seima Headquarters and if possible down to Phnom Tamao Rescue Centre.
Here in lies the very interesting conundrum that i feel i shall ponder over for many years to come; Schrodinger’s elephant.
In the scientific analogy of whether anything can exist or not, a cat is placed in a cardboard box with a vial of poision that will break at an unknown time. Until the box is opened the cat is considered to be both alive and dead, simultaneously, even though one option is actually the answer. Often when we are faced with difficult and critical decisions this analogy plays true and it is only by knuckling down and getting on with the job can we get the result we want. When I went and walked down the hill yesterday and saw this elephant my first thought that this was Schrodinger’s elephant, as while it was alive now, it was going to die and it was so sick that it could already be considered dead. The snare had torn into the leg so badly that amputation was clearly on the cards, it had sever infections underneath and was terribly dehydrated and in a state of shock. Rarely does any animal come back from this position but hey…..you gotta try. Elephants are too rare and special and this was a baby on top of that. It just did not deserve to be in this situation.
The main question we has was should we remain here, not move it and wait for the vet which was 15 hours away from arriving or move the elephant closer to headquarters before the vet arrives so that she could be treated straight away. I had talked to Nick Marx from Wildlife alliance and he was waiting for his Vet, Nim Ty, and was setting off from Phnom Penh at 4pm, with a six hour drive at best they would be here at 10pm at the earliest. It was a several hour walk also, longer with supplies, to get to the ele in a location that would have been very difficult to treat her in. I was confident that if Nim Ty could get to her and she was still alive then we were within a fighting chance.
Soon it was dark and after far too long the supplies I had requested turned up and I set out to put a drip into a baby elephant. To be honest it had been a while since I had put a drip into an elephant let alone a severely dehydrated baby elephant and while I managed to get some into her and she showed immediate signs of improvement, she kept moving and the drip kept failing.
Several more hours passed and eventually the tractor turned up with a trailer attached.
With 20/20 hindsight I think at this point we should have done things differently but last night in a forest that is full of loggers and hunters and wild elephants, with a sick elephant on hand that needed a vet NOW the decision we made was the obvious one. “Lets go people, lets get this elephant on the trailer and get her some help”. What wasn’t obvious was the option to stay, as we had no communication with the outside world and no certain info the vet was on the way and even if they knew where we where (lost in 750,000 acres of forest). The other option was that there was another road, a shorter route that was more dangerous for the ele but far shorter. When we discussed this other route with the tractor driver he was like….don’t worry we just go up a hill and down again and its all flat from there.
What followed was one of the hardest nights of my life as we battled to slowly move this tractor up hills (that felt like mountains and lower it down tracks that felt like ravines, as we dug it out of mud and pushed and levered it through territory that requires much more serious pieces of machinery. I spent most of my time making sure this little elephant was ok, airways/trunk were clear and she was dry and wrapped in her tarp as the rain poured and the mud consumed us. The people we were working with were a mix of local illegal loggers, mushroom gatherers, Ministry of Environment Rangers and some concerned locals and it was impressive to see how well people can pull together and accomplish seemingly impossible tasks when they put differences aside and focus on a common goal.
After 8 hours we reached the main road and tragically so close to the finish line, she just died. A striking thought then hit me. We don’t deserve elephants. Of all the terrible things that go on, I think snaring baby elephants has to be worst. It is just simply disgraceful. Our three hour journey to get this little ele to the vet had turned into 8 and we had failed. She died quietly on a little trailer, surround by a group of bedraggled mud covered strangers on the side of a little road in the middle of a massive forest far from her family. Why? Because some ignorant arseholes think that laying the animal equivalent of landmines is a good way to hunt.
So anyways after that we dropped her off at the Seima Headquarters and she will be soon be buried. All in all it is amazing to see what can get accomplished when different government bodies, ngos and general public work together. I chatted to a few people, compared notes and drove back exhausted and crashed into bed at 5am ready for a 6.30 start because I had a tour to lead and life carries on.
Anyways thanks for reading, I just had to get this off my chest. And lets hope that next time something like this happens the lessons we learned yesterday can be carried forwards to a more successful outcome.
Though I will be always thinking…..what if this and what if that had happened differently with the Schrodinger’s Elephant.
Jack Highwood – ELIE Deputy Director & EVP Founder