I was tracking with Tony one morning & left the vehicle to follow up elephant tracks. There was a small herd of them, moving east down the Mohlabetsi towards Xikulu Dam. The tracks were of a group of males but one set were strange – they went like this… left front foot, left back foot, circle, right back foot ….!! These puzzled me as it looked like the elephant had a bucket on its right front foot & this was leaving a circle print on the ground.
I decided to follow them up & eventually came across the herd. I then set about watching them so I could find the cause of the tracks. After a while, there it was – a young bull elephant, wearing a tire around his ankle like a bracelet. Every time he picked up his foot, the tire slipped down onto his foot, so as he put his foot down, the inside rim of the tire left an impression on the ground.
I stayed with the herd for a while to see how the elephant managed with his new piece of jewellery. He had to walk by lifting his front leg around in a wide arc & this was slowing him down but he was still able to keep up with the herd. He also was playing a lot with the tire with his trunk, trying to get it off, unsuccessfully.
I went back to the Lodge with my story & it was decided to monitor the situation for 24 hours to see whether the elephant could get the tire off himself.
The next morning, I went out tracking & there was the circle on the ground! It was decided to call in a vet to take off the bracelet – our rule in the reserve is “if nature has caused the problem, then nature must solve it. However, if man has caused the problem, then we must fix it.”
That afternoon, I had tracked the elephants, who were now a small group of 4 bulls, into an area east of Bush Lodge. The helicopter, carrying in the vet with a dart gun, was given the location, while we waited in Landrovers along with our very interested guests.
We watched the vet lean out of the helicopter, and then saw it veer away, once the dart had been fired. The next moment, 3 elephants came racing out of the thick bush & the helicopter circled over the remaining one. As soon as the signal came that the elephant was down, we moved in & located the bull – but no tire around the leg!! We all questioned each other about the bulls that ran away & were sure that none of them had a bracelet.
Then, the helicopter landed & the vet came running over to tell us that, as the elephant was stumbling around, it stood on the tire just before it fell over & ripped it off. I started tracking & soon found the spoor of the tire as it rolled away. I located it under a bush a short distance away & brought it back to pose with it next to the elephant, along with my colleague, Quentin.
The vet checked the elephant & revived it & it headed off to join up with its mates, none of the worse for wear!
– Hamilton Ndlovu