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CSU Researcher Takes to Wilds of Africa to Help Elephant Populations
The elephants in the African nation of Cameroon lead a precarious existence. They are at once revered as an endangered species deserving protection, and yet despised by farmers whose crops are destroyed when elephants ransack their fields. Unfortunately for the elephant, such behavior, only encouraged by the encroachment of human populations, often leads to their death.
Dr. Horne made his fourth trip to Cameroon this summer, since starting with the group in 1998. As the team anesthesiologist, one of Dr. Horne’s challenges is to figure out dosage for tranquilizers and reversal agents. He also designed a ventilator specifically for elephants to maintain their health while the researchers take blood samples and attach the radio collar. Dr. Horne had participated in the collaring of 14 elephants without incident, so this summer’s terrifying encounter reminded him of just how risky it can be to undertake medical procedures on the world’s largest land mammals.
“After collaring 14 elephants, we thought the whole procedure was getting pretty routine,” Dr. Horne said. “The fifteenth elephant reminded us of just how dangerous this can be.”
Dr. Martin Tchamba, a leader of the Cameroon elephant research team, was severely injured during the collaring of a female elephant during Dr. Horne’s trip in June. The team had just completed the collaring process on the cow and injected her with a drug designed to reverse the tranquilizer.
“We give the elephants specific reversal agents and in a couple of minutes they usually roll up on their sternum, and then rise up on their front legs,” Dr. Horne said. “They then stand up on the back legs and walk away. This elephant was different. We gave her the reversal drug and she just laid there, and laid there and laid there. Finally, we were getting concerned about whether or not she was OK. We slowly approached and when Dr. Tchamba moved around to the side of her, she suddenly jumped up and charged him.”
The animal gored Dr. Tchamba twice -- once in the back near his kidneys, and the second time in his side, puncturing his abdomen. Fortunately for him, the elephant had one tusk that had broken off, otherwise he may not have survived the attack.
The trip was followed by four hours of surgery and, today, Dr. Tchamba is recuperating at home and expected to make a full recovery.
“I think we all respect the strength of these animals and were being very cautious,” said Dr. Horne. “But the attack on Dr. Tchamba reminded us that these procedures are never routine, and we can’t be too careful. I’m just very thankful that my colleague is going to be OK.”
To read more about the elephants of Cameroon and on-going work to protect the population, including the project with which Dr. Horne is involved, go to www.fieldtripearth.org and click on Elephants of Cameroon.