Unearthing Tim: The Battle to Rescue an Amboseli Icon

Natural World Safaris

05 Dec 2018

Elephant extraction 101

There are fewer than 30 "big tuskers" left in the world – elephants whose gigantic tusks reach almost to the ground. A resident of Amboseli National Park in Kenya, Tim is one of Africa’s largest and most magnificent tuskers, and thought by some to be the largest elephant on earth.

Tim was involved in a headline-grabbing incident in 2016 when he wandered into a conservationists’ camp with a large spear sticking out of his head. Tim knew he needed help, and also knew where to find it. Two years prior, he had survived another spear attack after vets in Amboseli removed the weapon and treated the wound – which had turned septic – with antibacterial clay.

It seems that an elephant never forgets, as Tim again sought help from humans after his second spearing incident. This time, Amboseli's most famous elephant was sedated by a tranquiliser dart and treated by a vet from the Kenya Wildlife Service, before quickly recovering and heading back into the bush.

Tim was in trouble again recently, but his sticky situation meant that heading off to find help wasn’t an option. On Monday, the Big Life Foundation – which protects over 1.6 million acres of wilderness in the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro ecosystem – received a report of a big bull elephant stuck in deep mud at Kimana Swamp, about 20 kilometres east of Amboseli.

Tim was up to his neck in mud and fully immobilised. If he hadn’t been spotted, death would have been close at hand. Luckily, the local community reacted quickly and Big Life rangers were at the scene as soon as they were able. However, the outlook wasn’t good. There was no way for a vehicle of any kind to get close enough to the swamp, either to pull Tim out or to dig around him. In order to free Tim, the rangers had to start by loosening the mud, which they did by knocking a hole in a concrete agricultural furrow upstream, allowing water to flow in.

Soon, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) were on their way to provide assistance. A KWS tractor began the journey to Kimana Swamp, while the DSWT team in Nairobi began stitching together a 300-metre-long tow strap that could hold the weight of the 6-ton elephant. Vets from both organisations also reached the scene to monitor how Tim was doing.

After the tow strap arrived on a private chartered flight, the team managed to attach the tow straps to Tim by slipping them underneath his head. The plan was in motion – but the tractor’s wheels weren’t. More horsepower was needed, and two Land Cruisers from Big Life were called in to assist with the pulling.

Eventually, after 10 hours of work in the baking sun and a number of broken straps, Tim was pulled out of the deepest section of mud and onto firmer ground. The ordeal was not over there, however. The tusker’s exertions had left him too weak to stand, and the vehicles continued to pull in an attempt to get Tim to stand.

Finally, in the last light of day, Tim stood up, shrugged off his tow straps and began to make his way back to the Kimana Sanctuary. The rangers stayed with him until 11pm, ensuring that he was safely back on protected land, before leaving him alone to recuperate. In the days since, the team at Big Life have been keeping a close eye on Tim, who appears none the worse for wear following his dice with death. He may be over 50, but it seems this bachelor still has a few years left in him yet!

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All images courtesy of Big Life Foundation.

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