Changing Planet

Watch Wild Elephant Awaken After Being Saved From Poison Arrow

(c) Kristin Davis
Actress and philanthropist Kristin Davis joined the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in 2009, after she traveled to Kenya to go on safari but instead found herself trekking into the wilderness to save an orphaned baby elephant. (Photo courtesy Kristin Davis)

By Kristin Davis

The last time I was in Kenya, flying in one of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s (DSWT) aerial surveillance airplanes, I was on the way to see one of the most tragic sights I’ve ever seen in my life.

Two massive elephants had been poached near the Tiva River, in Tsavo National Park. Like all poaching victims, their deaths had been torturous.

The poachers had climbed up the electrical tower nearby and cut thick cable from it. Then they’d set up wire snares using the cable. They tied one snare around two huge trees, and when a male elephant had walked in, his foot had been trapped.

The massive elephant was left circling the tree endlessly trying to free himself, until he became so weak that that poachers could move in and hack the tusks off his face. The circle of destruction around the tree presented a terrible picture of the end of this glorious creature’s life.

Sadder still was the coffee pot and the ashes of a fire just out of reach of the elephant’s circle of distress. There, the poachers had sat, drinking coffee and watching, waiting until they could plunder his ivory and hack away at his tusks.

The scene of cruel deaths like his has haunted me in the years since.

Now it’s early 2015, and I’m in Kenya again, visiting the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. To blunt the ongoing poaching threat, the trust, working with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), has mobilized nine Anti-Poaching Teams. Air support has been expanded to include a helicopter to work with a rapid response rescue team.

I was lucky to go out on a KWS/DSWT mission to treat a huge bull, probably around 40 years old. This bull had been seen during their aerial surveillance patrol with a large abscess on his side.

We flew to where the elephant had last been seen, and with the help of one of our spotter planes, we found him.

With air support, the ground team encouraged the mighty elephant to move to a clear spot where he could be darted. The logistics of each vet operation are different and fluid. All participants need to communicate and respond quickly.

It’s incredibly impressive that the teams are able to find wounded elephants, treat them fast, and get out of the way before the elephant is revived. All this action happens in 100-degree heat.

The abscess on the lower part of the elephant’s side was as big as me, if I curled into a ball. A tiny incision was made, and KWS’s Dr. Michael Njoroge removed the rotted tissue. Lodged in the necrotic flesh was an arrow head tipped with poison.

This elephant would have faced certain slow death if he’d not been found and treated.

As we were leaving the scene in the helicopter, I was able to film the big bull waking up. After some effort, he got to his feet and turned to face us, lifting his trunk as if to say, “Go away and stop bothering me!” Or maybe, ” Thank you.”

VIDEO: See elephant’s gesture following its treatment.

We will never know, and it doesn’t matter. That elephant will live on in the wild, at least for now.

The poaching continues—the very next day Dr. Njoroge successfully treated a similar case—but now we have the tools to fight back to save these majestic creatures.

I was filled with pride and gratitude as we flew away from the recovering elephant. I dream of a day when we won’t need a rapid response aerial team to help the elephants. But in the meantime I’m privileged to be a part of the work of the DSWT and KWS.

And I’m thankful to be able to share an uplifiting story because of the support we’ve gotten from so many people in fighting for the future of elephants. We will fight for them every day until the world puts a stop to the demand for ivory.

An active philanthropist, Kristin Davis has had the honor of dedicating her time and efforts to serving as a Patron to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Davis joined the trust in 2009, after she traveled to Kenya to go on safari but instead found herself trekking into the wilderness to save an orphaned baby elephant. After the trust was alerted, the baby elephant was transported to the nursery. Davis is dedicated to the mission to give orphaned elephants a chance to heal, thrive, and eventually be introduced back into the wild—and to protect their habitat and ecosystem. She is also dedicated to inspiring change and creating awareness to stop the illegal poaching for ivory through campaigning and as Executive Producer of a new conservation film, Gardeners of Eden.

More Elephant Photos, News, and Features

  • Carol Keith

    My heartfelt Thanks to all involved and to the DSWT for your never ending fight for these majestic,iconic animals.I foster 2 but am saving to help others.May you all stay safe and know that you are appreciated the world over.Never give up,always go forward!

  • Laurel Einloth-Brescia

    Dear Kristin,

    Thank you so much for sharing this story and wonderful video. I just fostered Barsilinga in December (Christmas gift to myself and DSWT) and I’m so happy to be part of the DSWT family. Your work is incredible. Thanks you for helping the wonderful creatures. I hope to visit the DSWT someday.


  • Patricia

    I would like to believe that he said “thank you guys”! 🙂

  • Dunja

    Amazing story! Thank you team and Kristin Davis

  • Cindy Munger

    I feel like I spend my life searching the internet for stories such as this. I have always wanted to help more than I do now. I wonder if the people know how lucky they are to be able to help….Oh just to touch or witness one of these majestic souls…….

  • Donna Romero

    Kristin, I am so in awe of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and all the good they do. I have adopted many babies, and I support them as much as I can! Thank YOU so much for using your fame and fortune to support this wonderful cause! You were always my favorite in SATC because you seemed kind! I respect you even more now! Thanks again to both you and DSWT for helping these magnificent and intelligent beings!

  • coe lewis

    I am cofounding a wildlife conservation foundation in Africa and I would very much appreciate support, guidance, advice from all who help fight against poaching. national geographic, if you could help me or connect me with likeminded people….Please reach out to me. thank you!

  • Melinda Mueller

    I have 38 foster babies at the Nursery, Ithumba, Voi, and Umani. I am so grateful that there IS a DSWT, and for the incredible work they are doing not only for our babies, but for the wild populations in Kenya. And I’m grateful to you, Kristin, for being such an ardent supporter of, and voice for, our Trust, and our elephants.

  • Jim PARKER

    I think it is pretty clear that the elle was indicating to you that he was okay now and thank you. . .. .

  • Ponsi

    Sincere thank you for your efforts and dedicated work. Gratitude to all. Keep up your good work.

  • Stephanie Christman

    Kristin thanks so much for everything you do for all of these magnificent Elephants.

  • harlie

    how this is amazing you don’t find very many strong animals anymore!!!! but to the people I think im speaking for the elephant and my self thx and great job!!:):):)<3

  • Walker

    I absolutely despise these gutless, senseless cowardly poachers period! I feel like hunting down these poachers myself and destroying each and every one of them. What a bunch of pieces of s•it they are. How in the world can humanity be sooo doggone: Cruel, Selfish and exploit these magnificent innocent creatures who are only doing what nature intended. This is a complete Crime Against Nature Period!!!!! Have a lot of good people out there who truly give a damn about animals and when I read stories like this it pisses me off. These animals are defenseless against humans! Most people/ organizations out there will speak out for animals and would love to destroy each and every one of these BASTARDS( POACHERS) who put a price tag on an animals head strictly for profit and that’s something that cannot and will not be tolerated for human profit. What a f•ckin disgrace! Sometimes it makes me sad to be human when I read stories like this!!! We must all do something fast before all of natures precious animals become extinct!!!!!!!!

  • Yihan Li

    Elephants are innocent. But we have to make lives of those poachers easier so they won’t poach elephants any more. I think this is the fundamental way to solve thise problem.

  • Sandra Neuhuber

    How could anybody do this to these wonderful creatures? I am so saddened by the lengths that man will go to for greed.

  • Mahmoud Fathy

    Nice and well done
    We should respect the animals right in life and don’t kill them hazardous

  • Rana Kalita

    We are impressed. Tonnes of thanks for your kind deed to the wildlife. I am from the land of world famous One Horned Rhino and Tea (Assam). We are also in grief for the unabated Rhino Horn poaching and Ivory Poaching in our land. We are fighting to curb this menace in ”Kaziranga National Park” Assam since long back. Last year it shook the mankind, when poachers started axe away horns when this gentle animal is alive and left to death…. The story in Kaziranga getting worse day by day…… We extend hand for moral support from all over the globe to keep our fight against Poaching on…..

  • Amal Nathan

    Nice to see videos like this. Outstanding performance by the team.

  • Anushree Roy

    Poaching has always been a continuous threat to our wildlife and ecological balance. Thanks to the entire team for doing such a wonderful job in saving our natural heritage.

  • Junaid Afridi

    you guys are doing an amazing job, all the hard work sweat is nothing when you get such an overwhelming reaction from the elephant or any animal itself. i would like to be involved with such projects and would be glad to be part of culture where i can make a small difference to the life of these great creatures.

  • A Borrego

    That was definitely a “Thank You”

  • Olu Ogah

    You guys rocks! Thank you.

  • yandrie vacacela

    Amazing efort to save this bull elephant . At the End he Said Thanks!!! by noding this head towards you! Amzing video . Tnx 4 Sharing…

  • Olu Ogah

    You guy’s rocks DSWT.

  • Jan Karreman

    I wish I could make a difference myself. Thx for doing so much for these animals. They are creatures as humans and need to be protected. Nature is so beautiful and only cruel people don’t like this. I support all the way

  • Theresa McNair

    Thank you for sharing this and for the wonderful work you do. It was amazing seeing the gratitude of the bull elephant. Please keep up the great work you all do.

  • Shaikha Al Falasi

    yes he is a very strong elephant indeed , i wish that it is possible to have an elephant as a pet

  • Apple

    I wish that the elephant can have a good life.

  • S.Vaidyanathan

    Thanks for saving such a innocent animal from poaching

  • Jaime

    No doubt about it. That elephant was definitely saying thank-you. And from the rest of us, thank-you, as well!

  • Charles Elam

    The poachers should be hunted down and punished to the fullest extent of the law. I applaud your efforts to protect these beautiful creatures.

  • Tumi Ngema

    you guys are Super Heroes, earths humble guide…….. I remain humble

  • Dalal

    Thank you for sharing this video.
    Thank you for helping these wonderful animals.

  • Prakash Nayak

    That was definitely a Huge “THANK YOU” to you guys. And a BIG Thank You from me too. You were absolutely great, I salute you.

  • Prakash Nayak

    That was positively a Huge “THANK YOU” from the Maharaj.
    Bless you guys. Thank you.

  • Jose

    Son seres vivos tan hermosos pero hay que acabar con tanta maldad y erradicar de una vez por toda la compra del Marfil, porque de ahí es que comienza todo, si no lo compran no hay matanza de Elefantes.

  • Carol murray

    Thank God for people like ya,ll. Thank you all!

  • Neesha Santoo

    He clearly said god blessings be unto you and thank you!

  • Janis Specht

    My God , I don’t understand how cruel, sick, demented , unfeeling human beings can torture and kill such beautiful innocent animals and live with themselves. How Horrible!!!!

  • Katrina Emory

    thank u for doing that

  • T-Hoy

    Did it occur to anyone that sticking around to see the animal wake up is doing irreparable harm? This damage was caused by people, familiarizing the elephant with people just encourages it to ignore them, leading to a poisoned dart in the side…

  • Mattana

    I do believe that he said “Thank you Thank you”

  • Lori

    Wow, she actually said Thank You. Thank you for saving her.

  • Lisa J

    Amazing! Elephants are intelligent creatures and this bull was most definitely gracious! So am I!

  • Remi Zagari

    Poor honey

  • Jon Welch

    If any thing he was saying LEAVE ME THE ( F ) ALONE

  • Tina Muyle

    I am so happy that there are people like you all, who rescued this beautifull animal. There are no words enough to say thank you!! Wish it was not needed for you to do this, wish people would not hurt these animals, but these are just wishes; And as long as there are humans, these animals will always be in danger. But then there are some great humans like you all to save them when you can!!! Thank God for people like you all!!!!

  • Harlan

    Elephants will survive and thrive , little by little we are getting strong in order to keep the species safe , we must keep the good work and united we all can restore the natural world !
    good vibes to wildlife .

  • K.V.Muralidharan

    A great work. Thanks for sharing.Three cheers to your dedication

  • evert

    It’s like he say thanks.
    Godbles the people doing good job

  • Morgan

    He must have some deepreat anmal guts to save a great animal. P.S There my favorite animal! 😉

  • David Christen

    Thank you so very much! You guys are rock stars and making a HUGE difference in the world!
    The bull definitely saluted you!

  • Beeg Noyz

    Animal cannot speak , but surely can express gratitude very vividly, Very moving video

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