Saving Lives Large & Small: DSWT's Mobile Veterinary Units

As a conservationist and wildlife photographer, much of my work revolves around protecting the animals we love and the homes in which they live. In these environments, people are often the enemy; as poachers or intruders, humans do not always put the needs of animals ahead of their own. Luckily, organizations like our partner, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT), have dedicated their existence to ensuring the safety of the most vulnerable wildlife populations. While DSWT is renowned for its orphaned elephant program, a lesser known arm of its conservation work—the mobile veterinary program—is to thank for the rescue of countless wounded animals large and small. 

Remember our friend, Tiny Trumpeter? Luggard, an orphaned elephant who suffered debilitating gunshot wounds, was rescued by the veterinarians working with DSWT in conjunction with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). Because of the quick response and inspiring teamwork of the veterinary staff, Luggard fought through his injuries and is flourishing in his natural environment. 

Like Luggard, many animals are threatened each year due poaching, sickness, and injury. For years, DSWT worked to ensure the safety of native animals by keeping a team of veterinarians on call. However, as the territory and native populations grew, the team at DSWT began to realize that a remote unit could not keep up with all of the animals in need of help. Most of the veterinarians travelled in from Nairobi when DSWT sent news of an animal in distress, delaying care for many hours. 

In order to reach more animals and provide quicker care, DSWT launched Mobile Veterinary Units (MVUs). Covering much of central and southern Kenya, the MVUs have spent the last 11 years on a mission to preserve the biodiversity of the region by treating the wounded animals they encounter. These units are equipped with lifesaving medical supplies and are on call 365 days a year, ready to trek through unforgiving landscapes in search of animals—from aardvarks to zebras—in need of their help. 

Realizing that they could broaden their impact if they weren’t limited to land travel, DSWT launched the Sky Vet program in 2013 to access distant or treacherous areas. This fleet of aircraft is trained to fly at low altitudes, spotting at-risk animals from above and providing care to animals inaccessible to ground units. Last year, the combined efforts of these mobile teams saved the lives of more than 400 animals.

In addition to protecting threatened species, the MVUs serve a vital role in the surveillance and monitoring of trust lands. When animals fall victim to poachers, the MVUs are equipped to treat the most lethal spear, snare, and gunshot wounds. The work of these teams has also deterred poachers in the area, promoting the harmonious co-existence of man and animal. 

Witnessing compassionate individuals coming together to help vulnerable creatures truly makes me hopeful. With over 76% of MVU patients making full recovery, dying animals like Luggard now have a second chance to thrive. You can also support DSWT’s veterinarians by purchasing supplies through the Gift Shop or through your purchase of a print from Render Loyalty’s DSWT collection.


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