Africa, an elephant calf, a plastic ring, and us

With our eco blogs on Tecorra we aim to bring you facts which are backed by published facts from scientific papers so that you can make informed choices about products. Those blogs aren’t our personal opinion, they’re not based on hypotheticals, they are objective, solid and proven and we think this is crucial when trying to convince you why certain products are better for the environment and more ethical.

However, personal experiences are just as important to share. By sharing them, we can convey emotions, subjective opinions and thoughts. By sharing our personal stories of events that touched our hearts, made us passionate about nature and care for our planet, we can connect on a personal level. And when that happens, hopefully we can provoke others to take action towards sustainable living. Plus - it's a much easier read than a load of facts :) So here is a story that touched us and is one of the many reasons we aim to live sustainably.

It was April 2016 in sunny South Africa. Izzy had just started her fieldwork in a national park there a few months earlier. It had been a bad wet season with very little rain, and had it not been for a downpour in early March, many animals would likely have starved. Winter was coming.  

Driving through the reserve searching for elephants, a call came in over the radio by a ranger: an elephant calf had been sighted with something wrapped around its trunk. A young calf. The thing? A plastic ring.

Elephant with plastic around trunk

As the national park used to be farmland, it’s likely the plastic was missed when the land was cleared many years ago. And plastic, as we all know, doesn't just dissolve, it persists. We've probably all seen pictures of animals, such as birds and most famously turtles, stuck in plastic rings. It's upsettingly common. Pictures are awful to look at, but they are still only pictures. Already taken, already happened, no personal connection…

This calf was different. It wasn’t a picture; it was right there. And being a solid piece of plastic stuck on its trunk, the ring would continue to cut into the flesh as the calf grew, causing pain and eventually leading to the loss of the trunk and most likely the elephant’s death.

Normally, park staff and researchers don’t interfere with the lives of wild animals. But in this case, the damage was caused by humans in the first place and the decision was made to intervene. So that’s what we did. Izzy spent a full day in the field, following the calf’s herd to be able to find them again the next day, when the plastic ring was to be removed.

You may think that there wasn't too much harm done overall, given that we were able to interfere. However, reality is much more difficult than that. To get the plastic off, we had to get a helicopter and a qualified vet to come to the reserve (which is expensive and conservation is not a field where money is abundant). The vet darted the calf from the helicopter and then the helicopter had to fly extremely close to the ground in order to drive the rest of the herd away. As an elephant cow protecting her calf is unpredictable, we had to get her and the rest of the herd to a save distance. If the mother had refused to leave, we would have had to dart her, too. Luckily they retreated to a safe distance.

tranquillised elephant calf

The plastic ring had clearly been stuck for a long time. The trunk had continued to grow, causing pressure on the edges of the plastic and cutting into the trunk. It was awful to see. Removing the plastic was quickly done, the calf got a shot of antibiotics and the wound was treated. Then the drugs were reversed, to wake up the calf. After that we all had to wait and see whether the calf would be successful in reuniting with his herd. Alone and by itself, he was a walking target for predators. 

After a bit of stumbling and squealing, the calf reunited with his herd. He was greeted by his mum and siblings, aunts and cousins (they were not happy to see us in the background, so we kept a good distance from them; a car really isn’t much protection from an angry elephant, let alone a full herd).

This story had a happy ending. It was not easy; it was risky and there were many things that could have gone wrong. Many people put their lives at risk. As did the elephant, unknowingly. 

So this is not science, not a statistic; it's a personal story that we often think about. And that makes us realise how many animals worldwide won't be able to receive this kind of help. It's a story that contributed to our passion of living more stustainably, made us consider our own choices, and motivates us to make products that aren't just good for people, but for this planet and all other life we share it with.


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