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On the Front Line in Africa to Save the Elephant

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With dust in my mouth earlier this morning, I could only marvel at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) team here in Tsavo working with the staff from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) as we take part in the first elephant collaring exercise since 1972.

We are for an important undertaking: to collar a small number of elephants and then track them to see where they migrate and when. By tracking both bulls and females, KWS and IFAW scientists can determine migratory patterns to better avoid elephant-human conflict, a key factor in the decline in elephant populations.

I watched entranced as the helicopter pilot circled in on the target -- aiming for an incredibly large bull elephant. It is vital to ensure a clean shot with the tranquilizer to avoid any unnecessary trauma to the animal.

Once the elephant slowly collapsed to the ground, the vet crew worked so fast, with KWS rangers standing by to ensure their safety. Otherwise, everyone's focus was on the health and safety of the elephant.

With his breathing coming steadily, the vets took blood samples, measurements and other scientific data. The collar was attached, fitted well, and checked and double checked to ensure everything was working as it should.

Before the revival jab was given, most of the crew retreated to the safety of their vehicles, watching carefully as the massive bull regained consciousness.

He was a little tentative at first, but soon was on his feet... and not happy at having his day so rudely interrupted.

This is conservation work on the front lines.

IFAW is committed to protecting elephants and works on a wide range of projects including this one - where we are collaring eight elephants to discover more about their movements.

By tracking these individuals, we can learn how to minimize human-elephant conflict through water-hole location, and securing and maintaining elephant corridors.

We can't save elephants if we don't work with those who share their environment.

And working with local communities throughout Africa and India is saving lives - both human and elephant.

Tomorrow will be another early start as we move to another location in the Park and another bull elephant -- all in a day's work for the team here -- but a once in a lifetime experience for me.

I know that the data we will collect from the collars of these elephants will help us make life-saving decisions.

And I also know that the sight of these magnificent animals in their natural habitat will inspire all of us to work even harder to protect them from the ever-increasing threats they face as their world shrinks around them.

This post first appeared on the International Fund for Animal Welfare's AnimalWire blog.

Learn more about Fred's trip here.

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