With more than 20,000 of Africa's elephants lost to the ivory trade last year alone, stories of brutal elephant slaughter by poachers have become heartbreakingly frequent. But the latest news to emerge from Kenya's Tsavo East National Park, one of the country's oldest and largest parks, is especially tragic. Local conservation organisation Tsavo Trust has confirmed the killing of Satao, one of the region's iconic 'great tuskers'.
Satao was no ordinary elephant. Boasting unique genes that produce tusks enormous enough to reach the ground, the legendary bull was one of only a few surviving members of his kind. Tragically, the same tusks that made him an awe-inspiring tourist attraction for the region's thousands of visitors also made him a very lucrative poaching target. Tsavo Trust confirms Satao was taken down by a poison arrow last month. Despite concerted efforts to protect him by monitoring his movements, stretched conservation resources, along with mounting poaching pressures, meant that poachers were able to slip through the cracks.
Rumours of the death had been circulating for weeks, but official confirmation came only after authorities were able to locate the carcass and positively identify it. Mutilated, and with the iconic tusks hacked off, all that was left for authorities to identify the remains were Satao's near-perfect ears.
The news comes just a day after CITES warned that entire elephant populations are dying out in many African countries due to poaching on a massive scale.
The Tsavo Trust has posted this moving farewell to Satao on its Facebook page:
With great sadness, we report the death of Satao, one of Tsavo’s most iconic and well-loved tuskers. This magnificent elephant was widely known in Tsavo East National Park, where he was observed with awe by many thousands of Tsavo’s visitors over the years. No longer will Tsavo and Kenya benefit from his mighty presence. Satao was shot dead by poisoned arrow on 30th May 2014. The arrow had entered his left flank and he stood no chance of survival. We spotted his carcass on 2nd June but to avoid any potential false alarms, we first took pains to verify the carcass really was his. Today it is with enormous regret that we confirm there is no doubt that Satao is dead, killed by an ivory poacher’s poisoned arrow to feed the seemingly insatiable demand for ivory in far off countries. A great life lost so that someone far away can have a trinket on their mantelpiece.
Tsavo is our home, our passion and our life’s work but, as the untimely death of Satao so tragically proves, we cannot win every time. Rest in peace, Old Friend, you will be missed. Rest assured the fight to protect Tsavo’s elephants goes on.
Top header image: Oliver B., Flickr