By Christine Dell’Amore
One of Kenya‘s most adored elephants, who had giant tusks and was known as Satao, has been killed for his ivory—a “monumental” loss, experts say.
Poachers shot the bull elephant with a poisoned arrow in Tsavo East National Park, waited for him to die a painful death, and hacked off his face to remove his ivory, according to the Tsavo Trust, an area nonprofit that works with wildlife and local communities.
Satao was particularly appealing to poachers as a tusker, a type of male elephant with a genetic makeup that produces unusually large tusks. His tusks were more than 6.5 feet (2 meters) long.
“Kenya as a country contains probably the last remaining big tuskers in the world,” said Paula Kahumbu, a Kenya-based wildlife conservationist with the nonprofit WildlifeDirect. (Read Kahumbu’s essay on Satao’s death in the Guardian.)
The elephant was killed May 30, but members of the trust announced his death on June 13, after verifying the carcass’s identity.
“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,” the Tsavo Trust said in a statement.
“A great life lost so that someone far away can have a trinket on their mantelpiece.” (Read “Blood Ivory” in National Geographic magazine.)
“Massive and Hostile” Expanse
Satao died despite his high profile, which brought special protection.
“It’s also a reflection on the situation in Kenya that even in a place where all efforts are made to protect the elephants, it’s still very difficult to protect them,” Kahumbu said. (Watch video: “Elephants in Crisis.”)
For the past 18 months, the Tsavo Trust and the Kenya Wildlife Service have been monitoring Satao’s movements by air and on foot. “When he was alive, his enormous tusks were easily identifiable, even from the air,” according to the Tsavo Trust.
Satao generally kept to a predictably small area with four other bull elephants. But in search of food following big rains, he had recently moved into a boundary of the park that’s a known poaching hot spot, especially for hunters with poisoned arrows.