A Quiet Christmas Darkened only by the Fall of Pompeii


Trezer Oguda, Media and Communications officer

Date Published

This time last year the fresh carcasses of at least 26 elephants that had been killed for their ivory scarred the landscape surrounding Samburu National Reserve in Kenya, where Save the Elephants has its research base. A year on, and these numbers are a distant and terrible memory. Thanks to the response by the web of anti-poaching forces formed by the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Northern Rangelands Trust, the County Councils and Save the Elephants, the number of poached elephants plummeted to only two in the second half of 2013

For even one elephant to lose its life for its ivory is traumatic for those who know them well. On Wednesday evening, 11th December 2013, Jerenimo Leperei, research assistant at Save the Elephants, was out in the field for the routine Long Term Monitoring (LTM) rounds. As he drove around the dusty Samburu National Park expanse recording elephant sightings, he saw a young bull he had become quite accustomed to in the past year. Pompeii. He was around 17 years old and his tusks, not very big, had a characteristic cracked tip. He stood grazing calmly as the sun set in the distance. Jerenimo recorded the time. It was 6:40pm. Pompeii was the last bull Jerenimo saw before returning to camp.

Forty minutes later, a distress call. Rangers monitoring the park had heard gunshots. Jerenimo was called in to help in the ground response. It was almost half past 7, night had fallen and visibility was poor. The rangers proceeded on foot to avoid alerting whoever had fired the shots. Their five-hour search only led to the discovery of a young bull who had died of natural causes. They recovered his tusks and having seen and found nothing seemingly related to the gunshots, the team decided to resume the search in the morning.

In the pre-dawn light Thursday morning, the team was out with sniffer dogs. It wasn’t long before they found the scene of the crime. He lay lifeless, the bloody face and hacked out tusk cavities, a brutal testament to the destructive force of the ivory trade. He had gunshot wounds, and it seemed clear to the team that the elephant was a victim of the previous night’s gunshots. To Jerenimo, this death was unreal. It was Pompeii, the bull he’d been alongside the previous evening.

The sniffer dogs followed the scent of the poachers across the river but eventually reached a dead end, and fresh car tracks in the sand. The trail was now cold. And as Kenya prepared to celebrate and usher in 50 years of independence on Jamuhuri Day (12th December 2013), the curtain was drawn on Pompeii’s life, at a time when an elephants’ mere survival into adulthood is increasingly uncertain.

This sad event reminds us that even one elephant killed to turn its teeth into trinkets is too many, and spurs us to redouble our efforts. Thanks to the generosity of the Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation and the Bodhi Tree Foundation, STE’s anti-poaching and community outreach programmes are paying off. A new Wildlife Act in Kenya has been passed and is already seeing stiffer penalties and fines being imposed for wildlife crime. We can only hope that the results will be felt throughout the year as Save the Elephants joins hands with other conservation partners to secure a future for the African elephant.