A tribute to two iconic friends


David Daballen, Director of Field Operations

Date Published

Sarara at STE’s research center in Samburu National Reserve © Jane Wynyard/Save the Elephants

Our hearts are heavy at the deaths of Sarara and Yeager. For those of us living in Save the Elephants’ Samburu research camp, the loss is even harder. For decades, both curious and loveable elephants were part of our herd in Samburu, northern Kenya.

We have fond memories of Sarara and Yeager snoring loudly outside our tents, using our trees as scratching posts, swimming exuberantly in the river, and walking off with our tracking collars. We were so used to their looming presence that our Samburu research camp now feels eerily quiet without them.

While we love the fact that Weird Tusk and Malaso have started visiting, seemingly adopting the same behaviour as Sarara and Yeager, it’s not the same as seeing our old friends who visited almost every day. Their antics captivated everyone in camp – visitors and film crews alike.

Yeager munching on acacia pods at STE’s research center in Samburu National Reserve © Robbie Labanowski/Save the Elephants

When Sarara was speared a year ago, needing urgent medical attention, we were all completely shocked. But he recovered quickly, gaining enough strength to make it through Kenya’s crippling drought, only to die at the hands of humans a year later.

We could scarcely believe it when herders reported that they’d found another carcass just two weeks later at the edge of Buffalo Springs. I went to visit the carcass and was shocked to see it was my old friend, Yeager. Yeager, the stately gentleman who first introduced Sarara to ‘camp life’ when he was just a youngster, had also been killed in his prime. Named after the legendary US test pilot Chuck Yeager, he was one of the oldest and biggest elephants in the reserve.

At the time that Sarara and Yeager were killed, large numbers of wild elephants were congregating to the south of Buffalo Springs National Reserve enjoying the fresh, lush grass that had come following the desperately-needed rains. We suspect the bulls came into conflict with herders moving their livestock through the same area. It’s a tragic state of affairs that is happening far too often these days.

Human-elephant conflict is a serious problem in northern Kenya. The prolonged drought has only made things worse and despite the recent rains in December/January, the land is almost barren again which means that competition for resources like water and food is still high. Our rapid response units are kept awake night after night trying to push bull elephants out of nearby towns and responding to urgent requests from communities who have lost their water or food supply to elephants.

But, all hope is not lost. Local communities living with elephants continue to benefit from STE’s Human Elephant Coexistence Toolbox – a ‘recipe’ book of 80+ deterrent methods for keeping elephants at bay. A major focus for our team this year is to ensure that those living with elephants, particularly in conflict hotspots, are empowered with the tools needed to peacefully coexist.

Despite our deep sadness, the deaths of Sarara and Yeager have motivated us to work even harder to stop the killings and foster harmony between elephants and humans. We will always honour their memories and continue to monitor and protect their families and friends – the wild African elephants of the north.

Our beloved friend, Sarara, in the prime of his life © Robbie Labanowski/Save the Elephants