An abrupt end to the jumbo life of iconic bull elephant, Edison


Tanya Onserio/Save the Elephants

Date Published

We are deeply saddened to report that one of our best-known and most beloved bull elephants, Edison, has died. Edison’s carcass was found in Westgate Conservancy in Samburu, northern Kenya. We suspect his untimely death could be yet another tragic outcome of the rising cases of Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) across Africa. Investigations into the cause of death are still continuing. Edison’s death marks the third loss of one of our Samburu study bull elephants within the span of just under a year. In December, bull elephants Sarara and Yeagar were both killed in conflict with herders. 

Edison in Samburu National Reserve © Alice Clark/Save the Elephants

Edison was estimated to be approximately 37 years old and in the prime of his life at the time of his death. Born into the Royals family and known to our researchers since he was a teenager, Edison was a feisty wild bull and quite the mama’s boy too. Most bulls venture out for a life of their own when they are around 10-12 years old but when Edison dispersed, he kept coming back to visit his family on and off for the next couple of years.

Edison’s fearless, spirited nature was well-known to many. He was never one to shy away from confrontation, even challenging older and much larger bull elephants like the late Matt – then Samburu’s biggest tusker who died in 2019. During one dramatic stand-off between the two-testosterone-fueled bulls in 2016, Save the Elephants’ founder, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, got caught in the middle and found himself face to face with Edison who charged his vehicle. 

Matt, Samburu’s biggest tusker, who faced off with Edison in Samburu National Reserve © Sarah Jacobson/Save the Elephants

Save the Elephants has been observing and studying the lives of elephants for more than three decades, gaining fundamental insights into how they behave and make decisions. By analysing the data from Edison’s GPS tracking collar, STE researchers were surprised to discover that while this adventurous bull spent much of his time travelling north to far flung places such as Kipsing, Westgate, Kalama and Ol Donyiro, he would  always return home to Samburu National Reserve at full speed when in musth to find mates. 

Edison was collared by our team multiple times after his collar either dropped off or the batteries ran out – GPS collars only have a lifespan of around three years. While most  collaring operations proceed without a hitch, there’s one incident which is forever etched in our minds. 

Our Director of Field Operations, David Daballen, remembers running for the hills during one particular collaring mission when  Edison, an enormous bull by then, suddenly awoke just as he was about to be fitted with the tracking device. The whole team, including the vet, had to abandon what they were doing and run for safety. It turned out that the anaesthesia hadn’t fully kicked in and Edison had momentarily woken up. Fortunately , Edison dropped back to sleep and the team were able to complete the mission successfully.  

Edison’s last collaring in April 2023 was just as nail biting. Edison went down on his chest, the worst position for an elephant to be in as they risk suffocating. This time, the STE collaring team were able to push him onto his side and he was again successfully fitted with his new collar.

STE researchers, including David Daballen (above in this picture ) recollaring Edison in Samburu National Reserve in April 2023 © Gilbert Sabinga/Save the Elephants

Says David Daballen, “Losing elephants like Edison, whom we’ve observed throughout their entire lives, is always a profound loss. Their actions and interactions offer valuable insights into elephant society. By closely tracking and monitoring these intelligent beings, we also gain a deeper understanding of their distinct personalities and characteristics. Edison, in particular, was a bold, maybe even an audacious elephant, unafraid to assert himself, as demonstrated when he once challenged the venerable elephant elder, Matt. We will sorely miss his presence in the reserve and following his remarkable adventures.”

Watch the epic confrontation between Edison and Matt below.