See link for photos and Twitter feed snapshots
Although the slaying of Cecil the Lion happened in early July, the story received global media coverage only this past weekend, setting off a firestorm of controversy — especially once the hunter who shot the lion with a bow and arrow was revealed to be a wealthy American tourist.
But on Monday night, July 28, rangers at Tsavo West National Park in Kenya reported hearing gunshots and immediately began a search throughout the park for the source of the shots. On Tuesday, rangers found five mutilated elephant carcasses in an area of the massive park — which, along with its Tsavo East counterpart, covers about four percent of Kenya’s land area — that borders on neighboring Tanzania.
The elephants, who belong to an increasingly rare breed of giant “tuskers” that no longer exists outside of Kenya, are believed to be a family consisting of an adult female, who was likely the mother of the four younger, “sub-adult” elephants also found massacred. A Nairobi, Kenya-based radio station, Nation FM, posted an aerial photo of the carnage on its Twitter feed.
“It’s just devastating,” Paul Gathitu, of the Kenya Wildlife Service, told the Washington Post. “It took us completely by surprise.”
The elephants were all missing their tusks and were found in pools of blood and skin that had been hacked away.
Kenyan authorities arrested two suspected members of the poaching gang believed responsible for the elephant slaughter. Security forces in the country have now mounted a manhunt for other members of the gang, who may have escaped over the border into Tanzania, possibly with help from Kenyan co-conspirators.
“They are believed to have used motorbikes to escape with the tusks. Fresh blood stained axe, axe handle, shoes and a hack-saw were found,” said a statement by the Kenya Wildlife Service.
The family of elephants were the latest of an estimated 820 killed by poachers since 2012 in Kenya.
Last year, the most famous giant tusker elephant in Kenya, Satao — who was believed to be the largest elephant in the world — was killed by poachers.
The killing of Satao, who is pictured above, came just two weeks after another of Kenya’s most beloved elephants, Mountain Bull, was killed by poachers who covet the ivory in the elephant’s tusks — ivory which they can sell for about $45 per pound to traders who resell the ivory for thousands, mainly in Asia.
While the horrific slaying of Cecil the Lion has set off a justified outpouring of grief, the threat to the lion population is believed to come primarily from environmental destruction caused by expanding human habitation. But illegal killings by ivory poachers is the main force driving the elephant population toward extinction.