Elephant with tusks worth £10,000 trumps poachers four times (Kenya)


Jerome Starkey, The Times

Date Published

A magnificent bull elephant with tusks worth at least £10,000 on the illegal ivory market has survived four attempts by poachers to kill it.

In each case, it was hit with spears or poisoned arrows and vets managed to dart the creature, remove the metal barbs and clean the wounds before fatal infection could set in.

In the most recent incident, on February 13, the elephant, known as Mshale, was speared twice from above in the Tsavo National Park, Kenya.

Sometimes poachers set traps in the trees using weighted spears, said Nick Trent, a pilot with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, who helped to spot the wounded bull from the air. Occasionally they hid in the branches and waited for an elephant to pass beneath them. “Two more weeks without treatment and he would have been dead,” Mr Trent added.

Mshale, who is thought to be in his 40s, is one Tsavo’s last “tuskers” — elephants whose tusks weigh more than 100lb (45kg) on each side. Once prized by big-game hunters, their large tusks make them attractive to poachers, who supply thriving black markets in China, Vietnam and the rest of the world.

“He had two large and deep spear wounds which had to be cleaned. One had passed right through his ear deep into his neck, the other into his back,” said Rob Brandford, the trust’s UK-based director.

The elephant was under anesthetic for an hour while ground teams cleaned its wounds, before the vet from the Kenya Wildlife Service woke it up.

Mshale suffered the first attack in 2012, when it was struck by a poisoned arrow. The bull suffered two similar attacks in March and August last year. Elephants are often killed with automatic weapons, borrowed from corrupt police or rebel groups, but poachers in Kenya’s national parks are increasingly turning to poison, snares and spears because gunshots alert rangers to their presence.

“Because he has been treated three times before, and he knows where help lies, we believe Mshale came back despite his poor body condition — caused by his wound — so that he could be treated and saved one more time,” Mr Brandford added.

The number of elephants in the greater Tsavo conservation area, which is twice the size of Israel, fell from 35,000 in 1968 to just 11,000 at the most recent count, last month.

The latest attack on Mshale came 24 hours before Prince William and Prince Charles hosted a major international conference in London on how to tackle the illegal wildlife trade.

An elephant is poached in Africa every 15 minutes, according to the iWorry campaign. Conservationists warn they could be extinct in the wild by 2025.


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