Matt is one of the Big Boys of the North. Not only does he sport some of the biggest tusks we’ve seen in the wild landscapes of the north of Kenya, he also ranges further than any other elephant we track. He moves all the way from the Matthews Range to the Tana River via Samburu. At nearly 50 years old he’s a rarity, in a time when most old males have fallen to poachers hungry for ivory.
“How he hides in the height of all this poaching and this madness we don’t know, but it’s very encouraging,” says David Daballen, Head of Field Operations for STE. “He’s a very calm guy, and only comes down to Samburu Reserve when he’s in full Musth. He obviously likes our girls more than the Matthews Range girls. We should be proud of that. Hopefully he’ll have calves that are as smart as he is.”
On the 18th August under the full moon – or blood moon, as we now know it to be –we got the email that always sets the skin prickling. Immobility Alert. These alerts are generated automatically by our servers through the Geo-Alerts program (designed by our tracking database manager, Jake Wall). Elephants typically rest only 2 hours at a time, and if a collar stops moving for four hours, an algorithm that is constantly scanning the positions of our tracked elephants sends an alert.
The first email came in at 22.03, and was followed by a string of others. The next morning a supercub aircraft was scrambled from Sarara camp up to the East of the Matthews Range, flown by their manager Jeremy Bastard. On his first flight he saw several of the bulls that Matt spends time with, but not Matt.
NRT ground teams soon reached Matt’s last GPS position and found lots of human footprints in the area. But the fresh carcass that we all dreaded them finding at was nowhere to be found. They searched, but could find no trace of Matt. That afternoon Jeremy took off again for a second flight, and reported seeing an elephant that looked like Matt but without a tracking collar. Jeremy snapped a photo and later David confirmed the sighting. Like several large bulls before him, Matt had managed to rip off his collar.
We all breathed a sigh of relief, but had to move fast in order to fit another collar to Matt before he disappeared again. Meanwhile we watched Google Earth with fascination when his collar got up and started moving on its own, before finally stopping 500 metres later. STE’s ground team eventually found it discarded in the dust, the heavy counterweight cut off with a knife. Herders had evidently found the collar and carried it away.