“In both life and death, big bulls like Tim and Matt not only fire our imaginations, but they are also stark reminders that the last giants on Earth are quickly disappearing and we must do all we can to protect their future generations.” – Founder of Save the Elephants, Iain Douglas-Hamilton
Wednesday, February 5, 2020: Save the Elephants is saddened to hear of the loss of Tim the iconic great tusker who died, apparently of natural causes, in Amboseli earlier yesterday.
Tim’s death comes just four months after the loss of one of Kenya’s other well known elephant elders, Matt, who also died of natural causes aged 52. Tim’s body has been taken by Kenya Wildlife Service from the Mada area of Amboseli where he was found, to the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi where he will be preserved for education and exhibition purposes.
Tim (aged 50) was one of the last remaining great tuskers in Kenya. He was a gregarious elephant, popular with the tourists though less so with the farmers who lived around Amboseli owing to his notorious crop-raiding habits.
Sadly many attempts were made on Tim’s life as result of his habit of raiding farms in the vicinity of Amboseli National Park. He was speared three times. In February last year, Tim nearly lost his life after becoming trapped in a muddy swamp but was rescued by a team from Big Life Foundation, Kenya Wildlife Service and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
In September 2016, on the advice of Paula Kahumbu from Wildlife Direct, Save the Elephants joined a collaborative project with Big Life Foundation, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Wildlife Direct and Kenya Wildlife Service to collar Tim in an effort to keep him safe and protect farmer’s crops. Tim’s neck was so enormous that he required a specially adapted collar.
The idea was to combine Save the Elephants’ cutting-edge intensive, real time tracking technology with co-ordinated counter patrols (Tim’s personal bodyguards) in an effort to monitor Tim more closely, to try to manage his crop-raiding habit and to seek insights to mitigate human-wildlife conflict. Tim was often joined on his nightly crop raiding incursions by other large bull elephants including Craig and Tolstoy.
Much to everyone’s amazement, Tim and his cohort of crop raiders learned how to outwit and out manoeuvre the ranger patrols in order to breach the farms and feed on the crops. However the team studying his movements were able to build on this experience and adapt their systems to improve rangers’ responses to Tim’s raiding.
Within the first year, Tim was recorded making 183 attempts to enter farmlands for the purposes of raiding crops – roughly equivalent to a raid every other night. However the team monitoring him were able to intercept and prevent almost 50% of his raids.
Tim’s tracking data provided intimate insight into his behaviour and enabled conservation partners to make great strides towards understanding his and other elephants’ crop-raiding behaviour, and improving rangers’ patrol strategies to better counter it. Experiences from the study also fed back into the development of tracking tools to respond to the rangers’ needs on the ground.
Tim lived out his last days in Amboseli with his elephant friends in the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro. Although his death is a big loss to elephant conversation and elephants in general, his genes will live on through the many calves he has been able to father over his long life in Amboseli.
Former Save the Elephants field assistant, Ryan Wilkie, who oversaw the monitoring project says: “Tim was a special elephant – not just to me but to hundreds, thousands of people who would flock to Amboseli just for the chance to see him. He was so incredibly intelligent, mischievous, yes, but also a truly gentle giant and in that way a real ambassador for his species. To pass from natural causes after a long life is all we can hope for for any elephant, but for Tim to have passed peacefully, not from poaching, not from conflict, but from natural causes I think it is a real testament to the conservation efforts in the ecosystem and I am grateful for that and for the small part I was able to play in his story.”
Founder of Save the Elephants, Dr Iain Douglas-Hamilton says: “Tim was a remarkable, iconic and intelligent elephant with an uncanny ability to bring out a range of emotions in people, from sympathy and compassion to sheer frustration at his crop-raiding antics. He united people and organisations who all cared deeply for his welfare, starting with the combined efforts of many to collar and monitor his movements in 2016, to when he was freed from the Kimani swamps last year by a group of NGOs and locals. In both life and death, big bulls like Tim and Matt not only fire our imaginations, but they are also stark reminders that the last giants on Earth are quickly disappearing and we must do all we can to protect their future generations. The plains of Amboseli will no longer be the same without Tim.”
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Save the Elephants
Based in Kenya, Save the Elephants works to secure a future for elephants. Specializing in elephant research, they provide scientific insights into elephant behavior, intelligence, and long-distance movements and apply them to the challenges of elephant survival. Education and outreach programs share these insights with local communities as the true custodians of this rich heritage. The team works towards a future of harmonious coexistence between humans and elephants. High-tech tracking helps plan landscapes while low-tech beehive fences, among other tools, provide farmers with protection as well as income. To battle ivory poaching, Save the Elephants teamed up with the Wildlife Conservation Network to create the Elephant Crisis Fund to identify and support the most effective partners in Africa and in nations with ivory markets to stop poaching, thwart traffickers and end demand for ivory.
Photos by Ryan Wilkie