Philo the Young Bull


Shifra Goldenberg, PostDoctoral Researcher

Date Published

We hadn’t known Philo for very long. He had been using the reserve for the last year, but was absent from the area for long periods. He was probably in the stage of his life as a young male where he was solidifying his dispersal, exploring new territory as he separated from his family. In the last couple months we had seen him a bit more frequently, sometimes alone, calmly grazing, but mostly among our resident families. He was a nice looking young bull, with unbroken tusks that would have grown beautifully had they been given the chance.

Philo in early January, grazing with the Mountain Ranges family near Wire Bridge in Samburu

We arrived at Philo’s carcass the morning of January 27, 2013, perhaps seven hours after he was killed under the full moon. It was not hard to find as it was just off the main road in Buffalo Springs National Reserve. His face was hacked off in the typical fashion, with the pool of blood not yet soaked up in the earth. A piece of his penis sheath had been cut off as well. The gunshots went to his head on either side, the blood from those shots so fresh it glistened in the morning sun. The bloody holes in his ears lay in stark contrast to the healed hole we knew as his unique marker, the hole we used to note his identity, our starting point from which to record and interpret the behaviors of a living, breathing animal.

Philo fell on his right side, exposing the triangle and square cuts on his left ear that we used to identify him while he was alive

We were soon met by KWS rangers, and we set to looking for the poachers’ tracks. Though the land cover in the area made it difficult to find footprints, evidence of Philo’s last moments was present. He was shot close to what is known as White Luggah and walked across the main road, where he left a trail of blood. Philo shuffled his feet and struggled before he fell on his right side. This we could see from his tracks through the grass, where he dragged his feet before succumbing to the gunshots. Once on the ground he was shot in the head again from a few meters away.

Philo’s blood trail crossed the main road after which point he shuffled before falling

What became clear was that this was not a case where an elephant was shot outside of the reserve and followed in as the victim sought refuge within the reserve. Philo was in fact shot well within the park boundaries. It was so close to home, in fact, that the hill beside our camp, which we refer to as Sleeping Elephant for the happy image it elicits, could be seen clearly in the background, in the direction where vultures were gathering on a dead tree to feed on Philo.