Elleni Stephanou, Local Intern

Date Published

Take a moment and imagine a giant bull. One who towers over tourist vans and casts shadows on the rest of the herds. A male so dominating, one stamp of his foot and the other males would retreat. A male who had first pick of every female when in musth to ensure his set of genes moved along in generations to come. A male with beautifully long, curved tusks.

Prettybombom; one of the last big bulls to roam the Kenyan plains. He literally acquired his name due to his beauty and due to his foot stamps during musth.

Poached in late 2011 he too has been reduced to no more than a few scattered bones and an entry on an excel spreadsheet. And why? All for the demand for a trinket in foreign markets.

What is alarming is even the young bulls with tusks a fraction of his size are sitting ducks. But poaching does not see gender. The female elephants are poached too. The average life expectancy of a female elephant in Samburu is only 21.8years, less than a third of the species lifespan. What effect does this have? Imagine a perfect scenario; a female has a new born calf, she feeds it, teaches it how to forage. The calf learns from the other calves in the bond group, it gets bullied by its older siblings and caressed by its relatives. Over the years the calf ages and matures, and now starts the bullying for itself. It learns how to charge, how to make friends, how to mate. Now a mature elephant, it disperses and begins its own family. Now stop imagining. A newborn runs from the carcass of its poached mother and hides. For days it ambles alone, no food, and no family. If it is lucky it will be ‘adopted’ by another family group where it has a chance to grow up as the others, if not who knows what will become of it. Another carcass, indirect as it may be, but still due to poaching.

This is the image I see as I enter data on elephant deaths over the past 2 decades. The causes of death have changed drastically from natural deaths such as drought or disease to poaching; poaching of a matriarch or a bull, soon followed by death of a young calf. It’s easy enough to be startled by articles with figures on rates of increased poaching in different areas and sizes of confiscated poached ivory, but inputting the data myself has shrouded the situation with a blanket of pain. Watching animal after magnificent animal being reduced to chopped and disguised clumps of illegal greed, and seeing the disjointed family groups that are the aftermath of a poach has not only opened my eyes to the urgent change that needs to be made, but the horror of knowing what will be if nothing is done.

I may never see another bull like Prettybombom, but the bigger worry is; will my children ever see an elephant?

George Wittemyer, David Daballen, Iain Douglas-Hamilton (2013) Comparative Demography of an At-Risk African Elephant Population