Report on the death of ‘Prunella’


David Daballen, STE Field Officer

Date Published

At noon on April 28 we were alerted by the STE Automated Poaching Alert system that one of our Mt.Kenya female elephants, Prunella, had triggered a level ‘5’ alert; the highest alert possible and meaning that her collar had not moved more than 20m radius in the previous 5 hours. Jake Wall, our database manager, raised the alarm and we coordinated both with Lewa and KWS. It was decided I should head to Mt.Kenya to physically check on the elephant.

I left Samburu, picked KWS rangers at Meru station, and then headed via Nkubu town for another 30 km’s of difficult off-road driving before reaching the fence line. We met with the warden and finalized all logistics before we began our search on a very bad and slippery road. The forest vegetation, and particularly the under growth, was thick beyond belief. No paths existed and our only navigational aid was the GPS which was giving us a straight-line path to Prunella’s last known location.

After two kilometres of hiking through the forest, going up and down volcanic rock laden valleys and luggas, (we were starting to feel as if we had been walking for days!) we came across fresh signs of poachers – such as freshly cut twigs and fire places which they destroyed after their use. We were limited to a slow crawl through the bush to avoid making any disturbance and though we were very close to Prunella’s position, it seemed impossibly far.

Upon arriving to where the carcass was, I could not believe my eyes! Poor Prunella was lying dead with a massive tow- rope on her front legs and a snare to her front right leg. It was an obvious trap set by poachers to trap large mammals like buffalo or any other big antelope for bush-meat!

As we had seen fresh tracks of these poachers on our way to the location, and the impending darkness, we were forced to move as quickly as possible to carry out the necessary investigations on the carcass and get out of the forest. Two rangers were assigned to remove the tusks while the rest of the rangers stayed on-guard just in case we came under attack. I had the chance to remove the collar and take pictures as quickly as I could.

In the meantime, Jake, knowing what kind of terrain we were in was busy using Google Earth to find a quicker way back to our vehicle. He and Iain came up with a route which they sent us using the cell phone. I plugged in the route coordinates and we started on our way out of the forest. I must say the directions made all the difference in the world and we made it back in a third of the time! I could not thank Google enough!

In conclusion it looks like there is a lot of awful activities going on in the Mt Kenya forest. Based on our verbal report to the warden, poaching is a real threat and they are planning to do huge operation to try and curb this.