RIP Tolstoy: Kenya mourns the loss of an iconic elephant


Earth Touch News

Date Published

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One of Africa’s largest tuskers – a well-known elephant dubbed ‘Tolstoy’ who roamed the plains of the Amboseli ecosystem in Kenya – has died at the age of 51 as a result of an injury likely sustained in an altercation with a crop farmer.

According to the BigLife Foundation – an organisation that works with local communities and partners in Kenya to protect wild species and mitigate human-wildlife conflict – the iconic elephant suffered a spear wound in the leg six weeks ago that wildlife rangers suspect was inflicted by a farmer during a nighttime crop raid by Tolstoy. 

Many elephants in Kenya come into conflict with humans as they are increasingly forced to compete with people for resources like land, water and food. Tolstoy’s wound was treated at the time of the injury, and rangers working in the Kimana Sanctuary were monitoring his movements.

On Wednesday morning, Tolstoy was found lying down – a posture that was not unusual for the enormous animal who was known to take frequent naps. However, when rangers moved in for a closer inspection they immediately realised that he was in bad shape. 

Two veterinary units from the Kenya Wildlife Service were called to the scene and quickly administered further treatment, but getting the injured elephant to stand up was always going to be a monumental challenge.

“For hours the rangers and vets tried to pull him up with vehicles and ropes, with no success,” the Big Life Foundation wrote on their website. “A front-end loader was called in as a last desperate attempt, but Tolstoy was just too weak to stand.” With daylight fading, and the team running out of ideas, the famed tusker finally succumbed to his injuries.

“Today is the saddest day in my job as a ranger, having lost one of the elephants that I treasured the most,” said Job Lekanayia who was on the scene trying to save the injured animal. “We tried everything that we could. I thought he would wake up, but he just couldn’t lift himself up.”

During Tolstoy’s half a century of life much has changed on the Amboseli plains. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many who work in the tourist industry to seek alternative means of make a living, which has resulted in rapidly expanding farmlands. Tolstoy’s habitat has shrunk, bringing him and others of his species into conflict with humans.

“His death is a reminder of the vulnerability of even the largest of animals, as well as the urgent need to protect habitat for wildlife and manage the interface between wild animals and human activities,” the Big Life Foundation urged. “There are solutions, and we are making progress despite a tragic setback such as this.”