Death of elephant tusker Satao in Tsavo must not have been in vain

Satao, an iconic male elephant from Kenya's Tsavo Park, was killed by poachers. Image: Mark Deeble & Victoria Stone www.markdeeble.wordpress.com

The killing of Tsavo’s iconic male elephant Satao about a fortnight ago is tragic.  

It symbolizes what has been happening in Kenya and across the continent, where elephants are increasingly being mowed down for their ivory because of human greed and to satisfy an unsustainable and vulgar appetite for ivory.

As very few elephants with large tusks remain in Tsavo, individuals that are well endowed always stand out. It is no wonder that they elicit awe and joy in equal measures among the rangers who toil under very difficult circumstances to ensure that they and other elephants are safe. They are also fondly loved by tour guides who show them off to park visitors, when the sometimes rare opportunity presents itself.  
 
It is this endearment that leads to these individuals getting named based on what are seen to be their striking attributes, physical or behavioral. But, as with humans, there are also elephants that do not score highly in these departments.
 
I have no doubt that the rangers in Tsavo and anyone else who had the privilege of following Satao closely, will have their own stories about Satao’s many exploits, hence the outpouring of grief. 
 
As to why there are so few elephants with large tusks remaining, one has to revisit the tragic history of elephants in Tsavo. During 1970’s and 80’s, such elephants were systematically gunned down by poachers, whose nefarious acts reduced Tsavo’s elephant population from 40,000 to about 5,000 within a decade!
 
Selective poaching literally wiped out the genes that carried the large tusks like those of Satao.  
 
As I quietly grieve the loss of Satao, I cannot help but ask myself whether the bad old 70’s and 80’s are here again. For over two decades, elephants in Tsavo have known relative peace. But now that things have changed, how safe are the few remaining big tuskers, and the rest of the elephants in Tsavo and elsewhere? 
 
 
Tragic as the death of Satao is, it should be a wake-up call for all Kenyans, conservationists and the world at large. With more than 35,000 elephants being killed each year, the notion of extinction of elephants in front of our very own eyes is no longer far-fetched.
 
Are we doing enough to stop the massacre of elephants? Is there more that we could do -- or is it a case of too little too late? Frankly, I think  more can be done! For a start, the talk about ivory as a commodity and what it is worth in the “market” is a sure death sentence on the elephant and should be stopped.  
 
The time to act together both globally and locally is now or we shall be too late to save the elephant from imminent extinction.
 
I am not talking of another conference to discuss the plight of elephants which we all know by now; I am talking of actual support to those on the ground who put their lives on the line to protect elephants. Trust me, I know how much more rangers can do with a little extra help.
 
At IFAW, we do everything possible to protect the elephants through supporting on-the-ground anti-poaching initiatives in areas like Tsavo, a recent recipient of our support.
 
IFAW is also working with partners to train the Judiciary, Magistrates and Prosecutors in Kenya so as to strengthen the prosecutorial chain and ensure success in getting convicted wildlife criminals jailed. Kenya now has a new law that is now more punitive so this training will help in its application.
 
Through our work in range states, as well as in ivory consuming countries, mainly in Asia, we are working on solutions to the illicit trafficking of and demand for ivory. 
 
I urge you to join us in this quest.
 
This bloodlust for ivory is what led to Satao’s tragic death in the first place.
 
--JI
 
Help support IFAW's anti-poaching efforts, donate now.
 
Read wildlife filmmaker Mark Deeble's account of the death of Satao:
 

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Experts

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Cynthia Moss, IFAW Elephant Expert
IFAW Elephant Expert
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Program Director, Elephants Regional Director, South Africa
Program Director, Elephants, Regional Director, South Africa
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia