The number of surviving Great Elephant Tuskers his size, in today’s world, can be numbered on the fingers of two hands, if that. He is a magnificent Tsavo East National Park bull whose enormous tusks reach to the ground on either side of his great head. He has weathered 3 decades of the rampant poaching for ivory in the late seventies, eighties and early nineties, described as the Elephant Holocaust, survived devastating droughts, and the intrusion into ancient elephant migratory routes by a burgeoning and largely hostile human population. Possibly, for years, he has been in hiding during the hours of daylight, feeding and coming to drink always under cover of darkness, aware that his life is threatened because of his magnificent trophy tusks. It is only very recently that the likes of him have ventured out of hiding during daylight hours.
He was photographed by the BBC’s Natural History Unit during their filming of Elephant Diaries, which features our hand-reared orphaned elephants, some of which may even be his offspring, endowed with his rare genes. Friday 13th June 2005 was indeed, for him a lucky day, for Daphne Sheldrick just happened to be in Tsavo when he came to drink at Tarhi Camp’s small watering point at 7.30 p.m. when she was on hand to notice that his stride was definitely impaired. Closer inspection through binoculars revealed a very sceptic right foreleg, with a tell tale wound near the foot and another wound on his side. Daphne knew instantly what this meant – certain death from poisoned arrow wounds. The leg wound would turn the bull so lame that he would be unable to move, and the side wound could be equally as serious if the Akokanthera poison had entered his blood stream. That night, Daphne could barely sleep for worrying about this Great Bull’s life, knowing that his magnificent tusks would simply end up fuelling the illegal Ivory Trade.
Immediately, the Trust’s Mobile Veterinary Unit was contacted, who, at the time was actually in Amboseli National Park, where it had been called to deal with yet another Masai spearing victim. Having saved the Amboseli cow, the following day, the Unit hurried back to Tsavo East, where the search had already begun to try and track the injured bull, with the help of KWS aerial surveillance. That day it proved fruitless, but the following day, Sunday 15th June, he was spotted on the opposite bank of the seasonal Voi River. The Mobile Veterinary Unit was at hand to immobilize him, and treat both his body and leg wounds. Happily, the body wound was only superficial and therefore not life threatening, but the poisoned arrow in the right foreleg was serious, and certainly would have cost the bull his life had he not been found. As it was, both wounds were able to be thoroughly cleansed, packed with anti-biotic powder, and having received a long acting anti-biotic injection, the Great Bull was woken up, rising slowly to go about his normal business, no doubt feeling sore and confused, but now with a good chance of a complete recovery. The Mobile Veterinary Unit and our Voi De-Snaring Unit will be watching out for him in the coming weeks, to ensure that he is, indeed, on the mend, and does not need another Veterinary intervention on that injured leg.
It is common practice for poachers to set drawn bows loaded with a poisoned arrow on elephant trails, triggered when the elephant trips the trap by shifting a thin string. These traps are deliberately designed to immobilize an elephant by firing the poisoned arrow into the leg or foot, with a view to anchoring it so that the poachers can easily track and catch up with it and kill it for its Ivory. This Magnificent Great Bull would indeed have been a worthy prize for a poacher and we are proud to have been in a position to thwart that aim and, hopefully, save the life of one of Tsavo’s last remaining Great Tuskers – an awesome and majestic animal who elicits an unbelieving gasp from all fortunate enough to see him.