Khadija lies unconscious from a tranquilizer dart in a picture taken earlier this summer, a few weeks before she was killed by poachers. The mature elephant had been drugged so rescue workers from Save the Elephants and the Northern Rangelands Trust could approach her to remove bullets from a failed poaching attempt. The team also used the opportunity to fit her with a radio collar.
"We only put radio collars on select elephants," Wittemyer said. "In [Khadija's] case, we wanted to treat her wounds from this first gunshot barrage, monitor her health, and see where she was going, to possibly gain insight on where she was attacked."
Now that Khadija is dead, the survival of the orphans in her herd—which range from 4 to about 12 years old—is uncertain, scientists say. (See more pictures of Samburu's elephants.)
"Family groups that are led by a younger, less experienced female tend to have higher mortality rates, especially during drought periods," Wittemyer said. "They don't have the ecological knowledge of where to go [for water and to forage] during harsh periods or know how to respond to threatening situations."
(Also see "Elephants, Other Iconic Animals Dying in Kenya Drought.")