National Geographic News
Photo of Satao the elephant in his prime.

Satao drinks at a water hole in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya, in 2013, when the magnificent tusker was in his prime.

Photograph by Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone, www.markdeeble.wordpress.com

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic

Published June 16, 2014

One of Kenya's most adored elephants, who had giant tusks and was known as Satao, has been killed for his ivory—a "monumental" loss, experts say.

Poachers shot the bull elephant with a poisoned arrow in Tsavo East National Park, waited for him to die a painful death, and hacked off his face to remove his ivory, according to the Tsavo Trust, an area nonprofit that works with wildlife and local communities.

Satao was particularly appealing to poachers as a tusker, a type of male elephant with a genetic makeup that produces unusually large tusks. His tusks were more than 6.5 feet (2 meters) long.

"Kenya as a country contains probably the last remaining big tuskers in the world," said Paula Kahumbu, a Kenya-based wildlife conservationist with the nonprofit WildlifeDirect. (Read Kahumbu's essay on Satao's death in the Guardian.)

"To lose an animal like Satao is a massive loss to Kenya. He was a major tourist attraction to that part of Tsavo," said Kahumbu, who was a 2011 National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

The elephant was killed May 30, but members of the trust announced his death on June 13, after verifying the carcass's identity. (Related: "Efforts to Curb Ivory Trafficking Spreading, but Killing Continues.")

"It is with enormous regret that we confirm there is no doubt that Satao is dead, killed by an ivory poacher's poisoned arrow to feed the seemingly insatiable demand for ivory in far-off countries," the Tsavo Trust said in a statement.

"A great life lost so that someone far away can have a trinket on their mantelpiece." (Read "Blood Ivory" in National Geographic magazine.)

Photo of Satao the elephant lying dead.
Satao was killed by poachers and his face was hacked off in Tsavo East National Park in May 2014.
Photograph by Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone, www.markdeeble.wordpress.com

"Massive and Hostile" Expanse

Satao died despite his high profile, which brought special protection.

"It's also a reflection on the situation in Kenya that even in a place where all efforts are made to protect the elephants, it's still very difficult to protect them," Kahumbu said. (Watch video: "Elephants in Crisis.")

For the past 18 months, the Tsavo Trust and the Kenya Wildlife Service have been monitoring Satao's movements by air and on foot. "When he was alive, his enormous tusks were easily identifiable, even from the air," according to the Tsavo Trust.

Satao generally kept to a predictably small area with four other bull elephants. But in search of food following big rains, he had recently moved into a boundary of the park that's a known poaching hot spot, especially for hunters with poisoned arrows. (Also see: "Poachers Slaughter Dozens of Elephants in Key African Park.")

Authorities noticed this and protection efforts were stepped up, but the area Satao entered "is a massive and hostile expanse for any single anti-poaching unit to cover, at least one thousand square kilometers [about 390 square miles] in size," according to the Tsavo Trust.

"Understaffed and with inadequate resources given the scale of the challenge, [Kenya Wildlife Service] ground units have a massive uphill struggle to protect wildlife in this area." (Related: "In War to Save Elephants, Rangers Appeal for Aid.")

 

Poaching's Toll

About 472,000 to 690,000 African elephants likely roam the continent today, down from possibly five million in the 1930s and 1940s. The animals are classified as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Conservationists estimate that 30,000 to 38,000 elephants are poached annually for their ivory, which is shuttled out of West African and, increasingly, East African seaports en route mainly to China and other Asian consumer countries such as Thailand. (See a graphic of elephant poaching in Africa.)

The whereabouts of Satao's tusks are unknown, but Kahumbu said that they are likely on their way to being exported.

"What worries me is we're seeing increasing amounts of ivory moving through Kenya, and it's a real indicator of the corruption," she said.

Kenya has a history of dealing with celebrity elephants.

"One of the most powerful messages that Kenya ever made was when the first president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, gave presidential protection to an elephant [named Ahmed] because of the size of his tusks," she said. (Read about how China and other countries are crushing their ivory stocks.)

"He died of old age because he had two armed guards with him 24-7," Kahumbu said. "This is the kind of measure our president Uhuru Kenyatta needs to do," Kahumbu emphasized.

"If we fail to protect these elephants, we lose the gene pool of big tuskers forever in Africa."

Follow Christine Dell'Amore on Twitter and Google+.

140 comments
Mae Paradae
Mae Paradae

Remembering a beautiful and Iconic creature ....a tribute to Sato !

Solon Lechonitis
Solon Lechonitis

Today is the World Elephants Day.I pay my respects and Tribute to old friend Satao who

was killed end of May.Be sure Satao you will be never forgotten.RIP.

Thomas Brueckner
Thomas Brueckner

All that full of mouth speaking last year in Thailand was all eye wishing. They told the People to stop the poaching of elephants for their tusks, but that cruelness goes on and on. But the day will come where all of that, those who gave the order to kill Satao, and those who kill Satao will get back in return what they all done. As they say, "What goes around, comes always back around."

Or the law of cause and effect, and action equal reaction.

Julia ې Peculiar
Julia ې Peculiar

Who are the poachers? I'm wondering if they are vulnerable themselves, in that they have little other choice to feed their families? Being taken advantage of by the buyers who make the big money.

Jean DellAmore
Jean DellAmore

What has our world  become that elephants require armed guards 24/7?


With all the celebrity money I would think that there could be protected zones to prevent this from ever happening again.



Elizabeth Westbrook
Elizabeth Westbrook

This will not stop until the younger generations in those countries which import ivory turn this into a social faux pas.

Solon Lechonitis
Solon Lechonitis

For me this cruel and and tragic death of this Great Satao was not only useless

and I believe the Kenyan authorities should have protected him like Ahmed was alsp

protected with a Presidential decree.These poachers should be arrested or killed.But the

life of Satao is gone brutally.He will never be forgotten.RIP.Satao.May the sand be light.

REX MWAKIPITI
REX MWAKIPITI

Poaching is rampant in East Africa including Tanzania where I live. The governments should do something about it. Otherwise jumbos will be history in the next few years

Lindsay Lingerfelt
Lindsay Lingerfelt

I like to believe that humans are mostly good, but stories like this make me question that. How anyone could purchase ivory is unbelievable! If only we were allowed to shoot poachers with poison darts and get money for their heads...

David Alan McPartland
David Alan McPartland

I heard that there is a growing demand for the heads and hands of known poachers. $10,000 for a head and $5,000 for their hands and the price goes up if they are notorious. So lets shoot poison darts at the poachers, let them die slow and painful deaths and collect our money. I have a family to feed too.

bill banks
bill banks

Humans really are the true savages of this planet, destroying it little by little every day. Maybe that's our destiny... becoming the destroyers of all creatures and living things. Sad.

Twinkle Jaiswal
Twinkle Jaiswal

How can someone think of killing such a beautiful creature!

Highly disturbing and cheap act by poachers.

kate k
kate k

This must stop once and for all if we want to have any animals on this planet in the future 

Chad Okerpatt
Chad Okerpatt

Its so tough but I hope someone can put together a roadmap on threats, sources of those threats and what organizations are already there that people can contribute to. 


There are already wildlife trusts that help orphans but I think many of us would like to know what anti-poaching units need in different parks to get the job done.


New York is getting ready to pass legislation on banning new ivory after 1975 (if I read correctly) but China still has a market for Ivory. I don't agree with paying tax dollars to send ex military contractors to places like Iraq but in this case.....this is the perfect scenario, place and time to test our ex-military contractors, tactics and new drone technology. 


Looking at the aerial photo......no sentient being on this earth should die that way.

Cameron  R
Cameron R

This saddens me greatly, something must be done to secure the safety of elephants. What is currently in place does not seem to be working.  We need to do something about this!

sehrish tareen
sehrish tareen

How sad!! Greed is the destroyer of all...such a beautiful animal, and this is what happens...we need better protection for our wildlife! 

Tanmay Sharma
Tanmay Sharma

Tragic news!! Kenya was proud to have the giant tusker like Satao which signifies the beauty of the African wildlife. The illegal killings will someday vanish the pride of this country. It’s a wakeup call for the people of Kenya. The government should try to stop this anyhow. 

S. Yekta
S. Yekta

How much money has the United States to war in the Middle East?

How much to save the environment?


Darlene Holmberg
Darlene Holmberg

More satellite coverage, drones, bounty on poachers' gear and weapons?


Greg Fietz
Greg Fietz

We are all to blame. Too many humans, and not enough said about how to fix that problem. I feel guilty because I am a human. Do you?

Liane Brewer
Liane Brewer

I AM SO CRUSHED BY THIS HORRIFIC CRIME THAT WAS COMMITTED ON THIS BEAUTIFUL CREATURE.IT IS SO SENSELESS AND CRUEL BEYOND WORDS. THESE POACHERS ARE SO COLD HEARTED WITH NO FEELINGS WHATSOEVER. GREED AND MONEY ARE THE TEMPTING FACTORS THAT MAKE PEOPLE BLIND TO THE HORRIFYING ACTS THEY INFLICT UPON THESE

INNOCENT CREATURES OBLIVIOUS TO THE DANGERS ALL AROUND THEM.

Be Light
Be Light

Why??? Why??? Why??? ... ... ...

仁 張
仁 張

Despicable. No reverence for life.

Callan Thompson
Callan Thompson

This makes me sick. It so sad that something so beautiful has been taken away from us. we need to stand up and speak up for these animals that can not speak for themselves. It's sad that there are poachers out there killing and stealing for there own wealth. they are ruining it for everyone that dreams to see theses animals up close. If the world keeps on going the way it is we will only be able to see these animals and others in pictures.

Piotr Bajor
Piotr Bajor

The human race should be removed from the Earth. Doesn't deserve existence.

Keri Schutzmaier
Keri Schutzmaier

This is absolutely disgusting. I hate that the human race is so willing to do whatever it takes, to our home and to our animals, in order to get more money in their pockets.

norman h.
norman h.

This has become such a horrible, horrible world to live in. Nothing is sacred anymore, if not oil companies killing everything it's poachers. I can't think of a worse time in history to be alive. There are times I absolutely despise my parents for bringing me into this awful world.

Joseph R.
Joseph R.

There are poachers all over the world some take, ivory, horn, coral, wood the list goes on and on. As usual it's all about the money. They are stealing from every one of us and our children and grandchildren. I believe that they and the people who pay them forfeit their right to life and should be put to death immediately without any due process. I know this won't happen but if I had the chance I'd pull the trigger.

Maren Phelps
Maren Phelps

I visited Tsavo East in 2010 and took pictures of Satao. I have shown them to many American school children during my Africa programs and he is one of the children's favorites. It is terrible to hear of his death in such a cruel and wasteful manner. I had hoped he might be spared this fate because of the area he was in but the ability to roam is what makes animals "wild animals" and if they are penned up or fenced in they lose what makes them wild and free.

Sheryl Dudzinski
Sheryl Dudzinski

@Darlene Holmberg I like the drone idea.. it would save man power and could be monitored from a distance... a good use for drones instead of just war.

Doug Hornby
Doug Hornby

@norman h.  I see that you are an avid hiker and outdoors person Norman, tell me, in your hate for the oil companies and other big businesses, how did you get to British Colombia? Walk like Lewis and Clark?

Jeremy L.
Jeremy L.

@norman h. Actually, it's radical Islamists that are doing most of the killing and destruction in today's world.  ISIS, Boko Haram, etc.  This is a pretty good time to be alive, actually, considering that it's only recently in history that most of us (in developed countries, at least) have been able to move out of subsistence farming and desperate poverty.  I mean, who would want to have lived before the concept of germs was understood and simple infections could mean death?  I get the arguments in favor of preserving charismatic megafauna, but poaching elephants is not the worst thing happening in the world today by a long shot.

camilla Le May
camilla Le May

@Maren Phelps Maren please can you contact me. I plan to sculpt Satao and will need all the photos I can get hold of if you would be willing for me to use them as reference material? I will then be using the sculpture and possible a silver piece to raise funds for protection of these last +-12 big tuskers in memory of Satao. I have raised £15k for rhinos and need to turn to ellies next urgently...enquiries@camillalemay.com

Jai Ram
Jai Ram

@camilla Le May


Camilla, a very laudable campaign. Have signed it and circulated to my family and friends too. As you rightly said, we CANNOT let such despicable, mindless crimes happen on our watch. 


There needs to be a zero tolerance approach to poaching, park rangers must be empowered and provided weapons to shoot armed poachers on sight. With the wildlife trade now in the hands of ruthless, trigger happy armed militias, park rangers are often crippled and killed by these gangs. Realistically, the wildlife wardens can operate fearlessly and do their jobs only when they are empowered to fight back.


There also needs to be VERY STRICT enforcement of wildlife protection laws, the maximum prescribed jail sentences and fines for the captured poachers/ traffickers, with no leniency shown by courts, or possibility of parole.

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