THE BLOG

Big Tusks, Big Problem, as Satao the Big Tusker Killed

30/06/2014 12:26 BST | Updated 30/08/2014 10:59 BST

Have you ever seen one of the legendary big tuskers of Africa? Magnificent, beautiful, enchanting - like a nod to days gone by, to different eras, to different ages. I have had this privilege and I was moved, but chances are I, or indeed anyone, will never see one again.

There exists just a tiny amount of real big tuskers now across Africa, with Kenya reportedly having, until very recently, little more than 10 of them. Why are they called big tuskers? Well the clue's in the name - they are carrying tusks so long and beautiful that they literally touch the ground. Tusks like this don't come quick, they take decades to grow, through good and bad, through civil wars and tribal violence, droughts, poaching, pre and post ivory bans and all the challenges that life in the wild brings. Then, in just a few moments and the firing of a poison dart, in the case of Satao, Kenya's most famous big tusker, it's all gone.

Killed without emotion, slaughtered for those wonderful tusks, 50 years of survival, 50 years of growth, many years of fame. Gone, just like that. Why? Because tusks look adorable in a trinket cabinet in China apparently. They prove your status and your worth. Nothing shows wealth better than the murder of an animal ambassador right? Especially one that's tusk were estimated to weigh almost 50kg each.

When I first saw Satao it was 2012 and I'd just been on patrol with Care for the Wild's team of dedicated anti-poaching rangers in Tsavo. For years they have been removing snares, gathering intelligence and destroying illegal charcoal kilns, which, according to reports, along with land clearance and development are responsible for the loss of forests over 300 times the size of Paris, each year. They are also a visible presence to deter poachers in the killing spree that has already likely seen the loss of a thousand or more elephants in Kenya this year, and a killing spree that is responsible for the death of around 25-35,000 elephants in Africa alone each year.

It had been a long hard day, hot and dangerous, and we had left camp to go to a lodge where we could view a large watering hole that Care for the Wild funded and built many years ago to help elephants survive a period of drought. And there in the distance was Satao - leading a younger elephant to the watering hole which is still in use today. His tusks were truly huge and neither I nor my colleague (who had spent significant amounts of time in the area) had ever seen anything like him. We paused and silence fell, overwhelmed by his presence. I clicked some photos on my zoom lens but the noise of the camera seemed to spoil the moment so we just watched and enjoyed from afar.

When I learnt of Satao's death in the news I was saddened, I was annoyed, but I wasn't shocked. With ivory worth over £10k per kilo, Satao was like a suitcase of unguarded cash wandering round the savannah. What happened last week was tragically inevitable in a poor country supported by an infrastructure of complex criminal poaching gangs. It's like leaving De Beers in Bond Street unlocked at night and turning off the CCTV. The death of Satao, one of Kenya's and indeed Africa's last 'great tuskers' says a lot. Nothing is sacred when it comes to the illegal wildlife trade and the simple fact is that you can have elephants or you can have ivory - but you can't have both.

It's time for attitudes to change, for countries like China to lead the way, to recognise their contribution to the annihilation of the elephant species, and ban the sale of ivory - new, antique, post trade ban, pre trade ban, 'certificated' and non-certificated. Just get it done, say no and save our elephants. Please.