Klaserie River Sands

Tsavo ‘Super Tusker’, Ndawe, dies after multiple spear wounds


Ndawe was the missing link, the proof that we were looking for. We were sure that elephants made the long journey between Tsavo and Amboseli, and he was the confirmation.

Ndawe was what was known as a ‘hundred pounder’, an elephant whose tusks weigh 100 pounds or more each, and of which there are thought to be less than 100 on the entire continent. He was first spotted from the air in late 2016 and, on a whim, Big Life sent the photograph to THE TSAVO TRUST who monitor the tuskers of Tsavo. The response was exciting – this was indeed a bull that they knew, last seen in 2014. We have no idea how frequently he made the journey and still don’t know how many others do the same.

Ndawe, elephant, big tusker

©Taru Carr-Hartley (left), ©Clifford Pickett (right). Source: www.biglife.org

Sadly Ndawe’s journey has ended at the hands of humans, death delivered by four spears. He was speared for the first time in late April this year and treated by the joint Kenya Wildlife Service/The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust mobile veterinary unit. We don’t know why he was speared this first time, it was potentially the result of crop-raiding and conflict with humans.

The next spearings are more sinister. The area where Ndawe lived is now separated from cropland by the newly constructed electric crop-protection fence, and so it is highly unlikely that these are the result of conflict. The fact that three spears hit is even more unlikely in a spontaneous conflict incident. Big Life is confident that this was a poaching attempt, perhaps opportunistic.

Ndawe’s condition had been declining since the first spear wound treatment, and his recovery was not helped by the dry conditions and poor quality forage at this time of the year. It is likely that this did not go unnoticed, and he was targeted by poachers due to his weakness.

But none of the spears killed him immediately, rangers reported the wounds and he was darted for treatment once again. Sadly, this time he did not get up. Infection from the wounds, his poor health, and age all contributed, but it was spears that killed him. At an estimated at 55-60 years he was a grand old bull and with his teeth worn down he was right at the end of his life, but this was a sad way to finish it.

The only consolation is that his tusks have been retrieved, and his death will not line a poacher’s pockets. We are doing what we can to track his killers, but for now the scent is cold.

However, his life will have an enduring impact because he is the proof of the importance of the Kimana conservancies and corridor, a highly threatened but critical link that elephants use to travel around the ecosystem. His name will certainly be a powerful force in the future as Big Life continues work to protect this important corridor.

News Desk

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  • Patti Barrett

    So very sad. I was just in Tsavo last week, marveling at the beautiful elephants. Didn’t see Ndawe, but it angers me and hurts my heart every time I read about an elephant’s death by humans.

  • Chris Voets

    First seen late 2016, poached within 8 or 10 months.

  • Tami Calliope

    Another unique, irreplaceable Big Tusker gone. There are so few left. These are the bulls that become father figures and knowledge passers, teachers and comforters, for the many young bulls who must leave their matriarchal families at around age 14 to 18. Without the Great Tuskers, these adolescent bulls go into musth many years too early, and having no chance of being accepted as mates, they are the ones who tend to go berserk. It has been proven that if they are accepted into the herd of an Older Tusker, their hormones are calmed so that they do not come into musth until at least 25 yrs. of age. The Tuskers from 50 to 70 are also the strongest and healthiest breeders, strange as that may seem. They mate with many Female Elephants and produce the strongest, most intelligent offspring. They are in their mating prime at that age. Finally, the DNA of the Great Tuskers is unique. When the last One falls to the poisoned spears and the trophy hunts, the social hierarchy of male Elephants will fall apart, and the Matriarchs, who live for their young, will have no more babies. It will be the end of Elephants on this sorrowful Earth.

  • Whattheh***

    So sad to see yet another tusker die too early. He may have been heading to a natural death due to age etc., but it was definitely hurried along by humans again. What Chris says is true, first seen late 2016, then his details are advertised for research purposes, and suddenly he is the target of poachers less than a year later! Small consolation that his tusks were not taken by poachers!!! There is a general rot in all African parks, called greed! To my mind it is obvious that inside information is being leaked everywhere, by people with knowledge of research areas, corridors, plans for poaching prevention etc. In this day and age of digital mapping, data base capturing, relocation data, I find it hard to believe that the people involved in destroying nature have no direct contact with all of these things already. How often are we reminded that crimes against people are often committed by those closest to them…..how sure are we that the same does not apply to the natural kingdom !

  • Mike D

    Incredibly sad that he died from spears by humans. Despite his age he deserved to die of natural causes when it was his time. I hope they find those responsible and let them die a slow painful death from spear wounds.

  • chipmacgill

    Africa continues it’s downward slide by having other countries bamboozle them and exploit their ignorance/greed and down right stupidity by getting them to destroy their heritage/legacy by being basically slaves to feed another countries arrogant lust for ivory and lion/wine/tiger penis (I know that’s not africa) and pangolins.

    China and other Asian countries are at the root of this problem and can literally only be stopped with violent intervention that doesn’t stop on the African plains. It needs to be taken right to the source and literally cut the head off the “snake” if you will. Although, I would never cut a head off any snake. Follow the money, kill em all. Repeat and do it again. You do it a few times they will realize this is not worth it. If they don’t be committed and step it up to include collateral relationships, familial and financial.

    These people need to demonstrably die.

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