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Social media has been abuzz surrounding the death of an elephant bull that was hunted in Zimbabwe earlier this monthAccording to the Telegraph, a German hunter paid nearly £40,000 to shoot one of the largest elephants ever seen in Zimbabwe during a Big Five, 21-day game hunt. While the world has been mourning the loss of this magnificent animal, rumours have emerged that the great tusker could be Nkombo, a well known bull elephant from Kruger National Park.


However Dr. Michelle Henley, senior scientist and researcher at Elephants Alive (formerly known as Save the Elephants South Africa), has said that the bull that was hunted is conclusively not Nkombo.

She gives the below reasoning for her decision based on the photos at her disposal at the time, bearing in mind the quality and quantity of photos available:

– the tusks appear larger on the hunted bull images. This individual also seems older compared to the last images I have of Nkombo. My age estimate of Nkombo is a bull in his forties while the hunter animals seems to be in his fifties.

– The hunted animal has characteristic wrinkles on his forehead which are missing from Nkombo.

– Nkombo has a characteristic raised area mid-way on his left ear on the proximal region of the ear, I can’t see this on the hunted bull due to the quality of the image.

– Both Nkombo and the hunted bull have a characteristic gap out of the upper left ear region. Nkombo has a clear hole above this but the photo of the hunted bull does not allow for this verification as the upper ear is folded back.

– Nkombo was seen on the 3rd of October by a tourist at Shingwedzi while the bull that was hunted in the Malapati region was apparently hunted on the the 8th of October. From our historical tracking data of Nkombo he never moved out of the northern regions of the Kruger Park. The distance travelled could only possibly have happened if he was in full musth and the hunted bull is not in musth based on the images that I have seen.

Nkombo photographed by Willie Knoetze in the Shingwedzi riverbed on 3 October 2015. Image sourced on Tuskers of Africa
Nkombo photographed by Willie Knoetze in the Shingwedzi riverbed on 3 October 2015. Image sourced on Tuskers of Africa

However Michelle doesn’t rule out the possibility that the elephant could be one of Kruger’s other tuskers, saying, “Sound conservation practices within Kruger have meant that they still have some of the remaining large tuskers left in Africa. However, lack of stringent hunting protocols when these animals leave our national parks make them extremely vulnerable.”

Michelle went on to give the following statement, “A tusker was definitely shot but we need to try and find out his origin. Bulls with tusks over 100 lbs and close to 1.5 m in length are considered great tuskers. My initial reaction to the death (of the elephant) is shock and a great sense of sadness. These are living museums of bygone eras. Trophy hunting such animals shows a similar form of disrespect for not only the animal but other people’s enjoyment of viewing such majestic creatures. It is a true privilege in today’s day and age. Would any well educated person consider walking up to the Mona Lisa and scratching their name on it? Surely not, precious works of art are there for all to enjoy and appreciate. These large tuskers have been conserved with blood, sweat and tears for the enjoyment of all people that appreciate beauty. No one person should be permitted to ‘bag’ such an animal as theirs. These arguments are on a philosophical level only and I am not even mentioning the biological effects on the gene pool or the important mentoring role that these old bulls play in elephant society.”

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