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Africa Geographic Editorial

Friday, 10 March 2017

R.I.P. SATAO 2 – a giant amongst elephants

Another giant has fallen to poachers, and the remaining estimated 50-100 Tuskers survive in small pockets across East and Southern Africa, pursued by poachers and trophy hunters alike. You see, it’s their tusks, 100 pounds on each side to qualify as a ‘Tusker’, that is their crowning glory and their death sentence.

Our blog post earlier this week goes into the details of Satao 2’s death, so my team and I wish to pay tribute to him, as we did in 2014 for his erstwhile companion Satao, also claimed by a poacher’s arrow. Every time one of these gentle giants goes down to a poacher or trophy hunter, we lose another part of Africa’s soul.

In the following tributes, you will hear from some of those who had the privilege of being near Satao 2 recently, touched by his massive, gentle presence and saddened at his death. You will also learn more about Tsavo National Park in Kenya and what you can do to help.

There are, of course, many good people working under incredible pressure all over Africa to stem the tide of poaching. On this occasion, though, the spotlight falls on the good people of Kenyan Wildlife Services and the Tsavo Trust, who work tirelessly to safeguard Tsavo’s gentle giants.

Richard Moller, who runs Tsavo Trust, has called for a few Tsavo Tuskers to be granted Presidential Security Decree, as was the case with Marsabit National Park’s famous tusker ‘Ahmed’ in the early 1970s. Now, there is a campaign worth supporting!

If you feel emotional, angry or downright frustrated about the situation, consider finding out about Tsavo Trust and donating some of your hard-earned money. Every little bit helps.

Simon Espley
Africa Geographic CEO


©Johan Marais, wildlife vet and CEO of Saving the Survivors

I am pretty gutted, really. Satao 2 was a good-natured elephant and very approachable, one of those easy old boys to find. Many of the others are much more challenging to see.

Satao 2 has been a film star for many film crews enjoying Tsavo and its last remaining iconic Tuskers. Most recently, Tsavo hosted the BBC “My Family and Me” shoot that took place in mid-2016 and aired in Britain in December 2016 – Satao 2 was showcased to millions of people.

During our ‘Big Tusker Project’ surveillance, we logged Satao 2 no fewer than 160 times since December 2013 – that’s once every 6.5 days on average. Although this undoubtedly did help in his security and gave us a better understanding of his home range (and that of the other impressive emerging Tuskers that he roamed with), this incident shows some gaps need to be filled. There is an urgent need to step up activities with regard to Tsavo’s super tuskers.
Many will miss him.”

Richard Moller
Chief Conservation Officer, Tsavo Trust


©Dex Kotze

“I feel a strong sense of connection to the big tuskers and I made my way to Tsavo National Park in 2016 to spend a week with some of these exceptional, majestic elephant bulls that still survive in Africa. Finding them was not easy, but searching for 11 hours a day eventually ensured success, and I was fortunate to closely observe three of the remaining Tuskers on the continent. Luck was on my side, and I had daily sightings of Satao 2, watching him for hours, flanked by another large bull that seemed so small alongside him in the dry savannah. Drinking at waterholes amongst the herd, he commanded complete respect from all the other elephants. His towering presence will remain with me forever, vividly etched into my memories. His death is another immeasurable loss to the big elephant gene pool and, of course, to Kenya’s tourism industry. Now, more than ever, the last remaining Tuskers need presidential protection.”

Dex Kotze
Businessman, conservation activist and fundraiser


©Greg du Toit

“After hearing about the death of Satao 1 three years ago, I visited Tsavo to look for emerging tuskers. Finally, after days of searching, we spotted a wonderful younger bull called Satao 2 from the air. As we circled over him, I snapped this shot, and I was so ecstatic. His tusks were not as big as those of Satao 1, but my guide exclaimed: “give him ten years, and he will be as big as Satao 1!” Leaving Tsavo, I was so relieved that Satao 2 was ‘in the pipeline’, so to speak, to become one of Africa’s great tuskers. As it turns out, this was not to be. On my visit, I saw many more emerging tuskers – so perhaps now is not the time to mourn.

Now is the time to act! If you want to help, please donate to the ‘Big Tusker Project’ (run by the Tsavo Trust), which not only does aerial surveillance but puts armed scout units on the ground. Every cent helps to employ more scouts. I have visited this project on the ground, and it is excellent. Seriously, every cent helps!”

Greg du Toit
Professional wildlife photographer and guide and winner of ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013.’

Note from the editor: Apologies for the grainy picture. Greg is currently guiding in Tanzania, and could not email us a higher resolution picture.


©Dex Kotze

More about Tuskers

The name tuskers or super tuskers, or ‘hundred pounders’ in hunting terms, is reserved for male elephants with at least one tusk of 100 pounds (45,45kg). They tend to be larger than other elephants and stand out in a herd, even when accompanied by other large males.

Trophy hunters have sought out big-tusked elephants since the ‘great white hunter’ days; to this day, they still kill these giant elephants for bragging rights. Yet today, the most immediate threat to tuskers and all elephants is poaching to supply the insatiable demand from the Far East for ivory. Most tuskers have been wiped out after many years of poaching and trophy hunting, and the gene pool is severely compromised.

The massive 44,000 km² Tsavo Conservation Area is home to the world’s highest population of large-tusked elephants, with 6 super tuskers and 15 emerging tuskers (young bulls with the genes and potential to become tuskers). Seven cows with tusks reaching the ground are also being monitored.

Every tusker plays a vital role in the genetic stability of elephant populations and should, in the ideal world, be granted individual protection against those wishing to kill them.

Richard Moller, CEO of Tsavo Trust, has called for a few Tsavo Tuskers to be granted Presidential Security Decree, as was the case with Marsabit National Park’s famous Tusker ‘Ahmed’ in the early 1970s.

©Dex Kotze

Tsavo National Park, Kenya

East and West Tsavo National Parks combine with the neighbouring Chyulu Hills National Park to form one of Africa’s largest wildlife areas – the Tsavo Conservation Area of 44,000 km2

Tsavo West is dominated by magnificent hills that tower over the surrounding arid plains and shelter the crystal-clear waters of Mzima Springs, where you can sit in an underwater glass chamber to watch hippos and crocodiles. Tsavo East, on the other hand, is a flat thorn and baobab savannah – ideal for spectacular views of the large elephant herds and huge bulls that are famously always covered in red dust.

The view across the arid plains to the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro is spectacular.

One way to contribute to the conservation of Tsavo and the super tuskers is to visit the area on safari. In doing so, you not only contribute to Kenyan revenue but also help lodges employ and upskill local people. For a few years now, we have offered the popular Walking with Giants safari in Tsavo to those of our guests who enjoy an authentic mobile camp safari from a bygone era.


©Tsavo Trust

Tsavo Trust and the Big Tusker Project

The Tsavo Trust operates the Big Tusker Project in conjunction with Kenyan Wildlife Services. They focus on aerial and ground surveillance and data capture, backed up by the KWS’ rapid reaction teams that deal with poaching incidents.

This successful cooperative model with KWS has substantially reduced poaching in the area despite a chronic shortage of funding.

Tsavo Trust CEO Richard Moller and his co-pilot Josh Outram spend over 60 hours per month logging the movements of Tsavo’s elephants. Since their inception, they have donated more than US$300,000 worth of anti-poaching vehicles and equipment to KWS.

They also work closely with local communities, as they fully appreciate that the survival of Africa’s iconic species depends on the participation of people who live on park borders. Human-wildlife conflict is the cause of so many wild animal deaths in Africa, and no conservation project can succeed without the total involvement of communities at a meaningful level.

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