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Africa Geographic Travel

Super tusker Tolstory

Originally published by Big Life Foundation

Super tusker Tolstoy of Amboseli National Park in Kenya is a living natural wonder, carrying some of the largest tusks on the planet. So when the rangers from Big Life Foundation, who preserve the wildlife and habitats of the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro ecosystem, don’t see Tolstoy for a while – they go looking.

When Tolstoy’s absence was noticed last week, the rangers set out to search beyond their regular patrol areas. Eventually, they found Tolstoy resting under a tree. All appeared well, until the giant took a step. It was evident that Tolstoy was struggling to walk. After getting closer to get a better view, the rangers could identify the problem: Tolstoy had a puncture wound in the joint on his front right leg.

A wound like this was no accident. Tolstoy is known for raiding crops. He usually returns unscathed from his night-time forays into farmland but, when he is caught in the act of crop-raiding, farmers will do whatever they can to defend their fields. In this case, Tolstoy was speared in the leg. Crop-raiding by elephants can cost a farmer their entire season’s income in one night, and despite Tolstoy being one of Africa’s last remaining ‘super tuskers’, that doesn’t stop farmers from protecting their livelihoods. It is also not the first time this has happened. Tolstoy was treated for three spear wounds in 2018 – injuries that were also received during crop-raiding.

The joint Kenya Wildlife Service/David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust mobile veterinary unit was quick to respond, but the decision to treat Tolstoy was not made immediately. Darting an animal of his size, particularly with a wound in a sensitive joint, is extremely risky because the elephant may not be able to stand after treatment. The decision was made to wait 24 hours and see if his condition improved.

Tolstoy super tusker
Tolstoy was darted and quickly treated by the vet team. After receiving a jab to wake up, he retreated to rest in the shade.

The rangers stayed by his side through the waiting period, spending the entire night out with him. However, the wound showed no sign of improvement. The decision was then made to dart him – which was done quickly and professionally. His wound was thoroughly cleaned and treated, and Tolstoy was given antibiotics and painkillers before receiving a jab to wake him up.

With great effort, Tolstoy finally stood and stared back at the treatment team, before retreating into the shade. For now, his prognosis looks good. But he is unfortunately not yet in the clear and Big Life’s rangers will continue to monitor him as his wound heals and he walks the road to recovery. The rangers will also continue to spend their nights out in the farms around Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks, keeping elephants safe and helping farmers to protect their crops – in the hopes of preventing similar occurrences in the future.

Big Life Foundation is one of the carefully vetted conservation projects in our private travel and conservation club. Learn about their work or make a donation here. (Join the club to access our projects).


Want to follow super tuskers on safari in Tsavo and Amboseli? We show you how.

You can also read about travel and conservation club member Roger’s experience searching for super tuskers on the club forum.

Read more about the super tuskers of Tsavo.

Learn about dealing with the challenge of crop-raiding elephants in Tanzania.

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I’m a simple guy and know what makes me happiest - time spent in wild natural places, preferably with awesome rocks, amazing clouds and my camera. After a number of years in the eco-tourism industry in Botswana and a backpacking stint around eastern Europe and Asia, I recently completed my MSc in conservation biology. My belief is that human population expansion, the root cause of the majority of our conservation problems, will eventually peak and reverse. My goal in life is to try to make sure we still have as many natural places as possible left at that time. See a portfolio of my photographic work or like my Facebook page for more constant updates from wherever I happen to be.

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