A Privileged Encounter
Blog by International Interns Mikki Koot and Chloe Lucas
Tsavo National Park is home to the last remaining great tuskers in Kenya. Once roaming the great plains of Africa, it is now estimated that there are only 10 left in the whole of Kenya. An elephant is classified as a ‘great tusker’ or a so called ‘hundred pounder’ when its tusks weigh 100lbs (45kg) or more per side. Legend has it that the famous great tusker, Ahmed, had tusks so long that he could only get up a hill if he walked backwards. There are several photographs of Ahmed resting his head on his tusks, showing just how colossal they were.
In 1970, Ahmed got presidential protection after a group of schoolchildren wrote a letter to Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, pleading for the protecting of this magnificent bull. Soon after Ahmed was placed under presidential protection and was protected by five armed game rangers, whose only job was to ensure his safety around the clock. He is one of the few elephants lucky enough to die of natural causes.
In May 2014, the great Tsavo tusker Satao was not as fortunate as he found his death at the hands of poachers. Satao was thought to have the longest and heaviest tusks in Africa, making him one of a kind. Satao was accompanied by two smaller bulls who would charge aggressors while this legend hurried back into the thick bush, disappearing into thin air. It is often said nature works in mysterious ways and it is quite astonishing that elephants know how rare and special a great tusker is.
So imagine this; the four of us- Lucy and 3 interns- one of whom was on their first ever African safari, are driving through Tsavo National Park. In the distance we see the tell-tale red of Tsavo elephants and excitedly approach the herd, readying our cameras. Never could we have predicted what we were about to see. Drinking calmly from a waterhole, surrounded by his herd, was an elephant with tusks so great they almost touched the ground. Judging by the sheer length of the tusks, we were almost 100% sure that this elephant belonged to the 10 great tuskers remaining in Kenya. We all just gasped in amazement, instantly taking hundreds of photos as he stood there dipping his beaten trunk into the water. We must have stayed there for over an hour taking in this incredible animal.
After a while we were joined by a safari jeep who, to our astonishment, drove off after five minutes. Did they not just see one of the rarest sights in the world? It was staggering and quite shocking to see that not even the safari guide appeared to realise the significance of this particular elephant.
All too soon the elephants finished drinking and headed off into the bush. Seeing this gentle giant wander off into the distance left us with a lot of mixed feelings. Whilst we were ecstatic to have seen this rare great tusker you cannot help but wonder what the future has in store for him. If we brought our children here in 15 years’ time would they have the chance to see such a magnificent animal? We can only hope that with carefully monitoring by KWS rangers and our partners in Tsavo, The Tsavo Trust, our tusker stays safe and that others become more aware of the importance of these great creatures.
Photo: Chloe, Mikki and Matthew on the Tsavo Bridge