“Eleanor was carefully investigating the carcass of the dead elephant, running her trunk up and down the gleaming surface of the tusks. With one foot on the skull, she gripped them firmly in her trunk and with a sickening crunch tore each one from its socket. Holding each tusk aloft, she waved them about for a few minutes before flinging them deep into the bush. It was as if, despite leading a sheltered life, she realized that herein lay the cause of the persecution of her kind in their wilderness home.” – Daphne Sheldrick from her book Love, Life & Elephants (1).
Many people have witnessed elephants either trying to hide their own tusks or those of the dead. There seems to be an awareness that elephants know that they are being hunted for their teeth. A group of filmmakers were convinced that Satao, one the last big tuskers in Africa, desperately tried to hide his tusks among the foliage whenever humans were near. Pilots flying overhead witnessed Satao doing this on several occasions. Mark Deeble (A Wildlife Filmmaker in Africa) and his partner Vicky Stone filmed Satao weaving in and out of the bush in what appeared to be an obvious attempt to hide his magnificent tusks.
“At once, I was incredibly impressed, and incredibly sad – impressed that he should have the understanding that his tusks could put him in danger, but so sad at what that meant.” Mark said (2). Satao was found a two months later on May 30, 2014 killed by poisoned arrows with his face hacked off. His beautiful tusks were missing, another great bastion of Kenya…gone.
Elephants are an arrhythmic species meaning that they can see as well during the night as they can during the day. An elephant’s vision is similar to that of a color-blind human. They tend to spend more time moving around in the daylight hours and sleeping for the most part takes place at night…except for elephants in areas that are being heavily poached. It is in these areas that elephants move around only under the cover of darkness with a keen awareness that it is in the daylight that they are being hunted.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rescues baby elephants that have been injured or separated from their families. They have rescued several babies from the Laikipia District; an area hit very hard by poachers. These babies all have one interesting thing in common. They only sleep during the day and stay up all night. And this isn’t just one baby, but all of the elephants rescued from this region act in the same way. It is a good indication that these herds move only at night.
So when people ask me what the hardest thing is about wading through some pretty awful stuff to find the hope…for me it is that they know they’re being hunted. That, more than any other thing, is what keeps me awake at night. And it is knowing this that makes me want to do something to change it.
Want to read more about this? Check these out:
(1) Deeble, M. (2014, March). Satao: Last of the Great Tuskers. Retrieved 2015, from Mark Deeble: A Wildlife Filmmaker in Africa
(2) Sheldrick, D. (2012). Love, Life and Elephants: An African Love Story. New York: Penguin Books, Great Britain.