Blood Moon Rising

More Elephants Slaughtered in Northern Kenya

I watched the full moon rise in the east as the sun was setting, falling behind the clouds like a glowing ball pulling the moon up. Blood moon tonight, I thought—I don’t like this. I was far away from where the elephants live, 300 miles in a straight line southeast, bobbing up and down in a small boat over red-lit waves in Manda Bay, with the sun on one side and the moon on the other. Soon we would have only the bright full moon lighting up the tropical sea, with a warm wind blowing. Beautiful as it was, a full moon on Saturday night filled me with foreboding.

The moon was so bright I had to call someone for reassurance. But there was no answer. I called again and asked, “Is anyone out there? This is bad for the elephants.”

“Yes,” came the reply, “we are alert.”

Two hours passed. I was having dinner, as the moon blinked on and off through white clouds racing by as if in a hurry to get somewhere. I noticed three calls on my cell. I sent a message back: “Is there a problem?”

And then I read, “TWO ELEPHANTS SHOT.”

I knew that out there men were hacking at tusks, sweating and bloodied. Reports came in of gunshots heard at dusk. Sharp-eyed scouts gathered. Moving fast they found the tracks of four, maybe eight, men who had all night to run and hide. Another message came saying the scouts had found an older female elephant with a young male beside her, tusks gone, and a bloody trail.

Striding over the rocky hill, carrying axes and tusks, the killers took their loot south to the road. Was someone waiting in a car? They got away—and behind them, scrambling through the bush all night, the scouts searched, until the sun rose and closed the night.

Were these the same men who had killed Changila?

And then I heard that Phylo was shot. Phylo was only 20 years old. Another butchered, faceless male elephant who hours before had strolled on the golden grass.

 

Phylo’s mutilated carcass. Was this 20-year-old male killed by the same men who hacked the tusks out of Changila’s face on January 3? Photo by Gilbert Sabinga, Save the Elephants.

Changing Planet

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Wildlife conservationist Oria Douglas-Hamilton is a trustee of Save the Elephants, a charity based in Samburu National Reserve in the Great Rift Valley, Kenya. Save the Elephants carries out rigorous studies of elephants, including elephant collaring and sophisticated elephant-tracking techniques. Through the charity, she has worked to support, protect, and increase awareness of issues that threaten African elephant populations and their habitats. Oria and her husband Iain Douglas-Hamilton co-authored two award-winning books, Among the Elephants and Battle for the Elephants, and have made numerous television films. Douglas-Hamilton has appeared in a number of wildlife documentaries,  including a three-part BBC documentary, The Secret Life of Elephants, which explored the lives of elephants in Samburu reserve and the work of the Save the Elephants' research team. Oria and Iain also co-wrote "African Elephants: Can They Survive?" in the November 1980 issue of National Geographic, which documented the havoc caused by ivory hunters and human population pressure.