Changing Planet

Phylo: A Young Bull’s Final Moments

We hadn’t known Phylo for very long. He had been using the reserve for the last year but was absent from the area for long periods. As a young male, he was in the stage of his life when he was solidifying his dispersal routes, exploring new territory as he separated from his family. In the past couple of months, we had seen him a bit more frequently, grazing calmly, sometimes alone but mostly among our resident families. He was a nice looking young bull, with unbroken tusks that would have grown beautifully had they been given the chance.

We arrived at Phylo’s carcass the morning of January 27, 2013, perhaps seven hours after he’d been killed under the full moon. [Read Blood Moon Rising, by Oria Douglas-Hamilton.] He was not hard to find—just off the main road in Buffalo Springs National Reserve. His face was hacked off in the typical fashion, with the pool of blood not yet soaked up by the earth. A piece of his penis sheath had been cut off as well.

The gunshots went to his head on either side, and the blood from those shots was so fresh it glistened in the morning sun. The bloody holes in his ears made a stark contrast to the healed hole we knew as his unique marker. We had used that healed wound to note his identity, our starting point from which to record and interpret the behaviors of a living, breathing animal.

We were soon met by Kenya Wildlife Service rangers, and we set to looking for the poachers’ tracks. Though the land cover made it difficult to find footprints, evidence of Phylo’s last moments was present. He was shot close to a dry riverbed known as White Luggah and then stumbled across the main road, where he left a trail of blood, shuffling his feet and struggling before falling on his right side. We could reconstruct this from his tracks through the grass, where he dragged his feet before succumbing to the gunshots. On the ground, he was shot in the head again from a few yards away.

Shifra Goldenberg with elephantShifra Goldenberg is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at Colorado State University. She conducts research in Samburu National Reserve, where she investigates the effects of poaching and other disruption on the social structure and survival of young female elephants.


Shifra Goldenberg is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at Colorado State University. She conducts research in Samburu National Reserve, where she investigates the effects of poaching and other disruption on the social structure and survival of young female elephants.
  • Brandon Wynn

    This is a shame. This was a great read and the image symbolizes a beautiful creature that God created.

  • Victoria Brownworth

    The horror of poaching isn’t really understood clearly in the West. Leaders like out-going U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have made significant efforts to keep this issue in the forefront of the news, but the lust for ivory from Asia–notably China and India–and even the West (there is smuggling that occurs in the EU and the US) continues. Since the only access Americans and Europeans have to the majesty of elephants is in zoos, they have no regular consciousness about them. It’s up to conservationists like Ms. Goldenberg to bring that majesty to a Western audience. We have learned in recent years that large mammals mimic humans in many ways and thus we need to study them to learn more about ourselves as well as our world. What’s more, adaptive mammals like elephants who have a known intelligence quotient and who have learned to live in extremely harsh conditions, can teach us a great deal about how to survive as climate change becomes a reality. Stories like these are essential to spreading the word about these magnificent animals and their lives–and unfortunate deaths.

  • Sanjay

    My head hangs in shame when I read of poaching. I can only apologize as a human to our fellow beings for our greed and violence. May Phylo rest in a better place.

  • Piyush Bhatt

    Shameful act … Such a gorgeous beauty slained for petty sum….increase education, awareness, tough animal protection lawsis the only way out …. GOD shower your mercy pls

  • Paul Diamond

    This is just a tragedy… I give much appreciation to those studying the effects and somehow coming out with an action to minimize poaching… Elephants are just one of those creatures that everyone knows and appreciates. How do you stop this savage act? At what level do we have the right to cease what seems to people some people’s culture and livelihoods. Do we start with education? Acting upon local government and campaigning for different employment for those poachers… I think what we should really be asking is, do the poachers really understand the deep impact on what they are doing will result with??? It’s really sad. I would love to help but don’t know how…

  • Henry

    A sad moment in did .As God made humans he made us Superior to take care of Wildlife,to protect .A sad story indeed.

    A painful death for an innocent Elephant .I think poachers should be treated and tried as murders ,
    because in Zimbabwe and South Africa Animals a becoming extinct because of these Poachers,I wish all Countries will become one and solve this problem,thinking about the animals not political

  • @SeanSmcahon

    This make me ill. I never have and never will understand why humans can be so cruel to animals. So sad.

  • Mina

    It is not that serious just to find and punish those shooters,for their totally cruel behavior, but also to spread the world how important creatures like that are. By killing them is like enjoying destroying the enviroment! Hope i could do more for Phylo than RT this. Thank you for the great article and information!

  • Madhavanji

    Poor Animal, May His soul rest in peace;

  • Dark Storm Cloud

    It is truly sad to read this story! It sickens me knowing that fellow human beings behave in this manner!

  • Ravi Thampan

    Shame ! Will we ever see the end of this slaughter?Reminded me of the slaughter of over athousand elephants shot by one man Veerappan in South India afew years ago with inadecuet rifles and left to die by inches

  • Erika Towle

    This just makes me sick… And it’s not just elephants Rhino’s are getting slaughtered as well!! Damn asian carvers!!

  • Jesse Matta

    That Phylo sounds like something else. I bet he used to like to play in the water too. He sounds like he was real nice. That Shifra Goldenberg is something else, also. Thats good work.

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