South Africa’s Kruger Park Loses its First Elephant; Kenya Loses an Icon

The carcass of 46-year-old elephant Mountain Bull was found in the Mount Kenya Forest with visible spear wounds and its tusks missing. (Photograph courtesy Lewa Wildlife Conservancy)

In recent years, Kruger, the jewel in the crown of South Africa’s national park system, has lost many rhinos to poachers, but its elephants have remained safe.

Until now. For the first time in a decade, a bull elephant in the park has fallen to poachers, who hacked off his tusks.

“This poaching incident really shocked us,” said Reymond Thakhuli, acting head of communications at South African National Parks (SANParks). “It says that we need to be prepared for anything.”

According to Thakhuli, investigators deduced that the elephant was shot and killed around May 1. Four sets of footprints were found in the area, indicating that the killers fled into Mozambique.

Kruger’s Rhinos Targeted

Securing the border between Mozambique and South Africa has proved to be hugely problematic, and in Kruger rhinos have been heavily targeted, mostly out of neighboring Mozambique.

According to Save the Rhino, 1,004 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2013, and some 375 already this year.

Warnings have been sounded that Kruger’s elephants would be next. According to Fiona Macleod, a South African journalist and editor at Oxpeckers Center for Investigative Environmental Journalism, there were indications at least a year ago that the elephants of Kruger were vulnerable. (See her April 2013 article, “Poachers set sights on Kruger Ivory.”)

“We started getting the warning signs because there had been elephant poaching incidents in the Mozambique side of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park,” Macleod said.

Her article quotes one Mozambican conservationist as saying, “We are losing elephants at the rate of three to four a day in Niassa [Reserve, on the border with Tanzania] and all the tuskers are gone. Now the poachers are heading south to smaller reserves in Mozambique and to the Limpopo and Kruger national parks.”

A 2012 census found about 16,900 elephants in Kruger.

Uphill Fight

On April 17, Mozambique and South Africa signed an accord in Kruger to combat rhino poaching. Although Mozambique is working harder to manage the situation, Macleod says South Africa’s inability to prevent the incursions has led to despondency.

“The military is now trying to prevent poaching, but they are overwhelmed. The rhino poaching its just getting worse every year,“ Macleod said. “The general perception in South Africa is that they don’t see an end in sight.”

Some 400 armed rangers patrol Kruger, whose border with Mozambique extends about 280 miles. Thakhuli said that South African National Defense Force (SANDF) patrols the border, working in tandem with the park rangers.

When asked what the park’s response will be now that the first elephant has been poached in a decade, Thakhuli said that beyond being able to explain that the strategy in Kruger is “holistic,” he can’t provide specifics.

“The poachers pay attention. They get information. They are listening to the radio. They are watching television. So it is difficult for me to explicitly give you information. These poachers are very sophisticated.”

“We are saddened by this latest incident but are confident that the dedication and efforts of our rangers and our partners in the security sector will eventually prevail over this malady,” said Abe Sibiya, the acting head of SANParks.

There have been no arrests so far.

Mountain Bull during his prime. The famous elephant was one of northern Kenya's most recognizable animals and has captured the imagination of many. (Photograph courtesy LEWA Wildlife Conservancy)
Mountain Bull during his prime. The famous elephant was one of northern Kenya’s most recognizable animals and has captured the imagination of many. (Photograph courtesy Lewa Wildlife Conservancy)

Meanwhile in Northern Kenya…

Conservationists in Kenya are mourning the death of an iconic elephant known as Mountain Bull.

According to a release by Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, “No other animal has had greater impact on wildlife conservation in northern Kenya than Mountain Bull.”

Mountain Bull’s dead body was found on the afternoon of May 15. The carcass had spear wounds, and the tusks were missing. It’s believed that Mountain Bull had been poached eight days before.

The Lewa release notes that Mountain Bull was “the enigmatic elephant whose dedication to using the traditional elephant migration routes in northern Kenya… led to numerous conservation initiatives.”

One of those initiatives was the “pioneering” Lewa/Ngare Ndare Forest/Mount Kenya elephant corridor, a travel route between the forests of Mount Kenya and the savannas of Lewa and Samburu plains. This corridor has opened up the traditional migration route for more than 2,000 African elephants that had previously been blocked by human development in the Mount Kenya forest.

The 46-year-old elephant had been fitted with a GPS-GSM collar by Save the Elephants, but a few days ago, Lewa’s cofounder, Ian Craig, noticed that the elephant had not moved from his last reported position at Mount Kenya.

This raised urgent concern,  and Lewa and the Mount Kenya Trust launched the a search, which ended with the tragic discovery.

Many have been affected by Mountain Bull’s death.

“Mountain Bull’s death is a great loss to the conservation fraternity,” Lewa’s CEO, Mike Watson, said. “He…left many inspired by his bravery and resilience.”

“Mountain Bull is a legend and a champion for his species,” said the natural history filmmaker Sir David Attenborough. “It is a tragedy he had to die out of man’s greed.”

Christina Russo is a freelance journalist. For nearly 15 years, she has worked as a producer for a number of public radio programs, including NPR/WBUR’s "On Point" with Tom Ashbrook. Christina also freelances for Yale Environment 360, where her written work focuses mainly on wildlife conservation issues. She is the co-producer, with WBUR, of the nationally syndicated documentary on American zoos, From Cages to Conservation. She has written numerous articles about animals, including a story about caring for donkeys in Ethiopia; a veterinarian saving horses in Sonoma County, CA; an elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand; and the work of pre-eminent whale biologist Roger Payne for her hometown newspaper, The Gloucester Daily Times.
  • Jill Ashby

    What an incredibly heartbreaking piece of news. The evil and ignorant poachers will have no idea what they have done.

  • Cher

    Perhaps this is where our US military could help out? Help the Rangers find and stop the poachers. This is something that is effecting our planet… our lives… our environment… as a WHOLE. We should all come together to fight this… we, the world should fight it!!!

  • Jose Diaz

    What a shame to have this events still ocurring, even though it is prohibited, poachers are so ignorants about this because they just want to earn bad money that will evaporare on their hands !

  • VonnieSams

    These magnificent animals will meet extinction at the hands of greed and ignorance!

  • Sean Nolan

    I think it is time to look at the scale of slaughter over the past few months and ask QUESTIONS !
    1. The degree of corruption that is allowing this to go undetected.
    2. why there is not a total ban on all ivory sales.

  • Karyn Koop

    THANK YOU for this knowledge of information article n one elephant poached in 10 years is Great, but VERY SAD n disturbing this one elephant of 46 yrs.killed for ANY REASON!! The villagers need additional education n training to HELP the area law enforcement agents n maybe some sort of trade off or reward in place to let outside poachers know how the penalties will be severe if they are caught. I know WEB CAMS are great but not sure the area needed for surveillance/ Technology is so advanced n awesome now.

  • Ricky Dewet

    There should be a total bann worldwide on any ivory or tusks! If anyone would be in possesion of ivory, they have to be served with poachingfine! This is a tragedy TRAGEDY TRAGEDY! STOP ALL JEWELRY! Stop all ORNAMENTS!! MEAN THUGS! JAIL THEM, MURDERERS TO PUT A SMILE ON SOMEONES FACE???

  • Alan

    Agressively start hunting poachers. Confiscate their weapons or traps, and if necessary, shoot them. It’s that simple.
    I’ll bet poaching will decrease rapidly and will be difficult to recruit new poachers knowing the risks. It may not stop the demand which is the root of the problem, but it will be effective towards preserving the life of the animal kingdom.

  • ER

    There is the preventative of removing most of the tusk, while anesthetized, and lettting the elephant, rhino, or other tusked being, live. The incentive to kill it would be removed. Something to think about….

  • Justyna

    There is so little wild animal, and so many bad people… I think we need more wild than bad, greedy ignorant. It should be treated as a very big crime to ALL peopole who are in this “industy”. From poor man whi killing animal to posh rich person who is buying ivory statue…

  • nuno

    pena de Morte para esses Sacanas assassinos Já!

  • Phil Rodriques

    I’m baffled. The world now uses drone technology for even delivering goods bought online, why isn’t this technology being employed to protect wildlife. It covers far more ground than 400 rangers could ever cover.

  • Julian Cortes de la Hoz

    Death for poachers the people that hire them and those who buy the ivory.

  • Bill Edburg

    I think it is pathetic. We should be allowed to go over there in groups and hunt the poachers. Shoot on site like the cowards are doing to the helpless animals. I wouldn’t hesitate. Maybe Google can donate one of their drones for this.


    Everyone’s comments are right on. Every route to saving the Elephants must be put into play now. That means money. Donate what you can and make certain that your government knows that this is important to you. Hillary Clinton has stated that she is in favor of a ban on all trade of ivory and a worldwide effort to Stop Poaching.


    Drones and boots on the ground…
    Research and law enforcement…
    Fighting corruption. ..
    Take money.
    Donate and urge your government to take conservation of the planet’s largest mammals seriously enough to spend money.

  • Melanie

    then we ask ourselves how come older civilizations became extinct? this is a perfect example. poachers will not stop until they have killed the last of every rare animal on earth.

  • Tom Petres

    While I understand the depth of poverty and desperation of the poachers, I feel their penalty should still be death. Worse of all is that poaching is actually a highly sophisticated enterprise carried out by organized crime syndicates. They should trace these organizations to their heads and give death to the leaders. Also impose severe penalties such as 20 years+ in prison. With over 7 billion people on the planet these rare creatures are far more precious than a few thousand criminals, whether its human life or not, they are clearly worthless individuals.

  • Tom Petres

    Edit** I meant 20 years or more in prison for the buyers of the ivory…..strictly death for those who actually carry it out or order it carried out.

  • Gustavo Capanna

    On a continent where thousands die of hunger, disease and violence, it is hard to believe that these magnificent animals are safe from poachers mercenaries ..

  • jose

    It sickens me that the poachers are getting away with murdering n butchering elephants n rhino coz of greed

  • Kathleen Holding

    I was worried that poaching would be the result when the Kruger was opened to create the larger park with Mozambique. I think the border should be closed again.

  • nurul

    Perhaps the park should limit visitors and photographs that are being taken. When we post these pictures on social media, the poachers can use them to track the wildlife.
    sad, but to fight the battle against greed, it is not easy. Plus, the fine the poachers have to pay is minimal compared to the amount they get from buyers. To them, it’s a risk worth taking.

  • Norman Sander

    A bounty should be put on poachers heads at any level in the chain. The bounty should be paid to whoever takes them out (kills them). This would mean they have to be caught red handed or identified through intelligence. poachers should have no right to human or legal rights. If this is not done, all our wildlife will ultimately be killed.

  • maria fernanda trindade

    Bad humans who have no respect for animal life …. JUSTICE was there to stop killers of animals …

  • Jason

    When are these countries going to implement shoot to kill policies like Zambia has, for all of these pieces of garbage?! Their lack of respect for wildlife should in turn give them no right to live themselves. These scumbags deserve to be shot & left for dead!!

  • Jerry

    We are witnessing the Decemation and Extinction of the Elephants, Rhinos,and othe wildlife that poachers can make money off of DUE to CHINESE DEMAND of Body parts for their Idiotic unproven MEDICAL use of Body Parts and taste for Ivory.When will it END! RIP Mountain Bull you are a Martry for all WildLife.

  • Wanda Carter

    This is so very sad for all of the elephants and rhinos. I don’t believe in the sale of ivory and I don’t understand why the Chinese would want them for medicinal purposes. They are also causing the extinction of tigers for medicinal purposes and their fur. Mans greed is the root of all of this evil. Do whatever is possible and needed to stop these poachers. I say kill them all, from the actual poacher all the way up to the buyers of these products. They are all beautiful animals and need to be protected at all costs.

  • Mohamed Salim

    I do not think that the poachers reap full profits from the sale of the tusk taken out of the dead animals.It is the middle man who gets enormous profits .I now believe that the elephants are being butuchered with Spears,this proves killing is in the hands of a common man .The govt.should pass law death sentence convicted of these type of killings.

  • Bob

    Why not set cameras to scan horizon and monitor approach of poachers. Otherwise, is it possible to permanently dye ivory? to make it unusable

  • Lori

    This is the most disgusting trade and sanctions should be placed against China/Vietnam as the Asians are idiots thinking the ivory cures cancer. If they would allow it, I would stake out with high powered machine guns and kill them dead on site. This is by far the most horrific abuse of animals ever and the Asians are killing our wildlife.. The poachers aren’t ignorant, it’s all about greed – not life.

  • Coop

    ER – “The incentive to kill it would be removed. ”
    No, they still leave the same tracks, and when tracking an animal, if they see it has no ivory or horns, then they shoot it. Saves tracking a worthless (in economic values) animal again. Noone wins.

  • Coop

    A total ban on ivory? That would work like having a ban on say illicit drugs, right? Saying it is illegal and fining people wont do anything if people have the resources such as cash. The people buying it arent going to listen to someone saying you cant have it. If anything, will make them want it more. Blaming poachers? It is like blaming coal workers for environmental damage. Look higher up chain, stop demand. If financial rewards are there, then there will be people risking everything to get it. The rewards are simply too good. Almost everyone has a dream of winning the lottery or getting fast cash, for majority of Africans, they have no other way except from this, this is how corruption in governments work, and for the poacher at the end of the line, they have few other options to strike it rich. For people living and growing up with these animals, they arent going to have the same emotional connection as Westerners do to them, they are simply an opportunity to strike it rich. Being able to feed yourself and kids today is more important than any animal. Put yourself in their shoes and have a think.

  • Samantha Tate

    I think for the first time ever, I agree with every comment. Poachers are just as guilty as anyone in these horrible mass murders of elephants and rhinos. I wish there was a way for people to volunteer their time to help in the fight for these animals. A Peace Corp if you will for the fight against poachers. Maybe if the sanctuary could infiltrate the border with more people, poachers would have a harder time sneaking in.

  • Kathy Calathos

    I say if the poachers are caught some serious penalties must be enforced.Execution would be fine with me.This kind of greed and corruption must be stopped at any price.We needto save our precious wildlife.

  • deborah russo

    We are always sending our military to other countrys why not send them to africa to stop poachers. Man destroys all that is beautiful we cant allow greed to destroy these magnificent animals who have the right to live a life in peace. The next cities meeting isnt until 2016 it needs to be now by then it will be to late. I despise the people who do this there the ones who deserve to die. Ivory needs to be banned forever.

  • J

    There should be a worldwide effort via video/internet and newspaper ad campaigns asking everyone to boycott these wildlife consumer countries — China, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, etc. — I mean boycott travel there and the purchase of all their products wherever one happens to be. Put up pictures of these defaced and otherwise brutalized animals, show time to extinction at current death rates, whatever it takes. Satao was also a magnificent creature and the brutal death and mutilation of that aged bull would enrage any thoughtful person. Today this wildlife slaughter is increasingly supporting the drug trade, rebel fighters, and terrorist organizations among other dangerous, well funded groups. They have high tech and high power defenses and killing machines. It’s all about the money so show these wildlife consumer governments that the huge number of people alarmed about this ongoing decimation have a large voice and substantial economic power. Demand that these blood purchases and all trade of protected wildlife be halted in the above mentioned countries and all others whose governments refuse to end the purchase and/or sale of protected species.

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