The murder of Khadija
(Watch out for more updates on this subject)
I was first fell in awe of the mighty elephant when I was eight or nine. It was a magnificent David Shepherd painting reproduced in a magazine: a young bull charging the artist, ears flared, trunk raised to the heavens and the mighty tasks threatening carnage in defence of the herd. Elephants are usually quietanimals and go about the business of feeding without threatening any other animal unless the herd is threatened. I learnt that lesson when I was taken hunting by a well-known Pakistani big game hunter whose relatives were our neighbours in Eastleigh. I don’t think I said more than two words on that trip as I was completely rapt by the animals and the vegetation. Sure the lion is a magnificent king of the jungle and the cheetah is elegance personified and there is no less grace and stealth in the leopard. The majestic rhino and the buffalo have their own good graces but for me from that day the elephant was the greatest creation in god’s own back garden.
True as humans continued to scour more land from their habitats, elephants attempted to take their own land back and sometimes resulted in the death of a villager or damage to their plantations. But it was human error that was always to blame. As a young reporter I was to come face to face with the full horror of the results of the elephant poachers. I went on many sorties chasing (and sometimes catching) the poachers. What I will never forget is the site of an elephant carcass with its tusks ripped out. I can’t think anything more heart wrenching than that. It was often nightmarish. I have seen many people reduced to tears at the sight of the elephant’s murder.
Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton are extra-ordinary elephant conservations, working through Save the Elephants and Elephant Watch Safaris. I am indebted to a kindred spirit Alan Donovan in Kenya for passing on Oria’s email to other friends of the elephant.
“All of us at Elephant Watch and Save the Elephants, have been deeply shocked at the tragic killing of Khadija in Samburu, the last adult female of the Swahili Ladies family. One by one her whole family had been killed last year and she was looking after her own three young and five orphans.
“In early June she had been badly wounded. We kept a close watch on her movements and on the 24th, STE with the help of Ian Craig immobilised her when she came into the Reserve, they treated her wounds, put a collar on her and injected a massive dose of antibiotics and vitamins.
“With difficulty she managed to pull herself up on to her feet, and wandered off slowly. We were able to follow her wandering and she was gradually getting better. For some reason she kept going south towards the "bad lands".
“On the night of July 13, in the light of the full moon as she wandered towards the river, she was gunned down on the southern boundary line, in a barrage of bullets. We found her faceless with eight bullet wounds in her body, the collar removed and hidden nearby. Her tusks had immediately been hacked off and taken to a trader.
“We are on the war path against traders and poachers. It is a long uphill struggle, as the trade is spread far and wide and we are also in the midst of a serious drought in the north. The elephants are moving out of the safety of the Reserve in search of branches, their main source of food now. We still have water in the river. The local Samburu herders have left the area always looking for better pastures for their livestock, and our friendly "eyes and ears" in that area are now gone.
I have been working closely with Iain, David Daballan and the STE team helping wherever I can. Our boys are keeping a close watch on the elephants and we are hoping to find the eight orphans, who must be terrified and lost without leadership now and hoping to collar one of them. KWS and the Police, acting on some information, set up a road block on the Meru/Isiolo road and arrested three Somalis in a new vehicle, with 6 tusks and bullets in their possession. We do not know who shot the elephant.”
A report recently released by Save the Elephants warns that during the first five months of 2011, poaching of elephants in the Samburu/Buffalo Springs region has reached an all-time high, the highest recorded in the last 10 years. The report also shows that 14% of the social groups do not contain a breeding female over the age of 25 years and comprised multiple orphan calves. With many of the large bulls poached, the elephant population is now 70% female.
"In the first six months of this year, rates of illegal elephant killing on the south near Buffalo Springs Reserve has reached new record levels,” said Founder of Save the Elephants, Dr Iain Douglas-Hamilton. “Samburu has been a success story where elephants have been recovering from the excessive poaching of the 1970s and 1980s right up until 2008. It has been one of Africa's few safe havens for elephants thanks to KWS law enforcement. However, the new poaching spike, driven by new demand, is threatening one of the most peaceful elephant populations in Africa with highly habituated trusting animals.
Save the Elephants, the Northern Rangelands Trust and KWS are uniting to provide more resources on the ground to protect elephants and other wildlife.
In another development, African governments have been asked to join forces in fighting poaching and other environmental crimes as way of protecting their economies, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service. The call to sign up with the Lusaka Agreement was made to African diplomats based in Nairobi at a special briefing on the eve of the birth of the continent’s 54th nation, South Sudan.
Recently, five tonnes of contraband ivory seized in Singapore, was burnt in Tsavo West as part of the celebrations. The bulk of the ivory was found to have originated in Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia. Ivory and rhino horn are easily available in neighbouring Tanzania. Fingers are being pointed at the huge contingent of Chinese workers in Kenya for the increase in elephant and rhino poaching. Both ivory and horns are fetching unprecedented prices. Chinese have long used both for medicine and as aphrodisiacs.
In 1989 the burning 12 tonnes of ivory was the precursor to the ban on international trade in ivory. This was a happy time for elephants right across Africa as herds began to recover as soon as the international markets were closed. But conservationists now warn that recent experimental sales by four Southern African countries to China and Japan have re-ignited the demand for ivory which in turn is resulting in increased poaching.There is a little good news though. The elephant population in Tsavo West has increased to 12,572 from 11,696 three years ago according to the preliminary results of a census released recently. In previous counts a 4 per cent increase was achieved while the new figure represents a 2 per cent In 1976, Tsavo was home to some 35,000 elephants. In early 1970s, around 6,000 animals died during a harsh drought, and by 1988 only 5,400 remained in the park in the wake of a serious poaching onslaught. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Kenya’s elephant population numbered amongst the hundreds of thousands until poaching almost wiped out the entire herd. In the 1980s the population went from a high of 120,000 to 15,000. Even the Maasai who have lived harmoniously alongside the wildlife succumbed to the rich, but evil, rewards of poaching.
While Kenya’s army of professional and volunteer conservationists is among the best in the world, there is the every present talon of human corruption lurking in the wings of any crime in Kenya.
Like I said there are lots of wonderful people doing wonderful things to help conserve Kenya's wildlife heritage. Ian Douglas-Hamilton has been doing it for 45 years and his wife Oria is a powerful force in her own right. If you can help, donate cash, adopt an elephant, whatever, check out www.savetheelephants.org
Pictured below: Khadija's corpse and Khadija as her friends will always remember her.