We sadly start 2013 with bad news.

At the beginning of January a whole family of elephant were killed in Kenya’s Tsavo national park. Last year close to 400 Elephant were poached in Kenya alone, with the total number of African Elephants now soaring into the tens of thousands annually.

Part of the dead family from the air. Image credit: The Guardian.

While on the ground everyone is pulling together to stop these abhorrent crimes, the fact is that two things can save these animals;

  • Effective action is taken to spread the message of conservation within Asian cultures, in particular China.

The overwhelming cause of the current resurgence of ivory poaching is increased demand within asian countries. While much effort is being made to spread conservation messages within anglo-speaking culture this is unlikely to have any effect unless the consumer cultures behind the ivory market are introduced to strong anti-ivory messages.

While countries such as China are dominated by labyrinthine political and business systems, they are also increasingly and dramatically affected by social media.

Sina Weibo (China’s censored version of Facebook) has evolved into a platform where the Chinese citizen-as-activist can safely expose a corrupt official, cause an entire newspaper to strike against censorship, and even end the career of China’s top propaganda officials.


China’s emergent middle classes are young, affluent, and influential. When they are exposed to the horrors caused by the consumer habits of their fellow countrymen they will respond in kind, with horror.

For the last two weeks our wildlife monitors have received constant reports of gunshots and are tracking poached and wounded Elephant. To drive us to work harder to save these Elephant we have a gallery of images from Andrew and Chyulu Francombe from Ol Malo, and ‘An Interesting Elephant Story’ by Colin Francombe, Kenya Wildlife Service Honorary Game Warden and Samburu Trustee.

These beautiful Elephant are part of a group of families that move throughout Northern Laikipia and Samburuland.

An Interesting Elephant Story – Colin Francombe

It was a hot sunny midday in 1987; Mohamed leaned on his spear and watched his beloved camels as they crowded in to drink from the isolated waterhole in the clearing.


Without warning there was a rumbling scream and the sound of breaking branches behind him. He turned to see a charging cow elephant burst from a thicket, its head held high as it exploded into the water sending a bow wave ahead of it, engulfing Mohamed as he leaped backwards, and sending the camels scattering.


But too late, the elephant reached the bank and lowered its head, driving its single tusk into the ground and opening a deep furrow from its forward motion.

It crashed into Mohammed, exploding upwards and sending him flying through the air to land 15 metres away, unable to move with a smashed thighbone, broken ribs, and his leg forced out at an impossible angle from his body.


As the charging elephant reached him, crashing down on its knees and pinning his shattered body to the ground, its tusk descending towards his chest, he mustered his strength and shouted out to it, thinking his life was at an end.

But the saga of Mohamed and this elephant had only just begun!


A beautiful large matriarch called ‘Split Ear’

Mohamed, a Somali, was born in the wild arid lands of Kenya’s North Eastern Province. He was born and reared into the life of a pastoralist herdsman and was now employed on a ranch in Kenya’s northern Laikipia District; a wild and beautiful area bordering on the great Rift Valley, of panoramic views and teeming with wildlife.


This bull caught a spear that has worn back to just the metal spear head. At first it weeped for a long while but now it’s healed and he doesn’t seem to worry about it.

For years Mohamed had herded his camels amongst herds of buffalo and elephant as one and had built up an amazing and uncanny rapport with them. The question now arose: Why had this cow elephant suddenly turned on him in such a vicious fashion?

The elephant’s tusk was inches from being driven through Mohamed’s chest when he cried out to it. Something registered in the animal’s brain and she stopped short of that final thrust.


She pulled her head back as Mohamed started talking to her quietly, asking why she was doing this to a friend who would never harm her and who had lived with her and her herd for so many years. 

She pulled back and stood up reversing away from him. Slowly she approached him extending her trunk and running it over his body. Mohamed slid his body backwards towards a small shrub straightening his shattered leg slightly.


The elephant followed feeling him with her trunk as he moved. She moved her massive foot, gently nudging him as if to try and raise him and to apologise for what she’d done.

She raised her foot and placed it on his head as he turned it sideways, scratching the side of his face and again nudging him in a vain attempt to raise him.


She then set up a vigil with her four year old calf at her side, not leaving him for the remainder of the day and into the night, constantly returning to his side as he talked to her.

As evening came on a herd of buffalo approached to drink from the waterhole and were scattered by the irate elephant protecting her charge. And in that unbelievable situation Mohamed knew that now he was safe!


As darkness fell the camels returned to the ranch centre, around 5ks distant and the staff realised that Mohamed was missing.

Vehicles rushed out to look for him and at around 10pm the ranch headman Ngobito stopped his car and shouted into the bush as he had done so many times that evening, only this time he heard a faint reply from out of the darkness and drove his vehicle into the thick bush in that direction.


The calls got closer until they were able to hear Mohamed shout that he’d been attacked by an elephant and to be careful as the elephant was still with him.


Thinking he was still being attacked, the fearless Ngobito gunned the vehicle through the bush to be confronted by the elephant charging out of the darkness.

He drove the vehicle at the elephant which turned and enabled him to shunt her from behind driving her off into the bush. And after an amazing 10 hours Mohamed was found.


He was strapped to a wooden cupboard door and brought back to the ranch centre where he received treatment for shock and dehydration prior to being transferred very carefully 60kms to the nearest hospital.

The map on the ground left by Mohamed and the elephant told the whole story and now the same question arose: WHY?


On the following day I regretfully decided that no matter how amazing was the story, this elephant was a danger to everyone and must be shot before someone was killed. 

It was well known to us as a single tusked female with a broken right hand tusk. As I was leaving to locate the elephant a report arrived that another employee had been killed by a rogue buffalo.


This was a disaster that caused the elephant hunt to be postponed and we raced out to deal with the situation. By evening the body of our unfortunate herdsman had been retrieved and we had tracked the guilty buffalo and shot it.


On the following morning, guns were cleaned and again we set out to deal with the elephant. Tracks were picked up close to where Mohamed had been attacked and within an hour we found the elephant standing quietly in a thicket of bush.


I moved in to 20 metres and aimed at her temple. As my hand squeezed the trigger I felt a tap on my shoulder. I relaxed my grip and turned to see faithful Hussein leaning toward me.

He whispered in my ear “yeye alisaa” (she’s calved). He pointed at a pile of fresh afterbirth just ahead of us.


We moved in closer as she slowly turned to face us and the movement parted the bush to reveal a very pink newly born elephant standing unsteadily between her legs.


She was completely at ease with us as Hussein spoke quietly to her and informed her that now we had no intention of shooting her. And at that moment I knew the answer to the question: WHY?


I thought back to a previous occasion when I received a report that a pastoralist herdsman had been killed by an elephant close to the ranch and that the elephant was charging anyone who approached the body.


On reaching the area of thick bush we were indeed unable to get close due to the presence of a herd of elephant close by. As I was about to leave, the tribesmen insisted that if they were to start talking the elephant would charge the sound.


I was sceptical but to appease the masses, Hussein, a very reliable friend, and I stationed ourselves in a clearing about 100 metres from the herd, and between the herd and the tribesmen.


As they started talking there was an angry scream from the herd and the sound of breaking branches; an elephant crashed out of the thicket in front of us charging straight for us. Our only option was to shoot the elephant.


Darkness was on us and I wanted to see what could have caused the animal to become so vicious, suspecting it might have been wounded.


On returning the following day we found no outward sign of a problem and so we opened up the animal’s stomach where we found a foetus that was within hours of being born.

That elephant and the herdsman it killed had not been as lucky as Mohamed but likely did not have the rapport of Mohamed!


I later heard from a friend on a neighbouring ranch of an experience he’d had where a cow elephant had given birth within 24 hours of killing 3 cattle over a period of a few days. No doubt that elephant’s life was saved by her newborn calf!


Mohamed survived albeit with a permanent limp. The elephant became a friend of everybody and was christened “Mohamed”. In 1991, shortly before I left that ranch she gave birth to another female calf with no sign of a repeat of her previous misdeeds!


By chance we were able to save the life of an amazing animal to live and rear her own family amongst the vast herds of Kenya’s Laikipia elephants. And she taught us a small lesson: “always respect and cherish the female genus especially prior to facing the trauma of giving birth!”


Here ends this fascinating story.


For another of Colin’s incredible stories (and a very short bio) have a read of CH 17: The Ivory Bonfire.


What you can do to help:

This article is a Samburu Trust collaboration. Please click here for more information.

This Chapter by Colin Francombe, Sacha Kenyon, Julia Francombe and Moses Lerusion.

All Images and text ©2012 Samburu Trust. All rights reserved.


Image Credits

1-30: A & C Francombe

Post a Comment