Poachers poison Kenya’s most famous elephant

In the firing line: Satao was targeted for his enormous ivory tusks © Tsavo Trust

Satao, one of the largest elephants in the world, has been found dead, killed for his enormous tusks. What can be done to stop the trade in ivory and prevent more elephant killings?

With tusks so long they swept the ground before him, Satao was one of the world’s largest living elephants. He was instantly recognisable and loved by many, thanks in part to his magnificent tusks which each weighed more than 45kg.

But those famous features were his downfall. It was confirmed last Friday that the giant bull had been shot with poisoned arrows by poachers in Tsavo National Park in south-east Kenya. His face had been mutilated and his tusks cut off.

His untimely death forms part of a wider, disturbing picture. The office of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) estimates that more than 20,000 African elephants were killed in 2013. Conservationists warn that elephants could disappear from some parts of Africa in the next few years.

Behind Satao’s death is an illegal yet booming global trade in ivory, which has doubled since 2007. Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and the USA all drive demand, but China is by far the largest market.

China has around 150 legal, government-licensed ivory shops, but many more traders sell elaborately engraved ivory on the lucrative black market. The government says ivory carving is an ancient art it wants to keep alive and large numbers of increasingly wealthy Chinese see it as an important status symbol.

But this week one of the world’s most renowned conservationists, Richard Leakey, turned the spotlight on the Kenyan government, accusing it of corruption and incompetence.

He argues that it is all too easy to point the finger at Asia instead of those Kenyan government officials who protect the poachers. A crackdown on ivory trading has seen its value soar in recent months. Organised crime and corruption are also said to be on the rise and, Leakey believes, could reach the highest levels of government.

Are Asian customers, the Kenyan government or poachers most to blame for Satao’s death?

Ivory towers

Some argue that the best way to put a stop to the poaching is to devise a system that makes it profitable for local people to look after elephants. In Zimbabwe and other African countries, programmes have been established that authorise managed culls and trophy hunting. The profits go back to local communities, and elephant numbers and ivory production are controlled sustainably.

But this measure is controversial. There are claims that elephant populations are not strong enough for sanctioned culls and trophy hunts to take place. Nor do such killings foster the idea that all elephants should be valued as a price is still placed on the lives of some. The Kenyan government should crack down on poachers and China must stop fuelling the ivory trade if the problem is to be solved.

You Decide

  1. Who is most to blame for Satao’s death?
  2. Should the trading ban on ivory be lifted?


  1. In groups, devise an anti-poaching campaign slogan.
  2. Design an infographic setting out some key facts and figures about African elephants. How have their numbers been affected by the trade in ivory?

Some People Say...

“Killing some elephants is the only way to save the species.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Kenya is far away. Why should I be concerned with all this?
The consequences of poaching are very grave for elephants; some experts have suggested they could be extinct by 2025. As David Attenborough has warned, there’s a good chance that the only elephants future generations will ever see will be in picture books. Poaching also blights people’s lives. Revenue generated from ivory is being used to fuel war and terrorism in Africa.
Why do people buy ivory?
Some Chinese people believe ivory brings luck or has medicinal properties. Others use it as a way to display their status and see it as a good investment. But there is a lack of knowledge about its origins. A recent study cited by The Times found that less than a third of Chinese people surveyed knew that elephants are killed for their tusks.

Word Watch

Satao was an elephant known as a tusker; a type of male elephant with a genetic make-up that produces unusually large tusks. His tusks were more than 2m long.
Richard Leakey
The founder and former head of the Kenya Wildlife Service. He persuaded the Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi to burn the country’s 12-tonne ivory stockpile inside Nairobi National Park in 1989. He lost both his legs in a plane crash in 1993, and it is suspected that the plane was sabotaged by those who opposed his campaign against the trade in ivory.
CAMPFIRE (Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources) was set up in 1989 and provides incentives to Zimbabweans to preserve wild animals and use them as a valuable natural resource. The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) estimates that households participating in the scheme have increased their incomes by 15 to 25%.
Trophy hunting
The selective hunting of wild game animals, usually by foreigners who pay large sums of money to hunt and kill the animals.

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