Conservationists worldwide are demanding that Kenya’s president provides around-the-clock armed protection for the country’s handful of remaining “great tuskers” after poachers killed one of the last of the huge elephants.
Thousands of people signed an online petition and took to Twitter with the hashtag #PoachersParadise to demand President Uhuru Kenyatta acts following the death of Satao, one Kenya’s few elephants whose tusks weigh over 100lbs.
Mr Kenyatta’s father, Jomo, who led Kenya from 1963 to 1978, placed another such elephant with massive ivory, named Ahmed, under his protection by presidential decree in 1970.
Satao was poached for the ivory trade (RICHARD MOLLER/TSAVO TRUST)
Ahmed was accompanied by two armed soldiers throughout his later life and died of natural causes aged 55, despite parts of Kenya facing a poaching onslaught that mirrors today’s crisis.
Now there are calls for Mr Kenyatta to do the same for the perhaps two dozen elephants remaining in Kenya with similarly enormous tusks. Aside from Satao, another individual named Mountain Bull was killed earlier in May.
“It really is time for the handful of these great tuskers we have left to have the same level of security decreed by the president,” said Richard Moller of The Tsavo Trust, based in the Tsavo National Park where Satao died.
“Tsavo is one of very few places that has a viable gene pool left of these elephants with very large ivory. When these few are gone, and there are probably less than a dozen, that gene pool is lost forever.”
Mr Moller’s idea would be for each of the remaining elephants to have 24-hour guards provided by the Kenya Wildlife Service, with which his organisation partners in its conservation work in Tsavo.
“Putting these elephants under president protection would show that Mr Kenyatta realises that Kenya really is one of the last repositories of these awesome examples of the African elephant,” said Frank Pope of Save The Elephants.
“It is in his interests, and Kenya’s, not just in terms of tourism and international goodwill, but also to keep the country as the storehouse for the genomes that produce these very rare, magnificent elephants.”
A petition requesting Mr Kenyatta to act that was launched from Britain late on Saturday had gathered close to 4,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.
“There are estimated to be less than two dozen of these big tuskers left in the world and most of them are in Kenya,” the petition said.
“Two have been lost within a month. We believe that this is a crisis. If we do not act immediately to protect these last magnificent great tuskers their genes will be lost and without them the world will be a poorer place. It would be an irreversible tragedy.”
Kenyan conservationists led by Richard Leakey, the palaeontologist and environmentalist, have accused Mr Kenyatta of failing to act, and his government and rogue officers in the wildlife service of being complicit in poaching.
Animal-lovers reacting to the death of Satao on Twitter agreed, using a hashtag to call Kenya a #PoachersParadise.
Official figures that claim fewer than 100 elephants have been poached in Kenya so far this year are widely discredited. Some activists argue the figure may be 10 times as high.
Until the 1960s, Africa had as many as five million elephants spread from Senegal in its west across the Sahara and the Congolese rainforest to Somalia in its east and across most of its southern savannahs. But poaching in the 1970s and 1980s, and again now, means there may be fewer than 400,000 remaining.
According to some estimates, 40,000 are being killed for their tusks each year, raising the statistical possibility of the species’ extinction in the wild within a decade.
Mr Kenyatta was said to be aware of the calls for action and would consider them, a source close to his private office told The Telegraph. His spokesman did not immediately return calls for comment.