by Richard Bonham
Some sad news to report. Torn Ear, one of the Chyulus' most famous long-lived elephants, has been killed by poachers.
I first saw Torn Ear in the early nineties, already a mature bull. When we started putting down water at the lodge in late nineties he became one of the resident bulls, and over time, was so trusting and habituated to people that one could almost touch him. Torn Ear, as with the other resident bulls here, generally spend most of the dry season in the Ol Donyo Wuas / El Mau area, then when the rains came, disperse to other areas.
Initially we had no idea where they moved to in the rains, untill Mike Branham very generously donated three GPS collars, which he helped us deploy. The data they generated was invaluable, and showed that most of the bulls would disperse into the Northern end of the Chyulu National Park, and sometimes even as far as Kiboko, close to the Nairobi Mombasa highway. This area we have always considered one of the danger zones for poaching, as it is close to settlement and has easy access for poachers.
Torn Ear, together with some other bulls, have been in the North Chyulus more or less since the rains started in December. We kept track of him through his collar, and various Big Life ranger units would patrol the area, maintaining a security presence and generally keeping an eye on them.
Three days ago, he reappeared at the Ol Donyo water point but nobody noticed two small weeping wounds just behind his rib cage. Then by luck, I spotted him and noticed that his gait was wrong and saw the tell tale wounds on his stomach, in exactly the killing zone targeted by poison arrow poachers.
Fearing the worst, I contacted Angela Sheldrick who immediately put me in contact with the KWS/Sheldrick Mobile Vet Unit based in Tsavo led by Doctor Poghorn, who over the years has come to treat many injured animals in our area of operation. I flew to Tsavo at first light, collected Poghorn, and by 10am, the dart went in to immobilize Torn Ear. He went down fast and immediately Poghorn made incisions over the wounds to remove the arrow heads.
As he cut deeper I could see from the expression on his face that things were not looking good, then there was no escaping the reality: the arrows had penetrated into the abdominal cavity and peritonitis had set in, which meant that there was no hope for survival. To alleviate suffering, Torn Ear was then euthanized.
So yesterday we lost an iconic elephant, one of the few left on the continent whose tusks pass the 100 pound mark. I also think of him as a friend of 20 years. Emotions are running deep, as we failed in our mission to protect him.
But the greatest sadness is the reality that Torn Ear was probably one of a hundred or so elephant that died just yesterday to feed the ivory trade.
Last year, over the 2 million acres that Big Life's rangers patrol, we lost 11 elephants, 5 poached, 6 to human/wildlife conflict. Torn Ear is the first fatality of 2014 at the hands of man. The rangers do a great job protecting the large, wide-roaming elephant population in the ecosystem. We wish we could safely protect each and every one, but sometimes, like this week, the bad guys got through.