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Satao, Legendary Tusker In Kenya, Killed By Poachers


A big danger countries in Africa have to watch out for is poachers. Just last year, more than 30,000 elephants were killed for their ivory. The slaughter has gotten so bad that at this rate wild African elephants will be extinct within 20 years. And the killing of one elephant over the weekend stood out. Satao was a much-loved symbol in wildlife conservation circles. He was one of the few remaining Tuskers - bull elephants with huge arching tasks that reach almost to the ground. At 45-years-old, Satao was a revered elder among the dwindling herds in Kenya's Tsavo National Park. For more, we are joined by Richard Moller. He's chief conservation officer and the founder of the Tsavo Trust, which works for the survival of Africa's elephants. He joined us from Tsavo Park there in Kenya. Good morning.

RICHARD MOLLER: Good morning to you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Please take us back to the moment that you laid eyes on Satao because he must've been rather a magnificent sight.

MOLLER: Yes, I first saw Satao nearly four years ago. He was truly a magnificent elephant in that his ivory stood out even from a distance, even from an aircraft. Yeah, he resembled something like a mammoth.

MONTAGNE: And given his high profile, how did it happen that poachers got to him?

MOLLER: Tsavo National Park is a massive massive area. So he has huge area to roam in, approximately 1000 square kilometers. And to have security personnel and anti-poaching units to cover that entire area 24/7 is quite frankly impossible.

MONTAGNE: Why has elephant poaching become so bad in recent years?

MOLLER: Well It can only be one thing and that is the demand for ivory from Eastern countries, mainly China and Vietnam. If there was no market there would be no poaching. But that's breaking a 2000-year-old tradition, that's going to take time. I tell you right now we do not have the time.

MONTAGNE: You know elephants are such intelligent creatures, and I believe they're known to understand death. What effect will Satao's death have on his fellow elephants?

MOLLER: I'm convinced that they mourn their fellow elephant. They'll often go back to his carcass and feel the bones, lift them, smell them, touch them. Now, how will Satao's death have an effect on his fellow elephants that he hangs out with? He always hangs out with certain other bulls. I mean, they will be mourning this for I don't know how long, probably the rest of their life.

MONTAGNE: And you and the other conservationists there or those who knew of him must be heartbroken.

MOLLER: Absolutely. I mean, Tsavo is understaffed, underfunded. You cannot put more men on the ground without more funds. You cannot put more technical equipment into the field without the funds. If people sit on the sidelines, I'm afraid these animals will be gone.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

MOLLER: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Richard Moller is chief conservation officer of the Tsavo Trust Organization working for the survival of Africa's elephants. He joined us from Tsavo National Park in Kenya. It's NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.