Poachers Just Killed the Biggest, Most Loved Wild Elephant in the World

He was enormous, iconic and beloved among elephants. His name was Satao and he was the most famous “tusker” in the world.

Tuskers are elephants with tusks so big they weigh over 100 lbs. each and nearly touch the ground. Not every elephant has the genetic pre-disposition to grow tusks this big. Satao was perhaps the largest one left. He roamed the Tsavo East National Park in Kenya for some 45 years a magnificent reminder of how grand and glorious wild animals truly are.

All that changed on May 30, 2014. On that day, ivory poachers left Satao dead, lying in a heap on the muddy ground with his face hacked off.

Satao the elephant

Felled by a Poisoned Arrow

Satao had recently taken to wandering near the boundary of the Tsavo East National Park. Nearly 1,000 other elephants were doing the same, as this area provided newly abundant vegetation due to recent rain. The problem is that this same location has long been a popular poaching spot.

Well aware of the constant threat to Satao, for 18 months the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Tsavo Trust, a Kenyan not-for-profit conservation group, banded together to keep track of his whereabouts. Using aerial reconnaissance and people on the ground, the team did everything it could to shield Satao from danger.

They’d seen him alive and well nine different times during May from the air and the ground.

Sadly, it wasn’t enough. On May 30, one poisoned arrow brought Satao down. Watch a video containing what may be some of the last footage ever shot of Satao here (warning: at the end of this video are graphic still images of his carcass):

“An arrow smeared with Acokanthera poison hit him in his left flank and penetrated his body cavity. It travelled right through to his vital organs,” reported wildlife photographer Mark Deeble on his blog, A Wild Filmmaker in Africa. Satao had been shot with such arrows before and recovered, but this time was different.

“With today’s mounting poaching pressures and anti-poaching resources stretched to the limit, it proved impossible to prevent the poachers getting through the net,” noted the Tsavo Trust in a press release about the incident.

A Great Life Lost

Searchers found Satao’s carcass on June 2, but with his mighty tusks and most of his face missing, they needed verification before announcing the death. KWS and the Tsavo Trust searched for Satao along his regular range for days and could not find him.

Ultimately, Satao’s still-perfect ears and the pattern of mud caked on his forehead and back provided the necessary proof. If you can bear to see what he looked like when found, click here for a photo of Satao’s carcass. Look at it to understand the enormity of the crime being perpetrated against these majestic creatures.

Satao from overhead

“Today it is with enormous regret that we confirm there is no doubt that Satao is dead, killed by an ivory poacher’s poisoned arrow to feed the seemingly insatiable demand for ivory in far off countries. A great life lost so that someone far away can have a trinket on their mantelpiece,” the Tsavo Trust announced on June 13.

“The loss of such an iconic elephant is the most visible and heart-rending tip of this iceberg, this tragedy that is unfolding across the continent,” Frank Pope of Save The Elephants told The Telegraph.

Fighting a Losing Battle with Ivory Poachers

Ivory poaching is indeed an incredibly serious problem. In 2013 alone, more than 20,000 elephants were killed in Africa, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

International ivory trading has been illegal since 1989, when CITES imposed a worldwide ban. That matters little to buyers in China and Thailand, who drive most of the demand for illegal ivory today.

To put the problem in perspective, ivory is now reportedly more valuable than gold. It’s little wonder criminals are unable to resist the lure of so much money. It’s tragic they care so little for ivory-bearing animals that they don’t hesitate to kill as many of them as they can.

The Tsavo Trust, working with Save the Elephants and KWS, has launched a program aimed at offering better protection to the Tsavo area tuskers. The Large Elephant Monitoring Project regularly flies over the Tsavo East National Park, keeping tabs on the tuskers. With luck, they’ll be able to prevent further such tragedies.

An iconic elephant is gone for no reason other than human greed. Those who loved Satao are grieving. Those who killed him had certainly already forgotten him, being too busy hunting Satao’s friends to give him another thought.

Those poachers may be thinking of him now, though. In a final bit of good news in this case, KWS authorities reported on June 21 that they’ve arrested three suspects in the killing of Satao. Perhaps a measure of justice will prevail after all. Whatever happens, it could never compensate fully for the heartbreaking loss of this one-of-a-kind legend.

Photo credit (all images): Richard Moller/TSAVO TRUST


Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Marie Fisher
Marie Fisher4 years ago

I can not believe these 'thing' that do so cruel, an not needed acts, show them a punishment to match crime.

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe4 years ago

I think they should put up billboards of the murdered Satao to let people see what ivory poaching does! Maybe it would make people think more about where their ivory actually comes from!
I hope they can prove that these suspects they arrested are the ones who killed Satao, and put them in prison and throw away the key!!
Rest in Peace Satao - no one can hurt you now!

Valerie A.
Valerie A4 years ago

very sad and such horrible cruelty.

Manel Dias
Manel Dias4 years ago

These type of evil & ruthless poachers must be put to death by hanging them in public. So the rest of the poachers will understand the language what will happen if they also butcher these majestic animals. Other than that these idiotic sibhumans don't have a clue what a disasterous way they are harming the animals and the planet earth equally.Those politically involved people who are considered intelligent enough to understand the Right from Wrong need to bring forth the harsh punishments for these poachers to fit their crimes. Wake up politicans wake up do something to BAN & STOP this mass murder of magnificent Elephants in the wild.

Jenni Haughton
Jenni Haughton4 years ago

Ivory is a status symbol of being successful and rich in Asian countries, Billboards should be put up in these countries saying Ivory is not a sign of wealth but a sign of being a murderer to a magnificent species.

Jenni Haughton
Jenni Haughton4 years ago

Why dont they do raids on wealthy Asian houses that are likely to have ivory like drug raids and confiscate any ivory they have with a hefty fine and imprisonment for having ivory. Also put up billboards every where in the Asian countries where there is this demand of how they are destroying a beautiful majestic species. What a stupid tradition a sign of wealth more like a sign of ignorance and cruelty.

Karen LoGrasso
Karen LoGrasso4 years ago

It is not enough to penalized these poachers. I firmly believe they should have the same death sentence as Satao. A poison dart and a hacked off face. The root of these horrific acts is the buyer of these covered tusks. A death penalty should be part of the price.

Michaela McCollin
Mic M4 years ago

Heartbreaking. I can't think of any other words!

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H4 years ago

I watched the video...what a beautiful and amazing animal...until the end. I hope those scum who did this to him find justice. Preferably by their own poisoned arrow. That would be justice. But if not that hopefully something worse will prevail on them.