The Death of an Elephant Queen Highlights Struggle of the Species

For more than 60 years, the plains of Tsavo, Africa, have been home to the “queen of the elephants,” known less affectionately as F_MU1. She was one of the last “big tusker” elephants in the world, whose numbers are thought to be fewer than 30, according to CNN. And British photographer Will Burrard-Lucas, in conjunction with the Tsavo Trust, was lucky enough to capture some incredible photos of this beautiful elephant in her final weeks.

It is a rarity that F_MU1 got to die at a ripe old age of completely natural causes. She may have been thin and shown more than a few extra wrinkles in her skin, but she towered over the African plains with majestic grace until the very end.F_MU1 avoided poaching for her entire life, which is an exceptional feat for many elephants. And with her particular tusks, this survival is even more incredible.

F_MU1was 8 feet tall, with tusks that were 6 feet in length, weighing around 100 pounds each. Her tusks were so long that they would at times scrape the ground as she walked in search of food and water. Pictures of her make you think of the artistic interpretations we see of long-extinct woolly mammoths (or maybe even oliphants, if you’re a “Lord of the Rings” fan).

Burrard-Lucas used a device called a BeetleCam, a DSLR camera mounted on a remote-controlled bugger protected by a hardened exterior. He was even able to get the camera in between the feet of the elephants as they drank, enabling him to capture some of the most stunning images. Burrard-Lucas searched the Tsavo plains for daysfor F_MU1, covering an area the size of Switzerland. “If I hadn’t looked upon her with my own eyes, I might not have believed that such an elephant could exist in our world,” he wrote on his blog.

Poaching is still a huge blight on our world. In February 2019, Elephants Without Borders revealed evidence of recent poaching in Botswana. Mike Chase, the founder and director of Elephants Without Borders, said that “of the over 100 carcasses of concern, 90% were confirmed as poached.” This is all the more disappointing, as Botswana has become something of a safe haven for elephants in recent decades. Ivory from these recent slaughters is still being sold across Europe, contributing to the risk of further poaching and elephants getting closer to extinction.

Worldwide, on top of the threat of poaching is the so-called human-elephant conflict. In places like India, it has become a battle between elephants seeking out a habitat in which to survive and plantations wanting to protect their valuable crops. Fortunately, the Sumatran elephant is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list as critically endangered and is a protected animal. Villagers who harm these elephants face imprisonment and heavy fines. And it isn’t just Sumatran elephants who are at risk. Asian elephants are listed as endangered, as are Borneo pygmy, Indian and Sri Lankan elephants. Plus, African elephants are listed as vulnerable. Our elephant populations are in trouble, which is why stories like F_MU1 are so incredible.

Events like World Elephant Day are vital to raise awareness of the plights of elephants, and the projects of organizations, such as Elephants Without Borders, are crucial to keeping extinction at bay. Our world is changing faster than any of us are prepared for! We need to help our incredible wildlife while we still can.

Photo Credit: Oliver Wright/Wikimedia Commons

114 comments

Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D21 days ago

This is such a great story. I hope "Queen" rests in peace now that her beautiful story is ended. I am so grateful that humanity left you in peace to live the life you were meant to live.

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La'neSa'an M
LánéSaán M22 days ago

What a beautiful story. May the Great Queen rest in peace. May her progeny learn well from her many survival skills that she passed on. Thank you Kelly Wang for posting this.

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Marija M
Marija M24 days ago

RIP dear queen.

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joan silaco
joan silaco24 days ago

tufs

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Louise A
Louise A25 days ago

Thank you

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Lindsay K
Lindsay K25 days ago

Many thanks for sharing. So glad she made it to a ripe old age and died naturally.

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Janis K
Janis K25 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Leo C
Leo C25 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Leo C
Leo C25 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Ruth S
Ruth S25 days ago

Thanks.

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