Kenya: World's Famous Big Tusker Elephant Dies in Amboseli

(file photo).
5 February 2020

The world is mourning an icon. Tim, one of the last surviving super tusker elephants in Africa has died in Amboseli National Park.

While many elephants in the country die prematurely due to poaching, the Majestic Tim, one of Africa's last big tusker elephants and an African Elephant ambassador died of natural causes early Tuesday aged 50 years in Mada area of Amboseli National Park, Kenya Wildlife Service officials said.

70 YEARS

Elephants can live up to 70 years. KWS said park management visited the scene of death and has secured the body which has been transferred to the National Museums, in Nairobi.

"The body will be preserved through a taxidermy for education and exhibition purposes," said KWS Communication Officer, Paul Udoto.

Famous for his rare majestic tusks, Tim was a very popular sighting for tourists who visited Amboseli National Park. He was considered an ambassador for his species and even has a life-size poster of him. Tributes to the elephant poured in social media from all over the world. Tourists from far and wide who had met Tim at the Amboseli Park were not left behind.

GIGANTIC ELEPHANT

Mr Udoto described the gigantic elephant as "an unassuming matriarch that was always unusually welcomed by females and their families."

"He was benevolent slow-moving preserver of peace at the Amboseli and was well known and loved throughout Kenya (and the world)," added Mr Udoto.

Because of its fame, many travelled from far and wide just to photograph him.

Its fame, according to conservationists, catalysed many conservation collaborations between Kenya Wildlife Service and Conservations KWS and conservation organisations.

Tim was a darling to many tourists because of his laid back nature and the fact that he always seemed to have a herd around him.

Ms Sharlene Cohen, a tourist who had the privilege of meeting Tim at the park, mourned the giant on Facebook

"Tim was one of the largest and oldest majestic elephants in this region," she wrote.

TRIBUTE

Kenyans and wildlife lovers on Wednesday took to social media to pay their tribute to the animal that made their safari enjoyable.

"He was a wonderful elephant, and an ambassador for his species. We will miss him but we also hope that his legend lives on and he continues to inspire people to protect elephants. He has fathered many calves too, and we are happy he got to live a long life in the wild," a wildlife enthusiast said on Twitter.

CEO Wildlife Direct Paula Kahumbu who has known Tim for over a decade described him as "the magnificent bull of the Amboseli".

Dr Kahumbu said Tim was one of the last remaining great tuskers in Kenya, a term used to describe African male elephants with long tusks.

"The great tuskers are an irreplaceable symbol of our continent's unique natural heritage. But their magnificent tusks act like a magnet for poachers (and in some countries still for trophy hunters) and means that these elephants are constantly at risk," said Dr Kahumbu

"When we first met Tim he had a very severe wound on the back and was limping. He had been speared by some locals. And even then he was very friendly," she said.

POACHING

She added that when Tim was well and on his feet again, the board at Wildlife Direct decided to protect him and use him to protect other super tuskers of the Amboseli.

Fear of poaching forced KWS and conservationists to collar the animal in 2016.

The collaring of Tim in 2016 by a group of conservationist groups including Save the Elephants, Big Life, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, KWS and the community has played an instrumental role in saving the rest of his herd at the park from poachers as the rangers always knew his whereabouts and those accompanying him.

But Tim was equally mischievous. "Tim surprised everyone, he was a crop raider but he was also gentle, calm and intelligent. His size was breathtaking, and he seemed to know it. But he was also very friendly with people," she said.

"The radio collar tracking him alerted rangers every time he and his herd went near farms. And it worked exceptionally well. Too well, Tim lost weight because he couldn't raid farms. But within two years he somehow got rid of his collar. Without it, he and his gang could return to his nocturnal raids on nearby farms," said Dr Kahumbu.

"The rangers would then go and drive them away from the direction of the farms to keep them out of trouble," he added.

PROTECTION

KWS and Big Life Foundation Rangers provided the matriarch 24 hour surveillance and protection.

In 2018, the animal nearly died at the park when it got stuck on a deep mud for several hours before the rangers came to its rescue.

She added: "As a huge male, Tim secured many mating [sessions] with the females and so we are certain that he's a baby daddy to many little ones in Amboseli. The gene for super-tusker has been passed on many times.

"I would be lying if I said I wasn't heartbroken that Tim is no more. But I'm also proud that he died of natural causes, that our work did create awareness of this giant in Kenya and around the world.

I'm sad we never got to host the Elephant Naming ceremony with President Uhuru Kenyatta - an event that we hoped would give our elephants Kenyan names and create much more awareness about our pride and heritage. I'm sad that we were unable to persuade others that we should be celebrating and naming our elephants as a nation," he added.

SCIENTIFIC STUDY

The giant tusker was named 'Tim' by Cynthia Moss, founder of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, as part of what has become the world's longest running scientific study of the species.

The elephants name indicates that he is a member of the "T family".

Since its birth in December in 1969 by an elephant cow named Trista, Tim has been closely monitored by the Amboseli Trust for Elephants.

His grandmother Teresia, was the matriarch and leader of Amboseli's TD family.

Justus Nyamu, the director of Elephant Neighbours Centre, termed Tim's death as a huge loss for the park and the conservation and tourism sector.

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