Last Saturday was a good and bad day for elephants. While thousands of people participated in the Global March for Elephants, Rhinos and Lions to raise awareness about protecting these animals, tragedy struck in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Authorities shot and killed an iconic elephant named Little Male.
Despite his name, Little Male wasn’t little at all — he was actually one of the last “big tusker” elephants, with long, thick tusks that nearly reached the ground. It’s previously been estimated that there are only around 25 big tuskers left in Africa.
At the moment, very little information is available about the circumstances under which Little Male was killed, although it’s said that Little Male was suspected to be responsible for killing a farmer.
“The farmer’s death is a tragedy — though we don’t know what happened, or why this particular elephant was shot,” Carl Safina, ecologist and co-founder of the Safina Center, told The Dodo. “Without clarity on that, this seems more like reprisal than any solution.”
Whatever the circumstances, animal lovers and conservationists are mourning the death of Little Male, who is the nephew of the famous matriarch, Echo, who starred in four nature documentaries.
“We have known him [Little Male] since he was 5 years old, so we have followed his life for 44 years,” a spokesperson for the Amboseli Trust for Elephants wrote on Facebook. “We watched him grow, become independent from his family, learn the ways of the world of the males, eventually coming into musth and competing for females. He was in his prime, fathering calves, passing on his good genes for robustness, good health and longevity.”
#RIPLittleMale. Little Male was one of Africa’s few remaining big tuskers. What took place in Amboseli is a tragedy. We have to do better. This is a video we took of Little Male in 2016 in full musth. From @amboseli_trust “While hundreds of people were preparing to participate in the Global March for Elephants, Rhinos and Lions, a tragedy occurred in Amboseli yesterday morning. One of the last big elephant bulls in Africa was shot and killed by the authorities because it was suspected he had killed a farmer. That bull was 49-year-old Little Male, the brother of Eudora and the son of Emily, who was the sister of Echo of the EB family. We have known him since he was five years old, so we have followed his life for 44 years. We watched him grow, become independent from his family, learn the ways of the world of the males, eventually coming into musth and competing for females. He was in his prime, fathering calves, passing on his good genes for robustness, good health and longevity. That important role he was playing in the Amboseli elephant population ended yesterday. It is times like these that we are tempted to give up but we don’t. It hurts so much, but we have to fight for the other elephants here including Little Male’s sons and daughters. But we must not forget the death of the farmer. It is a massive tragedy for his family. It is not a question of guilt and innocence here. We must strive for peaceful co-existence between humans and wildlife.”
Not only is Little Male’s death an emotional loss — it’s also a blow to the health and vitality of the local elephant population in Amboseli National Park.
“Males in their 40s, 50s and even 60s are the prime breeders,” Cynthia Moss, program director and trustee of the Amboseli Trust, told The Dodo. “It is important that they father the calves and pass on their genes for health, vigor and longevity. Younger males have not proven themselves yet and might pass on detrimental traits. The very fact that these older males are alive indicates that they are the ones that should be fathering calves.”
Little Male’s death is also an economic loss to Kenya, according to Moss. “People come from all over the world to see and photograph a big bull like him,” she said. “There are very few of them left in Africa.”
In general, elephants face an overwhelming number of threats in Africa, which could drive these animals to extinction.