Kruger National Park safaris

On the verge of extinction
The Great Tuskers of Africa
20 April 2022

The gentle giants of Africa are fast being tipped into the abyss of extinction by unscrupulous, exploitative trophy and illegal hunters and countries that allow this massacre to continue.

It was with a sense of deep shock and anger that I read in the Africa Geographic online magazine in an article on the recent death by trophy hunters of two magnificent bull Elephants in Botswana. The only sin these two great bulls, each a “monument to life”, had committed, was to grow superb tusks or in trophy hunting circles, ivory.

Their tusks were in a league of the phantom like 100 lbs. of ivory a side, ivory so rare today due to their continued slaughter, few people have ever cast eyes on these icons of African wildlife. Elephants carrying such large Ivory is highly sought after by people, so unscrupulous that they will kill a great bull Elephant for nothing more that the outsize teeth it carries around. And then what?

A 40 to 50 year old Bull Elephant reduced to a pile of quivering flesh for its teeth.

I knew a French hunter who had killed so many giant bull elephants that he mounted each pair to frame every doorway in his huge mansion in France, how sordid, how sick is that. To kill these great, docile beasts he would hire a helicopter in different African countries where he had heard that one of the magnificent animals still roamed and hunt these bulls down in remote swamps, savannas and other areas where they sought shelter, protection from the persistent harassment of humankind, but there is nowhere to hide, even helicopters came cluttering out of the sky to strike fear and loathing into the heart of the great beasts. He eventually felt a huge sense of guilt and wrong doing but he kept on hunting, an insatiable lust to kill.

These are the measures that some hunters will go to, to keep their inflated egos alive and well. How dare they call themselves hunters, it is an insult to people who take up arms to hunt to sustain themselves and their families. Obviously, money is not an issue in the pursuit to kill more huge elephants than the competitors in these cliques of barbarians and this is the reason why these great beasts are on the verge of extinction, human ego.

Another mighty tusker bites the dust of human greed, lost to the world but for one man’s greed

Another choice specimen, I fortunately never had the displeasure of meeting, was an American who had set himself the goal of killing enough big elephants to have a leather jacket made from the skins of the elephants’ penises. I think you get the idea of what kind of people we are dealing with here. Maybe Putin could use a few

Beautiful big bull with his 2 younger Askaris companions and sentries

I am reading an amazing book, a tome, “Frontiers” by Noel Mostert in which he details, vividly, an intense and tragic period in the history of the often unsettled Eastern Cape. I would like to reproduce here with kind permission of both Noel Mostert and Pimlico the publishers.

It is a tiny portion of the book, not quite two pages of almost 1300 pages but having recently once again come across the sickening need of a select kind of humanity who kill such a valuable natural asset as these two huge tuskers to satisfy their overcooked egos.

I would like to transcribe the text from “Frontiers” here regarding Elephants, the hunting of Elephants and how Elephants and especially the death of Elephants was felt by the people who hunted these great pachyderms and those who stood on the sidelines to witness the slaughter of the great beasts in times gone by.

This big guy has now moved onto new trumpeting grounds

“In times gone by” is the crux of the matter, here we are talking about historical times, times when most people had a different mindset, a different view of the world around them. This was a time when hunting and therefore killing by humans of our wildlife was a more acceptable past time, a sport to be had by the landed gentry of foreign countries visiting our shores where Princes, Princesses, Kings and Queens came out to cut their teeth, slaughtering our wildlife or naturalized, European farmers slaughtered tens of thousands, collectively millions of wild beasts as a business for profit.

Massive tusker, peacefully feeding, in the prime of his life,

One would think that the human beast would evolve along with our lifestyle and technological development. I am tempted to write civilization, but I just cannot reconcile the barbarism of such killing with the word civilization.

In his book Mostert is writing about the Eastern Cape in the early 1820’s soon after the arrival of the British 1820 settlers. He writes:
“And then there was the wilderness, the most ancient heritage of all, upon which all these things also came to bear (the human upheavals of the time in the Eastern Cape). The destruction of the wildlife had crept forward beside the trekboers from the Cape. In this case it was not the smaller and the weaker that were the first to go, but the biggest, most splendid and valorous of the animals died the cruelest deaths; poked and prodded at with spears, impaled and struggling in pits, filled with balls (Musket shot) and floundering off to die slowly and in pain. Their collective agony had touched something in all who were responsible for it, a deep guilt that was unusual in its expression. The Swedish botanist Anders Sparrman was tempted to taste elephant meat on the frontier of the 1770s but refrained from doing so because

“I should have drawn upon myself the contempt of the colonists…..who look upon it as horrible an action to eat the flesh of an elephant as that of a man; as the elephant, according to them, is a very intelligent animal, which, when it is wounded and finds that it cannot escape from its enemies, in a manner weeps; so that the tears run down its cheeks, just as in the human species when in sorrow and affliction.”

The Xhosa, too, were conscious of something indecent in their pursuit of this animal, as Henry Lichtenstein reported:

“If an elephant is killed after a very long and wearisome chase, as is commonly the case, they seek to exculpate themselves towards the dead animal, by declaring to him solemnly, that the thing happened entirely by accident, not by design…. pronouncing repeatedly: The elephant is a great lord….”.

The tragedy of the elephant is inseparable from the tragedies of the man in Africa, from the recurring theme of violation, symbolized by the two principal early exports from the continent, black men bearing ivory on their shoulders. But the black man himself was the first intruder, in his descent from his ancestral habitats, upon the harmony of the savannahs where the elephant was indeed Great Lord, unthreatened by the small sand-coloured men, the Bushmen races, who shared his world.

Through all the evolutionary epochs of Africa the elephant’s presence was, with its power, its lordly detachment, the most reassuringly visible manifestation of the continent’s primordial continuities: creation’s own definition of lordship, the gentle alliance of power and passivity. Yes, even today. The vestigial grace that lingers from the shattered harmonies of the earths greatest collective sense of balance still is most movingly represented by the elephant, for those who yet are able to observe this animal, incomparably the noblest of them all, in the wild. And to watch for hours on end, because such is the mesmerizing effect of their tranquil movement that one enters their own time sense. Absorbed within their deep, ageless peace, they endow the observer with some part of it. The slow, rolling, nimble advance of their bulk is entirely free of the readiness for flight so tightly coiled in those fleet animals that serve as prey, the antelope, zebra, buffalo. The dreamily raised forefoot, the slow-curling upward trunk suggest a notion far elevated above the snarl of tooth and claw, however imposing the cat.

Thomas Pringle (a British 1820 settler) movingly expressed this involvement with our respect and our conscience, with the unstoppable tragedy, when he accompanied an elephant hunt, and the party came across a herd too late in the day: 

“The sun was sinking fast …. To have commenced an attack …. On any part of the herd whose total number exceeded fifty elephants, would have been …. Dangerous in the extreme. I confess, too, that when I looked…. On these noble and stately animals, feeding in quiet security in the depth of this secluded valley – I felt that it would be almost a sort of sacrilege to attempt their destruction merely to furnish sport to the great destroyer man; and I was glad when…. It was unanimously agreed to leave them unmolested.”

I have had my fair share of watching elephants at peace with their surroundings and a few without such peace. I have transcribed the above description and quotations verbatim from the book, as they describe especially towards the end of the piece exactly how elephants seem to have an amazing ability to calm one down. I have stopped within a meter or so of a huge bull elephant peacefully feeding on long grass where the only sound is the crisp breaking of the grass stalks, where the elephant who has approached the vehicle of its own free will, will stop, head cocked, ears held ajar where the great animal seems to be sensing our presence and where a feeling of calmness pervades the moment. It is amazing to feel and even more so to have the people with you describe the same sensory experience, totally unprompted.

I leave you with a few pictures of some of the Great Bull Elephants I have had the immense pleasure of visiting over a number of years, some have succumbed to old age, others still step lightly on our earth, thankfully protected by our parks and dedicated staff who manage these parks. Long, long may these parks continue to protect our natural heritage, not so much for our children’s children as is so often spoken of but for the natural heritage itself, the natural bio-diversity that this universe has bequeathed to this planet. Man has proven himself not to be the protector as is so often espoused but the destroyer in chief of the earth’s bio-diversity bar of course for a relatively few passionate and dedicated organisations and the educated, driven people that manage these organisations.

Words by Alan Fogarty