Update on January 28, 2013:
Dear friends of Changila,
I am deeply moved by all your letters, which I have read over and over again. Thank you.
I share your feelings of rage and sadness. It will be a long battle to put an end to this “legal” and illegal ivory trade. I do not have any answers, but we can make our voices heard: Tell them, the Kenyan authorities, to stop the illegal trading of blood ivory. And ask the Chinese authorities to close the door on ALL ivory coming into and out of China or being sold in China. They should help in every way to put an end to BLOOD IVORY TRAFFICKING. They should close all ivory shops.
The killing of elephants continues. Last night under the full moon, three of our elephants were killed. Nearly all our big bulls have gone, gone to ivory trinkets, and among our studied elephant families in northern Kenya, we already have five orphaned families in which every senior female has been killed, leaving small groups of orphans to find their way in the battlefield without leadership.
Thank you all for your heartfelt messages.
On January 3 Oria Douglas-Hamilton flew in tribute over the mutilated remains of an elephant named Changila, slaughtered outside Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve. He was killed the day after her 80th birthday.
By Oria Douglas-Hamilton
Flying with the vultures, I salute you Changila, to say farewell. You will now return to the earth where you and I came from a long long time ago. Piece by piece, vultures will take you away and bury you, leaving only white bones by the river to mark your grave, where you stood that last moment in your life. We did not know you well, but you were named Changila, “Fighter.”
You came from the north in December, as you always do. Now at 30, having survived droughts, war, and floods, you stood tall and strong, heading south in full musth over well trodden paths, leaving a scent trail behind, your trunk sweeping the ground as you searched for fertile females to mate with. The land was lush and green after the rains. Butterflies fluttered from flower to flower, and step by step, your great big feet crushed the long grass stems. Like all warriors, you came to fight, to do what you were known for. Did you leave us an heir in your kingdom?
The new year had just begun. We’d seen you here and there for a few days, and then you disappeared, walking back west. Oh yes, people saw you—you were so determined; no one stood in your way. You drank and washed and crossed the river. Alone, you stood on warm earth pondering your next move while the sun’s rays lit the sky red. The day was ending.
Gunfire broke through the silence of dusk, and you fell.
I apologize for man, my species. You did not deserve this.
As I flew over you, I scanned the eroded gullies on the hillside, wondering where the men had been sitting, watching, waiting for you to turn and face them, guns at the ready. They hit you not once but two, three, times, and you fell. I saw your leg covered in dark red blood. Your eyes were open. Did you see them as you were dying, coming toward you with their axes? And then, without a moment to waste, demented, they hacked into your skull, just below your open eye, your blood spattering those hands that would steal the prize you carried: two beautiful tusks, white like your bones will be, but stained with blood.
I will never forget your face, so savagely butchered. Rage fills my heavy heart, Changila.
Where will your tusks go? They will leave Africa, hidden in dirty sacks, in boxes, trucks, and stores, changing hands from man to man. No one will know who you were, where you lived. You will be like thousands of others, unknown, abused, and used. One day, a piece of you will be cut into myriad items.
I’m sorry, Changila. May your name live forever—we will miss you.
In 1997 Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton established the Research Centre in Samburu to study the elephants that frequent the reserve and range beyond it. Four years later Oria opened Eco Camp, Elephant Watch, where guests can go out daily to spend intimate hours with the known elephants. Changila was one of the few remaining big bulls in the area.
More from National Geographic Magazine
Thousands of elephants die each year so that their tusks can be carved into religious objects. Can the slaughter be stopped? By Bryan Christy.
Family Ties: The Elephants of Samburu. By David Quammen.
Africa’s Elephants: Can They Survive? By Oria Douglas-Hamilton.