Satao – a legend

Satao - legend just title

When I last wrote about Satao, I felt that I couldn’t use his name. I could refer to him only as a ‘magnificent tusker’ or an ‘iconic Tsavo bull’. I feared that naming him would risk revealing where he lived. Now that I can use it, I wish that that I couldn’t.

On the 30th May, poachers finally caught up with Satao. An arrow smeared with Acokanthera poison hit him in his left flank and penetrated his body cavity. It travelled right through to his vital organs. To begin with, he might have run, to get deeper inside the park, where he felt safe. Running would have made the poison work faster. He didn’t get very far. Eventually he stood still in open ground, not a mile from the park boundary – with the potent cardio-toxin coursing through him. Without any cover to hide his tusks, he’d have felt exposed and vulnerable. He would have stayed on his feet as long as he could. When the end came, it was probably quick. He collapsed, his legs splayed out – slumped in the macabre likeness of a sleeping puppy. He never got to his feet again. I hope he died before the poachers got to him.

He’d been injured by poachers’ arrows before – the last time in February, but they’d not penetrated far enough for the poison to do much damage. We’d attended – with Richard Moller of the Tsavo Trust, and the DSWT / KWS vet, Jeremiah Poghon, who’d decided that the risk of immobilizing him outweighed the benefits of treatment. It had been a good call, and Satao had recovered by himself. After that experience, I’d hoped that he’d stay where he felt safe, close to water and where he could be monitored.

He might have done so, and still be alive, if it wasn’t for the rain. In mid May, when the the rest of the park was drying fast, it rained. It was unseasonal and torrential. Rain is normally something to celebrate in Tsavo, but it couldn’t have been worse – a huge thunder storm tracked along the southern boundary of the park, a remote area notorious for poachers – protected only by a single ranger post. We flew over it soon after.  There had been a deluge that had filled the waterholes. From the air, the track of the storm was visible as a green swathe that cut across the Taru desert. The storm had electrified the the night sky. The elephants had responded to the infrasound and trekked in from miles away. Within days it was an Eden – lush, soft, new-growth green. There were mud wallows, and waterholes – too numerous for the elephants to use them all.

Satao would have heard the distant thunder, and been briefly lit by lightning. He wouldn’t have been the first to respond – he was too old and wise for that. He’d have waited. He might have waited for days. The bulls that provided his company, his askaris, would probably have made the first move – to join the others streaming past. Eventually, he would have made the decision to join them. It turned out to be fatal.

We heard rumours of his death last week – the carcass of a big bull had been found, his face hacked off – tuskless. Poached elephants are difficult to identify. I don’t know what finally confirmed his identity, but I suspect it was a combination of near-perfect ears and the tell-tale diagonal scar that Satao carried on his trunk.

When we’d first filmed Satao over a year ago, I’d been surprised by that trunk. I’d been in our ‘hot box’ – a metal hide dug into the side of a waterhole. Satao had been around, but behind me, out of sight, as he preferred. As one blistering hour of inaction piled on another, the group of bulls he was with had slept in the shade of a tamarind tree. I’d dozed off too – only to be woken by the sound of snoring. At first, I thought I’d woken myself up, but the snoring continued. I opened my eyes and saw the tip of a trunk, just a foot from my face. It was shiny-wet and quivering. A drop of moisture rolled off the tip. I was instantly wide awake. The orifice I looked into was so large that it would have taken a grapefruit to plug it. Much as I admired Satao, I didn’t want his trunk probing around the hide or him getting a shock, so after a moment’s reflection, ever so gently, I blew towards it. The trunk slowly withdrew. Above me he shook his head – and the ground shook with him. A cloud of dust from those mighty ears drifted down, and he was gone.

Now he has gone for good.

We saw him again yesterday. It is two weeks after he died. The news wasn’t released until his identity had been confirmed. I’d flown with Vicky the day before and, quite by chance, she’d spotted the carcass of a big tusker. I flew back with Etienne the next day – we soon found him, out in the open – splayed and alone. Where glorious red Tsavo soil had once patterned his skin, it was now white-painted with vulture faeces. For the first time in my life, I found it difficult to take any consolation in death bringing a bounty for the scavengers, and a resurrection for the soil.

It was just a terrible sight.

Satao - dead and splayed

We circled and circled above him, somehow compelled, until we ran low on fuel. As we banked to leave and set course for home, Etienne spotted another carcass and then I another. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing – it was a killing field. They were all carcasses of large bulls and recently poached.

As we flew home we passed a herd of fifteen big bulls, led by a magnificent tusker, heading for the same spot.

I wept.



© Mark Deeble & Victoria Stone and A Wildlife Filmmaker in Africa, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mark Deeble and A Wildlife Filmmaker in Africa with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About Mark Deeble

A wildlife filmmaker in Kenya. My home is in Cornwall. My heart is in Africa. I have a tent in Tsavo. I share it all with Vicky. We are working with an amazing team, making a wildlife feature film -
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177 Responses to Satao – a legend

  1. Christelle says:

    Is it not time that steps are taken to under sedation shorten tusks of the best and biggest breeding bulls, thus making them not worth the while for poachers to slaughter? The same would apply to Rhino.

    • Jochembart says:

      That sounds like an interesting plan, but will they still breed.Will the females still consider them a good match?

  2. Sharon Gent says:

    Is man going to destroy its beauty and paradise on earth? the majestic Satao gone forever, so senseless so awful it leaves one gutted and weeping, but our tears are useless, we must find away to keep our elephants safe for ever. Bless you lovely people who risk your lives to try and keep them but just cant and the pain must be so awful as they are our family and just cant imagine Africa without Elephants.

  3. sweeva says:

    This is too too painful to read, I refuse to sit down and let them do this to our country, our animals and our heritage. This has to stop…..

  4. hannahstrand says:

    Reblogged this on Hannah Strand and commented:
    A sad, sad day. This is a huge loss and unfortunately feels like an indication that we have been defeated in the fight again poaching. Somehow, against all logic, the demand for ivory is still strong – we have failed the elephants by failing to extinguish the demand and protect them from slaughter.

  5. Henriette Sparkes says:

    I somehow tthink that the internet has made things worse for these magnificent and dignified creatures. Everybody now knows where they are and especially those who poach them. It is now our duty to protect what we have exposed. I agree with Hannah Strand, we have failed the elephants…time to wake up people, if we lose them, we lose a large part of ourselves. At this stage…we need to be ashamed of ourselves.

  6. william bradford says:

    this is so sad to see search a beautiful and majestic animal be killed just for a few coins

  7. Kirsten says:

    Your beautifully written piece about meeting Satao in the hot box was an exquisite story. Even then I wondered how much more time this incredibly special elephant had. Today I mourn with you the senseless, brutal & unforgivable death of mighty Satao. I just don’t understand how a human being, regardless of their desperate or greedy situation could do this to a living creature. It’s a terrible thing to feel so helpless, watching the king of the animal kingdom be decimated & mindlessly butchered. Thank you for your story, may Sataos loss never be forgotten.

  8. Erykko says:

    Reblogged this on Minimalist Eric and commented:
    I really had to repost this.

  9. Imma Kanja says:

    We are slowly loosing our heritage as Kenyans, and our future generations will blame us for allowing or rather been present when all this is happening. We have to take a stand and bring this to an end.

    • SN says:

      Have you read about how the Israeli’s went after the Nazi criminals? That is the same doggedness that Kenyans need to go after these poachers. And the sentence should send fear down the spine of would be poachers. I support the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. If you guys don’t fix this, we will be sending more of the baby elephants that I and countless others are helping raise to be a poacher’s target someday. That truly breaks my heart!!!

    • a.o. says:

      All this talk about “future generations” is very nice to hear indeed.
      In Kenya what action, if any, has been taken since Satao’s murder?
      It seems we are up against a strong degree of corruption amongst some (most?) politicians.
      I too support the David Sheldrick Trust but I must say I am rather fed up of seeing Kenyans letting themselves down over the issue of conservation.
      I don’t blame the Chinese or tribal poverty; that would be too easy.
      I blame the Kenyans first.

  10. charm717 says:

    Reblogged this on charma and commented:
    A read to spark a desire to help in whatever way you can

  11. Erin Des Grange says:

    I cry every time I read about the heartless slaughter of these beautiful creatures. The gruesome murder of Satao hit particularly hard.
    Why are there not more guards protecting the elephants? Why is the government allowing this to happen??!! I have always loved elephants. It breaks my heart what is happening and that I am unable to do anything to help them. Are they just going to allow this to happen??! It’s very sad that these beautiful and majestic animals can’t roam freely, as they should, without the threat of being poached. We have failed Satao and the rest. I hope something is done before it is too late. RIP Satao 😥

    • “Are they just going to allow this to happen??!”
      That language right there. They. As if the natives are completely reckless, separate people, different from US, from YOU, from ME, acting out of a pure love of murdering their precious elephants. It’s not that simple. The true follow-up questions we should be asking are, “Why is the demand for ivory growing amongst new Chinese markets?” and “Why are WE spending money on cheap Chinese exports that will only fuel the ivory trade?” As long as socioeconomic conditions in poaching nations remain poor, people will do anything they can to get a little extra money to feed their families or send their children to school. As long as ivory demand in China, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines continues to grow, elephants will continue to be slaughtered. The only force that can save them, at this point, is a unified, global commitment to completely annihilate the ivory trade, carried through by all the players in this cruel, economic game.

      • a.o. says:

        Protecting species such as elephants and rhinos can be done NOW.
        This living nightmare has been going on for too long.
        It’s up to the Kenyans to show some spine and fight this.
        Do they really want to?

    • Patricia says:

      Hello Erin,
      Thank you for your words. I feel excately the same. I am still crying for the gruesome murder of Satao. I heard this sad news on my birthday (15th june) and since then I can’t stop thinking about Satao and the slaughter of these beautiful creatures. My mind is going crazy about… what can I do to stop poaching. There must be a smart way to make the ivory buyers aware of this tragic by starting a big campagne by smart creative marketing people. I have some ideas but I don’t know where to start. Until then I won’t rest.

  12. This is indeed a tragedy..for losing such a magnificent animal all b/c of Greed..
    May his Poachers rest in Hell..

    R.I.P. SATAO

  13. Rodney Dukes says:

    Mark, there are no words which can express the horror and the guilt we all feel when reading your blog. Who do we see? what can we do? are we all powerless to allow these wretched people destroy these beautiful beasts? I thank you for doing what you do.

  14. Annelie says:

    Reblogged this on Annelie on asthma, humor, and the world. and commented:
    The cruelty of man with dollars in their eyes.

  15. Gary says:

    This is so sad how many elephants are being killed for someones greed! I am truely horrified…
    I think it is high time the world puts a total ban on ivory trade so that if anyone at all is caught with products or so, are fully punished.
    Govt’s have gotta get some guts and act! And act now!
    Before it is too late!!!

  16. femnic says:

    Reblogged this on Safari Scene and commented:
    Another big tusker gone

  17. Baxter says:

    When the elephants and rhinos are extinct what will they target next? Future generations will probably never see them in their natural habitat. What a shame it has to be this way.

  18. Jorge says:

    Muy triste lo de satao,y lo de tantos elefantes que mueren (asesinados)todos los días, 1 cada 15 minutos y casi 100 todos los días.¿ pero que se esta haciendo realmente para detener esto si se sabe que esto esta pasando por la demanda de marfil de china, asia y otras potencias, que castigo se debe de imponer a los cazadores e intermediarios y hasta para el que compra?Es duro pero la única manera de tratar de parar esta matanza es con unas penas muy duras,como la pena de muerte, para el que patrocine, caze y compre,y donde están los gobiernos de cada país afectado para controlar metro por metro a esta gente no tienen ejercito? pidan ayuda internacional, o es que ellos también están involucrados en esto, .
    y se deberían de imponer penas aun mas duras económicas sobre los productos de estos países,
    (vetarlos)Al paso que vamos a finales del 2014 no habrá mas elefantes africanos y muchos otros animales y para nuestros hijos solo sera una historia muy triste para ver en fotografías!!!!
    penas y leyes fuertes
    voluntad de todos
    no decir eso no me importa!!!
    involucrar a todas las personas
    Y lamentablemente imponer se nesecita la pena de muerte para estos sujetos para disuadirlos, una guerra se combate combatiendo y con estrategias.

    BYE BYE SATAO!!!!!!

  19. GeoffG says:

    Words fail me, except for: Bl**dy, fu**ing ba**ards ! Forget about Iraq & Syria and their religiously insane populations – This is the World Outrage. While EU Officials sit pecking at their desks in Brussels thinking up new petty rules and regulations, this is happening in Africa. The EU and the USA need to make a gigantic stand: “Cease & Desist all poaching and ivory trading OR we send in 10,000 soldiers and stop it ourselves.” It won’t happen, of course – our gutless politicians in UK are too busy enacting such important things as a £4,000 fine for TV license dodgers and £10,000 for speeding.

  20. Axel von Schmettau says:

    I hate them! Maybe one day I will meet one of those that make the money. So angry….

  21. CRITHA FRANSE says:

    Wonder how many years he spent watching the predators that would eventually take his life ? Sadly , that predators aren’t one nature intended so he and all his kind have very little protection against them . We , humans, the elephant’s predator are cruel and relentless and don’t kill to survive but kill only because of greed and pride and ruthlessness . Some kill because they are truly psychopathic murderers and get a thrill hanging the proof of their “killing skill” on their walls. I only cry and cry and cry but then the anger and sadness mix together and I get motivated again to fight for the rights of the elephants to live and love on this planet . Thankfully all humans aren’t predators but are true warriors and have a loving heart . We humans who do care must unite and share our skills and our intelligence and save the elephant from excitinction .

  22. Lothar says:

    hang the murderer to the nearest tree …. and let it hang forever

  23. Iain Leckie says:

    Around Lions Bluff we see a disproportionate number of young elephant in family groups both small and large. Who is going to teach these young all they need to learn about the old migration routes, drought survival and so much more if we continue to allow the slaughter the beautiful adults. When will our politicians sitting in Nairobi wake up and act!
    RIP Satao and all those magnificent beasts slaughtered in Tsavo, Kenya and Africa so that folk miles away can have a small useless trinket.

  24. kimba says:

    This: “I first learned about Satao through an emotional and beautifully written blog post by Mark Deeble, who described him as being so intelligent that he knew he needed to protect his enormous tusks by intentionally hiding in bushes so they couldn’t be seen. At the end of the post Mark wrote:

    I am appalled at what that means – that the survival skills that the bull has painstakingly learnt over half a century have been rendered useless by the poachers’ use of mass-produced Chinese goods; GPS smart-phones, cheap motorcycles and night vision goggles.

    I think the old bull knows that poachers want his tusks, and I hate that he knows.

    More than anything, I hate the thought that poachers are now closing in on one of the world’s most iconic elephants.”

    The poachers and the Chinese and Vietnamese ivory trade and the do-nothing authorities in Kenya have killed the magnificent Satao. And we have helped to kill him… Yes, we have. You and I. By our inaction. By our passive, well-intentioned and utterly useless hand-wringing.

    All of us who do little more than click ‘Like’, all of us who do little more than proclaim “Oh, I love elephants!” by our very lack of meaningful action help to ensure that the slaughter will continue.

    All the tens and hundreds of thousands of us who do nothing more than shake our heads in sorrow and dismay at each new notice of yet another horrific death ensure that the poachers will win, and that more elephants will die.

    Instead, do just a little bit more. Donating even a few dollars to conservation groups so that they can better protect the remaining elephants will make a huge difference if thousands of us do the same. Take a moment to contact authorities at home and in Kenya, and demand that they take meaningful action to attack poaching and go after the smuggling rings.

    With all the vast resources at our disposal, surely we can all come together to effectively protect these magnificent sentient fellow beings.

    • Waltzing says:

      yes we can. As Edmund Burke said, ‘the only thing needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’. Let Satao’s death become the turning point. the cetacean groups mounted a very effective campaign during the Tajji Dolphin Hunts that have just resulted, partially, in the cancellation of Japans’ whale hunt next year. The tweet storm to news channels and ambassadors was a big part of the progress made. Does anyone know of an activist platform that is working on this ?

      • a.o. says:

        “Let Satao’s death become the turning point”
        Would be great to see the Kenyans show some spine and do something about the issue of conservation.
        It’s difficult to help someone against their will.

  25. Veronika says:

    It is just so sad, I cannot find the words to describe the pain in my heart, anger and despair. 😦
    Tears are running down my face. How much cruelty can be in a human race…

  26. Fiona says:

    Is there a charity we can support which fights the horror of poaching? An international campaign must galvanise surely. Otherwise one can only despair at man’s inhumanity and stupidity. Fiona

  27. Rose Kenya says:

    There is a reason why I love Kenya being my country,the wildlife being number one of all the odds we undergo…but Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.Sad to see our animals dying…Kenyans lets come together and save our wildlife…few dollars more will not justify your and to those of children…let save our countries future!!
    Rest in peace Satao!!

    • a.o. says:

      If you love your country then take a stand and fight this living nightmare that poaching has become.
      It’s up to you.

  28. R.I.P Satao. We failed you.

  29. Pingback: Tusk!

  30. Reblogged this on Journey To Africa and commented:
    What a sad story! Satao, the magnificient tusker, lured by rain ventured into an unprotected area and was killed by a poison arrow. No mercy. Help us spread the word to the rich person who will make a trinket out of Satao that he/she just killed – butchered – an magnificient animal. A leader. Someone who tried surviving. We failed Satao and the many who ventured for water! Let us save the others. Shame we need 24 hour security to save these animals. No safety in their own land.

  31. Patrick McElhenney says:

    I just cannot get this horrific story out of my head. The picture posted of this gorgeous animal takes my breathe away. So many words come to mind criminal, barbaric, greed, murder, despicable, and genuine evil. The true evil are not the savage murders but vile people who collect TRINKETS made from ivory. I would understand if the tusks cured cancer, but they are blood stained Trinkets that just will eventually collect dust. What is wrong with people? Is there no hope for humanity?

  32. Felix Ndunda says:

    Satao , Rest in Peace though your death came unexpectedly, we mourn you, you had outwitted your senceless killers many times before trying to rob you of your possession, nevetheless be assured , they will not live longer and the poisoned arrow they used to get you will turn on them quite soon.You were loved and admired by many.You died will trying to wake up and go.

  33. Simon Nash says:

    Dear Mark
    Ten years ago I was in Tsavo with Warren Samuels and we spent a day filming a magnificent giant tusker feeding and drinking along the dried up bed of the Tsavo River. I have photos of him and am deeply saddened to think he might have been Satao. Is there any way to get him identified?

  34. Margriet de Vries says:

    I,m crying !!

  35. Lorraine Hammond says:

    So so sorry for your pain Mark I read your last blog about him, that he knew to hide, it is with sorrow to think at least the big guy does not need to hide anymore….. This carnage is tragic and enraging those beautiful sentient beings are helpless against it, what can be done, China needs to step up close every single carving factory shut down… Ivory has to be made worthless NOW R.I.P Satao, may your death not be in vain xx

  36. natureology says:

    Reblogged this on GreenGuru and commented:
    #RIPStatao How A Legend Has Fallen By Mark Deeble

  37. Reblogged this on Amiran Kel Punj and commented:
    “if they kill me, bury me a legend”

  38. evita2005 says:

    Mark, thank you for facing this evil and living to tell us about it and weeping for Satao. We weep with you and thank you for the greatness of your heart.

  39. SN says:

    I cannot get this out of my head. Maybe the Kenyans need the help of the Israeli army to get these poachers!!!

  40. robin greenberg says:

    i am so very very sad and sick about this.. just so awful,poor port souls

  41. tom says:

    set up stings and target the BUYERS….use old tusks that most govts. have in storage as bait and when the buyer takes the bait treat them like south africa treats poachers in the field…shoot them on sight

  42. Melanie Fear says:

    I am very sad Kenya has dropped her vigilance and hope that by pulling together we make a difference.

  43. George Mgona says:

    I hereby now begin to wonder, is there, really, something that we can do against poaching?
    If such a magnificent treasure can die as easily as that, where and when are we going to be able to defend our beautiful earth from these ruthless creatures.
    I feel defeated…….

  44. Valentine opondo says:

    It is sad that as a country we are watching as our resources are being destroyed. What is there for the future Generation. If anybody out there in charge of security is listening. Please make a decision however bitter it maybe and make a bold step to save our beloved country.

  45. Reblogged this on On safari with African Horizons and commented:
    A tribute to Satao by Mark Deeble. Satao was the world’s biggest elephant, and lived in Kenya’s Tsavo East. Fare-thee-well Satao.

  46. Rosemary Ochieng says:

    How can we destroy our own God given heritage. This is soo sad. Our children and grandchildren will not see our precious beauty all because of selfishness and greed. May God help us to help ourselves.

  47. Sigamanya says:


  48. asha says:

    in the greed of what we call “money” and ” collectables” we have successfuly forgoten that earth also belongs to many others and as the most intelligent and capable ‘beings’ on this this plant … (God knows if it is any more “human”) .. our responsibility is to live in harmony… i second at your loss and could not stop my tears for some time after reading this… i have never been there and seen them but can feel ur loss. Is there really nothing that can be done?

  49. Jane Stockwell says:

    Dear Fellow Responders to this tragedy:
    I also weep but agree with the writer who says action is necessary. Dolphins, elephants, horses, etc. etc. What can we COLLECTIVELY do about this? Africa is failing miserably to protect one of the only things it has going for it. Please reply if you want to mobilize. TOGETHER, maybe we can make a difference!

    • Patricia says:

      Dear Jane,
      I want to mobilize. There must be a way. Nike & Apple can reach every single person on earth .. then there must be a way we can inform the Chinees, Philippes and other Ivory buyers about this tragic. And we must try make the African people proud of there nature and animals so they will do everything to protect them. How can I get mobilized?

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