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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178 Responses to Satao – a legend

  1. woodwardr says:

    A very moving, heartbreaking account of the tragic death of a magnificent elephant. I have written a ‘Requiem for Satao’ as a paltry memorial:

    • christine warman says:

      I would love to see all poachers lined up and shot,then they could be fed to the wild animals.

      • Sergiu Vasilescu says:

        i would like to see every poacher impaled.i would do this to them with pleasure because i know that they will kill every animals until they extinct.

      • Crazedstargazer says:

        That makes us no better. The next generation will just take their place. There needs to be a three fold approach; the severest punishment to put people off poaching (but also following through on prosecutions- this however is all dependant on a clear judicial system,) a parallel push to raise employment in other, more legal jobs that will act to becjen would-be poachers, and finally (and most pivotally) the education of the school generation to protect and champion their native heritage; this will lead to the most fruitful and longstanding effect. The youth need to connect with these creatures and claim them as part of their heritage. This I feel is the only way to combat the archaic ideologies of their elders.

      • Or, we could just kill the poachers and their kin. Then no one can kill the elephants?

    • the govt knows who are killing the jumbos…..the killers are close family members to Uhuru Kenyatta,,,its sad. the media wont dare highlight this.

      • I too am saddened by this Great Elephants death by poachers..Iam certain Political Corruption is involved in killing these Great Animals, as the Ivory Trade could be shut down 100% by Kenya, such as death to all poachers..also CHINA does not help by allowing importing of Ivory..
        Very soon unless KENYA gets serious about killing Elephants they will all be killed off..

      • Politics once again!!!

    • Debbie says:

      Your Requiem for SATAO is beautiful

    • Lorraine Brabant says:

      Thanks so much…I cry for him ❤ He changed my path

  2. CPR says:

    Maybe we should start poaching poachers. I’d pay to have one of those a-holes killed, and have their faces ripped off. Anybody interested?

  3. Mark Deeble says:

    There are two Avaaz petitions that I would urge people to sign. They target the crisis from different ends – one at the poaching – calling for presidential protection from President Kenyatta for Tsavo’s remaining tuskers, and arrest of the traffickers :

    the other calls on President Obama to use diplomatic means to halt the trade in ivory in China:

  4. CarlosM says:

    Very sad and the slaughter continues. I don’t know how much diplomatic pressure President Obama can put on the Chinese. I really believe if the Chinese government wanted to stop the poaching of elephants, they could stop it in 5 minutes. The fact is they don’t want to stop it. Instead, they keep opening up new carving factories so the “carving skill” is not lost. Maybe they should practice on stone. All the agreements they have signed regarding “old” ivory (pre-CITES) vs. “new” ivory are a joke. The only way to stop the killing is to outlaw ALL trading in ivory, punishable by death if you are caught. Will they do it? I don’t think so.
    I for one, try not to buy anything made in China. If I have a choice, I’ll buy another product. I do not want to enrich those people so they can feel wealthy and buy ivory as a status symbol. May poachers burn in hell!!

    • a.o. says:

      Why is no one pointing their finger at the Kenyans?
      It is their country, their heritage and their wildlife.
      Hence the responsibility is in their hands.

      • CarlosM says:

        a.o. you raise a valid point. In the end, Kenya has the ultimate responsibility. However, I don’t think they are standing still. Kenya Wildlife Service rangers patrol the parks. During my safaris, I have run into a few of them. Kenya is not a rich country. While Nairobi looks like a very modern city, and their standard of living may be rising, the overwhelming majority of the rural population still lives like they did 100 years ago. There are only so many resources to go around. Over the past 3 years, I believe 13 KWS rangers have been killed and many dozen wounded by poachers while in the line of duty. I believe they are trying. The thing we don’t know, and may never know is how corruption on the part of some officials encourages poaching. While I would like to think that most government officials are honest and try to do their job, there may be those who want to profit from the lucrative ivory trade. That is a piece of the equation we may never solve. Having said all that, I think the best way to protect wildlife is to make the demand for their body parts go away. Increasing the tourist safari business also plays a big part. This provides jobs for many local residents and places a value in a thriving wildlife population, not only in Kenya but all over the Africa and in the rest of the world

      • close family members to the president are killing the jumbos. its sad

    • Debbie says:

      Perhaps the President Obama should stop China from buying their food from the USA, they rely quite heavily on the American for this. All ivory trading should be stopped but I do agree with what was said by somebody else which is why dont the rangers cut the tusks down so that they are no longer valuable to poachers. I hope the poachers are caughter and killed the same way they killed Satao and all the other poor elephants, Karma always bites back twice as hard as what you dished out!

      • Laura says:

        Debbie, I believe elephant tusks have a nerve running through them (They are basically elongated teeth and serve sensory purpose in addition to allowing them to strip bark off trees which they rely on as a source of nutrition particularly when green vegetation is scarce) so cutting them off is detrimental to the elephant’s well being.

  5. Mark, thank you for this sad but important post that everyone needs to know about. I cried hearing of this on NPR and agin through Cheryl Semcer on facebook. I have signed and shared. Now I follow you. Good luck with your work.

  6. barrylangenhoven says:

    A truly sad day for me. I hope these poachers die a slow and horrible death

  7. grace says:

    I’m weeping reading your story.. Rest in peace Satao.. he no longer has to fear for his life.

  8. Oban gilmour says:

    I salute all of you who sincerely try to end this insane greed which only leads to the mindless destruction of innocents. May your efforts not be in vain & may the Creator of these magnificent creatures honour you .

  9. rita says:

    It is the very governments of these countries that are facilitating the poaching of these irreplaceable animals. This greed is endemic, like a virus with no cure. If the US government can send drones to kill terrorists then too must these people be targeted and killed. Not only the poachers, but the kingpins of the wildlife trade, the Chinese ambassadors who are involved with corrupt government officials. And the stores in Beijing must be shut down. China and Vietnam in particular are the demand that fuels the poaching. Mercenaries should be brought in to kill these destroyers of our magnificent wildlife.

  10. susan says:

    The world is a lesser place without giants like Sateo. We have all been robbed of a global treasure that resided in our imagination, our wonder, our dreams and aspirations. Political corruption in Kenya is responsible as well as the markets in Asia. Tourism in Kenya will fade. The globe is becoming a pitiful pile of junk where once lived an unbelievable paradise of biodiversity.

  11. sean says:

    Disgusting, and so very sad. Wish i could be there. Be one of the rangers. Id shoot the fucking lot of them poachers.

    • Debbie says:

      I think if hunters took themselves off to these games reserves the poachers wouldnt even step into the reserves. Take a tent pitch up somewhere safe and wait for the evil creatures to show up then just take them out one by one, I am sure there are thousands of hunters that would do this free of charge in order to save these elephants

      • James says:

        I too would love to be one of the Rangers and shoot these Poachers down,,,


      • Debbie says:

        I agree with you about the hunters doing this free of charge, the poachers would never ever set foot on the reserve or the outskirts with the hunters around.

  12. Jo Phillips says:

    I was just wondering.. in your article you said he was identified by the scar on is trunk, but it seems that he had his beautiful face removed? So no trunk? 😦

  13. Vanessa G says:

    I wept, too, when I heard about this tragic loss. Where is this world heading to? I don’t know, but I have no hope left for humanity. No values, no respect, no compassion or empathy…only greed and killings.

  14. Chay Rach says:

    It is shocking that despite all the wealth in various parts of the world we can allow this to go on. How cruel nature is in the rawest form but not half as cruel as the poachers and profiteers to this immoral trade! Keep up the wonderful work and frank reporting hopefully some day we will realise what a loss we will all feel if the poaching and trade in ivory does not stop.

  15. The world weeps with you Mark.

  16. Debbie says:

    True words Michael

  17. Thank you, Mark. I am just finding you and this post. I am at a complete loss for words with Satao, recoiling into poem. Others are stepping forward at extinction witness. much love, many thanks and blessings on all you do. love, megan
    have used and linked your photo here:
    the breathing life of all reveals itself in us –

  18. naturestage says:

    Reblogged this on naturestage and commented:
    In memoriam: Satao, an Aslan among elephants.

  19. Dan Fender says:

    I want you to think about the following: Boycott products and services out of the “countries of evil”

    China, vietnam, other asian and indonesian countries as well are the main production locations of many top 500 western companies. On the other hand many chinese companies belong to the global fortune 500 and have relations to and influence on other companies located in the southern and western hemisphere.
    Relations to those chinese companies as well as outsourcing of production to china / vietnam (and similar evil countries) increases wealth of their upper class, who define obviously the main consumer group of ivory-, rhinohorn-, tiger-“products” and “products” of other endangered species.

    Encourage the community of the remaining intelligent humans to open blood-rhino- / blood-elephant- / blood-tiger- / blood-shark- / blood-whale- / blood-dolphin-product pages on facebook and other internet sites where all companies with relation to countries of evil and out of the countries of evil are listed with their relations, their products and their services! There more the better. The more the difficult it is to delete those sites from the web. Add fotos of killed elephants / rhinos / tigers / whales / … and build relations! Add stories of our suffering creatures and ask the readers if they are owing products or using services of those companies whose owners and managers don’t care at all about nature and creature. Talk to people that work in such companies. Confront them frequently with stories and pictures.
    Think if there is any rhino-blood-free smartphone in the world … whats your conclusion? Imagine a sticker with a killed rhino / elephant / tiger / … on the back side of every smartphone … on car’s which contain parts made in that countries …

    Make the big poachers, the principals suffer by hitting them at their most vulnerable points: Their money, their status. Make them think! Force them to act in our sense … Encourage everyone to ask for chinese-free / vietnamese-free … asian-free products and services. Avoid visiting their bloody restaurants, avoid tourism in their countries.
    Your are the foot-soldier! Even if you don’t protect animals directly or can’t give money to organizations, you can do a lot!

    Start the defense! Start it today!

  20. Jai says:

    A very moving account of the emotional impact of losing such a magnificent being. I remember reading somewhere that the current poaching of elephants is a genocide in the truest sense of the term–and this is really accurate. They are such sentient, marvelous creatures, and are being wiped off the face of the earth, all to satisfy the unthinking greed for some trinkets and memorabilia!! Truly, our race must be the one least able to use the brain natural selection has endowed us with.

    I remember commenting on the NGC article on Satao’s slaying, that there needs to be a zero tolerance approach to poaching. Park rangers must be empowered and provided weapons to shoot armed poachers on sight. With the wildlife trade now in the hands of ruthless, trigger happy armed militias, rangers are often crippled and killed by these gangs. Realistically, the guards can operate fearlessly and do their jobs, only when they are empowered to fight back.

    There also needs to be VERY STRICT enforcement of wildlife protection laws, the maximum prescribed jail sentences and fines for the captured poachers/ traffickers, with no leniency shown by courts, or possibility of parole.

    And over the longer term, community involvement in tourist resort/ tracking guide jobs could infuse locals with a sense of responsibility over their ecological heritage–to become caretakers/ wardens, as it were.

    I would also love to see school natural science/ biology classes actually organizing field trips for students to see nearby national parks. Failing that, at least a monthly screening of documentary films, that show them the importance of preserving what remains of Earth’s natural beauty.

    • Debbie says:

      Jai, I would love to see come to life what you have said, your comments all make sense, they really do, the government needs to heavily protect the guards who keep the elephants safe, and no leniency whatsoever shown to perpetrators of mass killings

      • Jai says:

        Thanks Debbie
        This is something I feel very strongly about. I come from India and here too, wildlife protection laws are strict on paper. But sadly, the enforcement of the law often ranges from mediocre to downright terrible. Known poachers, wildlife trade traffickers and forest encroachers get off with a slap on the wrist, or else enjoy life out on bail while cases drag on for years. Where’s the justice for the magnificent lives they so brutally cut short?

        In the long term, ‘winning hearts and minds’ approach by involving local communities in conservation is crucial. But one mustn’t forget that right now, we are being subjected to a war by armed, merciless poachers, and sadly, as of now, they are winning. An immediate/ medium term program, involving a tough, no holds barred approach to combat this terrorism (yes, poaching on this scale IS terrorism) is a must, IMHO.

      • Debbie says:

        Well said Jai, you are an Embassador for your country and all the animals that have been slaughtered in the past and those that will come to the same fate if nothing is done about it

  21. Truly a tragedy – and one that sadly will probably not stop until there are no more elephants (tigers, rhinos, lions ….) left in the world. I have enormous respect for those who try to stop this – and hope, beyond hope, that they will succeed. Sadly ‘man’ is a selfish animal driven by greed and will stoop to any depths; his ability enhanced by corruption.

  22. neal pillai says:

    Let us build an empire to pouch down the pouchers. Stand and Fight for we shall declare war against these cowards! My tears have now turned into unexplainable anger. RIP to our beloved SATAO ! You leave behind a massive empty space in this world! A big Thank You to Mark Deeble as well. 😥

  23. mt says:

    heart breaking, when greed and ignorance has taken all that is truly beautiful, what will be left? You’re a witness, which to me, is a light, so the elephants are not alone. That has to be hope.

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  27. Hiram Astin says:

    This is a quality Blog and well written.

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