The battle of David and Goliath was far from a fair fight. The minute the shepherd boy entered the fray, the giant was doomed. Goliath had prepared for hand-to-hand combat, encumbering himself with heavy armour, short-range weapons and a shield. But the nimble shepherd remained at a safe distance, slung a rock and potted the giant with the same practiced aim he used to dispatch predators of sheep. For David, killing Goliath was no triumph.

There was a giant in Tsavo infinitely wiser and more resilient than Goliath. His name was Satao. When he finally succumbed to a poisoned arrow in late May, he was probably 50 years old – above average age for a bull elephant in this highly poached region. Indeed, there was nothing average about him.

Given his age, Satao would have been born in the mid-1960s, a time when elephants wandered Tsavo in numbers never seen since. It was their era. His genetic make-up would have been the best possible. The herd would have been nurturing and protective of their little protégé. But it wouldn’t be easy for him.

Satao in his prime leading a group of elephants.
©Mark Muller

He grew up during one the most devastating droughts the region ever experienced. It decimated the herds, taking thousands of his kind – mainly females and juveniles like him. But the little trumpeter endured like the strong bulls that towered over him.

Soon after the drought, the poachers took to killing those bulls for their immense tusks. He would have seen it, smelt the carcasses, seen the remnants of their hacked skulls devoid of ivory, and perhaps he learned. And when the bulls became fewer, and those that remained hid deeper in the wild, the poachers targeted females, and then the likes of him – small tuskers yet to pass on their good genes. For two decades he survived. By the time Richard Leakey declared war on poaching in 1989, the Tsavo elephant population, which had been as large as 42 000 in 1969, had been reduced to 6 000. Satao was one of them.

The poaching onslaught intensified, and still he endured for two decades more, through more droughts, and through more poaching despite his magnificent tusks that grew and grew, and weighed him down with their sheer bloody value. And he may have known that these would be his downfall – that a human would try to bring him down with devious weapons. They tried and tried. They tried again in February this year. Their poisoned weapon pierced his thick skin, despite his armour of mud. And still he survived. And when we thought Satao might just be invincible, he finally succumbed to an attack in which the odds were stacked against him.

We have lost a giant so grand that the soil encrusting his back was a world entire. His tusks were so glorious that they stretched back to the time of the mammoth. But his legacy needn’t die. In his time Satao would have sired many more of his kind. His strong genes live on in the herds of Tsavo, and it’s up to us to ensure that his progeny reach his incredible stature. If we don’t, we will be left with nothing but a dusty


Satao 8March14
There are few more imposing figures on earth than Satao.
©Richard Moller

What you can do:

Support The Tsavo Trust. One of the Trust’s core initiatives is their Large Elephant Monitoring Project set up to protect Tsavo’s magnificent ‘hundred pounders’. The Trust also adopts a holistic approach to the challenges facing Tsavo by addressing both wildlife and community issues. Click on the logo to visit the Tsavo Trust support page:


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  • farmer

    great articles, however, the survey you asked me to participate in was too invasive and I quit it. There is no need to ask all these personal questions.

  • merrywriter

    Without addressing China, without citing Zhao Shucong who licenses China’s 37 state sanctioned carving factories, the holocaust will continue.The factories buy the poached tusks, process/carve them and then sell in China’s state sanctioned retail shops. This is in massive numbers for a massive population, many of whom do not care that elephants die and there are not enough elephants left to supply their greed. Trying to limit demand will not and has not worked. It is Shucong who needs to retool those factories so the carvers will cast the “lucky” Chinese icons in resin. #ChinaStopCarving

    Will we see Satao’s tusks go to some perverted Chinese elite who also watches tigers killed, butchered and then eats them?

    • alanbstardmp

      agreed. we need to have stern talks with certain Asian nations.

  • merrywriter
  • camilla Le May

    Hope- how? He is dead and his askaris or a few of his askaris also butchered yet no one except Mark Deeble is talking about that. Plus another 3 bulls killed in Tsavo early last week and 2 ellies elsewhere this week speared. These are the few I hear of 6000 miles away-clearly there are many many more unheard and un reported. How can this be hope. Its a bloody crisis that is only escalating and the governments seem to be complicit. There are no words for this. I must be a total idiot to think a petition might make the slightest jot of difference to these sorts of leaders but someone said to me last week “without hope there is nothing” So please sign this it you too are an idiot and have hope!

    • The Tsavo Trust aircraft flies frequently over the area where Satao was killed and to the best of our knowledge, Satao’s “askaris” (bodyguards) have not been killed. If there is contrary evidence, I hope this has been handed over to the Kenya Wildlife Service. While the poaching situation is extremely serious and ongoing, and we urgently need to face these realities, in my opinion we also need to be careful not to let our emotions (which are running high, because we all care so much about what is going on) to cloud or distort these same realities.

      • camilla Le May

        Hi Tanya, Mark Deeble flew over around the 14th June and stated he saw 2 other carcasses in the area not far from Satao…? (see his blog and he also told me) Also Paula Kahumbu stated there were 4 or 5 dead (Satao & askaris) on her TV interview…. For those of us not on the ground we can only trust the information fed to us

        • Those carcasses are known to KWS and Tsavo Trust, Camilla, and they are older carcases – before Satao. The fact they are older carcasses does not make the situation any better – after all one elephant’s death is as sad and wasteful as the next, whether they are “famous” or not – but it is not true to say that these carcasses were those of Satao’s askaris/bodyguards. How this information got twisted and repeated in interviews by people who have not been to the scene is just the way things go, but it is not correct. Everyone’s emotions are running high, and the truth has been distorted in the frenzy following this tragedy.

          • guest

            Understood Tanya, I will amend anything that I have put out there ref this. Without any public statement from TT ref others reports on this till this am its been impossible to know either way but I personally trusted what I was hearing. As you say though these are still dead ellies..famous or not…fact is TT needs funds/help now if GOK is not investing more fast to help you and I only hope this article helps ref donations to TT. I fear there are more pressing concerns for GOK immediately-security-Saba saba etc for changes ref your work is even more important…

            Thank you for all Tsavo Trust does-this must be a VERY hard time for you all.

          • camilla Le May

            Paula Kahumbu reported 4 or 5 askaris dead…Did Tsavo Trust not see this interview?copying it here FYI

          • Yes, we saw the interview. With all due respect, Paula is not on the ground (or in the air) in Tsavo and her information in this case is erroneous and exaggerated.

          • camilla Le May

            Given only 3 in Kenya have been speaking with authority on this incident (I say with authority due to their status in Kenyan conservation) in national and international press, you must realise that the public will believe what all three are putting out there-thats TT, STE and PK. I have amended my letter on the petition immediately this am. I also noticed the Guardian article of 13th stated Satao had 24/7 guards…Again an error which will have caused many furrowed brows amongst its 200,000 reads online and same again of hard copy readers. But as you say all with best intentions. Onward and upward and I hope this article raises funds for more private security which seems to be the only way right now?

          • The only way to implement security solutions inside the National Parks is alongside and in support of the Kenya Wildlife Service, the national wildlife authority. It is not possible to instigate private security operations inside the National Parks. Outside the National Parks, in the Community Wildlife Conservancies, the community ranger forces implement security, but inside the Parks, all operations are led by KWS. Tsavo Trust works to support KWS and work alongside them inside the Tsavo National Parks, while working with community conservancies outside the Parks to create concentric rings of security for wildlife and people around the edges of the Parks, thereby not only protecting these outlying areas but also creating a physical buffer to help secure the National Parks.

          • camilla Le May

            Good to have this explanation out there for all to see-thank you Tanya.

            But what it comes down to and what I was meaning is more private funds raised through donations to Tsavo Trust is the only immediate way to boost security specifically for these tuskers right now (the fact that TT are working with KWS does not change this)? Until and if GOK are to up their investment in their KWS forces?

  • camilla Le May

    Hi Tanya, Mark Deeble flew over around the 14th June and stated he saw 2 other carcasses in the area not far from Satao…? (see his blog and he also told me) Also Paula Kahumbu stated there were 4 or 5 dead on her TV interview….What is the truth? For those of us not on the ground we can only trust the information fed to us. All best, Camilla

    • Just as an update to yesterday’s discussion on here, yesterday morning Tsavo Trust flew over the area where Satao was killed and saw all four of his Askaris (bodyguards) alive and well – proving again, as we have maintained all along, that they were not killed as has erroneously been reported elsewhere.

      • camilla Le May

        BRILL NEWS! Pity the false report was not squashed quicker! I certainly was completely flummoxed as to why TT would not have reported the askaris were dead if they were-I could not make head or tail of it..

  • Solon Lechonitis

    Just read this remarkable article a Tribute to Satao.Unfortunately he passed away in so a cruel death.I hope so much that the Kenyan president puts the rest of the big tuskers under his protection like Ahmed was.Very sad.RIP.Satao.You will be never forgotten.

  • gus

    deserves a monument

    • camilla Le May

      Gus, I plan to sculpt him-thats what I do! Sadly though will only be from photos )-; Never the same…

  • Deanna

    Don’t know if I can trust that my donation to your Trust would truly protect the elephants. Satao has died from poachers under your watch. Always the excuse..the area is so large. Walking freely out there are poachers repeating kills over and over. The number of poached elephants tell the story. When the elephants are all gone, we will have the pictures and videos of this lost treasure, “a giant so grand”. A sad, sad legacy for Kenya, the Trust and all wild animals.

  • Hugo Eduardo Duthi

    Que hijos de puta, no puedo decir otra cosa…

  • Hugo Eduardo Duthi

    I see the notice in my country, Argentina, in past May, and I cann`t say more than that: Què hijos de puta…

  • Toto

    Making the price of ivory dirt cheap, it would not be viable for these great animals to be poached,but then they will look for something else to poach,rhino are near extinction,so where to from here.Bring in Greenpeace the news regarding the whales was a gigantic gift to these gentle creatures of the deep.