By Olivia Rudgard, The Telegraph
Tributes have poured in for Il Talal, one of Africa’s last great “super tusker” elephants, which has died in a national park in Kenya.
The much-loved bull elephant escaped the lifelong threat of poachers to survive to the age of 55, dying from a twisted colon thought to be caused by a surfeit of succulent plants brought out by recent heavy rains in Tsavo National Park, in the south of the country.
“Super tuskers”, so named because of their large, heavy tusks which are long enough to reach the ground, are increasingly rare on the continent, partly because they have been so heavily targeted by poachers for their ivory.
Il Talal’s tusks each weighed more than 100lbs (45kgs), and were almost 100 inches (2.5m) long. There are thought to be fewer than 20 of them left, around half of which live in Tsavo.
The Tsavo Trust, which manages the park, said the elephant was “one of Tsavo’s most iconic and well-loved super tuskers”, describing it as “a shy elephant and often in the company of 2 or 3 other bulls (his askaris or bodyguards).
“There are positives to be taken from the death of Il Talal: he has lived a full life and died in his twilight years; he has also undoubtedly spread his tusker genes widely,” it said earlier this week.
The elephant had previously been treated for an infected spear wound and seemed to be recovering but died on Sunday, the Trust said. Rangers monitoring him quickly retrieved his tusks so they could not be taken by poachers.
A celebrity in elephant circles, Il Talal had frequently appeared in images and footage at the park. Elephant fans and park staff paid tribute to a “Kenyan icon” and “a handsome king”.
On social media Finch Hattons, a luxury safari provider based at the park, said: “Many guests have had the luxury of meeting him, typically in the company of his male bodyguards. We take comfort that he lived a very full life and enjoyed his twilight years amongst the Chyulu Hills.”
Nick Haller, the park’s resident pilot and photographer, said: “An incredibly sad couple of days here in Tsavo, going to miss this big boy. “However, glad he lived a full life and spread those big boy genes far and wide. A positive for conservation he managed to live a full life and died naturally.”
Wildlife artist Karen Laurence-Rowe, who had previously painted the elephant said: “I’m passionate about all animals, but as an artist I am always particularly saddened when I hear about the demise of an animal I have painted – the weeks spent studying and depicting them in paint makes one feel deeply connected.”
Tsavo is thought to be home to 12,000 elephants, the largest population in Kenya. In 2014 a famous big tusker, Satao, was killed by poachers in the park using a poisoned arrow, prompting global outrage. Satao II, named after it, was also killed by poachers in 2017.