I missed world elephant day yesterday, and today I thought I’d share a sad story from just a month ago while I was still in Kenya. While visiting Ol Pejeta, Austin and I drove up to this magnificent female elephant and her young calf timidly peering from behind her. At Mpala a lot of the megafauna are much less habituated to cars and people, so I had never been this close to a wild elephant. We had come up literally a few meters from her in the car and she swayed there without any visible reaction to us at all. Beyond the jaw-dropping textures and expressions to take in from her, we noticed she kept throwing sand on her left front knee. A closer look and we could see a lot of inflammation with some sort of indent in the center. It was clear she was in much discomfort, probably not wanting to move much at all on her sensitive limb. The injury seemed a bit strange, not one that would be caused by a predator, and I thought it might have been an infection from simply traipsing around in the bush.
Less than two weeks from our encounter with her, I opened up instagram to see a heartbreaking story from Ol Pejeta detailing the circumstances surrounding a female elephant… with a massively swollen left front limb. After several weeks of observation and intervention by Kenya Wildlife Service, it was determined that the wound and infection were to be fatal, and she was euthanized to prevent her from having a slow agonizing death. Her calf has been taken into a sanctuary because its survival odds in the wild without a mother are essentially zero. The saddest part to read was that the autopsy revealed a gunshot wound in her leg, unquestionably the result of a poaching attempt on this animal. Poaching remains a prevailing issue in Africa and around the world for wildlife conservation, but it especially brings it home to see an animal in its habitat one day, and find out that you’ve spent time with her during one of her last moments due to destructive human cause.