The elephant screamed and thrashed the bushes with his trunk, tottering on three legs. The bullet had not dispatched him. "There are no more cartridges," the scout said. "There is only a small gun in the lodge," and he walked away to get it. We waited in the thick wet bush as the blood-soaked elephant moved step by painful step to a little river.
He was standing looking at the water, waiting with us for death, when the gun arrived. Iain walked up to him, lifted the gun to his heart, said, "Sorry, old chap," and pulled the trigger. Instantly, his legs folded and he collapsed. No one moved, the birds were still, there was no sound now except the trickling stream. It was the saddest sight I ever saw.
The scout was standing nearby. "Why did you shoot?" I whispered.
"Because he was touching the ropes of my tent," he answered.
This tragic scene symbolized for me a story as old as the history of elephants and man. Recently man has been killing a higher proportion of Africa’s elephants than ever before. Comparatively few people struggle to conserve them. For nearly 15 years Iain has fought for the elephant, a battle I have shared wholeheartedly with him.
It is a losing battle. The elephant’s range is steadily diminished by expanding civilization and its need for more farms and ranchlands, and man continues to slaughter him for his ivory—by poisoned arrows in Kenya, by fires in Sudan, by pitfalls in Zaire, by Pygmies’ spear traps in the forest, by horsemen’s spears in Chad. A new technique is to place poisoned fruit along his pathways.
But the greater slaughter in the past decade has been by guns—from muzzle-loaders with poisoned spears to the high-powered rifles and automatic weapons used by poachers, soldiers, guerrillas, even rangers.
Elephants by the tens of thousands are slain every few years. Mountains of ivory leave Africa and are being used for currency, jewelry, and objets d’art. It is man who is digging the elephant graveyards.
Iain’s work with the elephant began in 1966 with studies in Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park. Later I joined him there, and together we have succeeded in following the life histories of individual elephants and families.