Poachers kill famed giant Kenyan elephant

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Nairobi – One of Africa’s largest elephants has died after being shot by poachers using poisoned arrows in Kenya, wildlife officials revealed as they mourned on Saturday the loss of an “old friend.”

The elephant famed for his giant tusks, known as Satao and aged around 45, was wounded by poisoned arrows in May in Kenya’s vast southeastern Tsavo national park.

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The Tsavo Trust, which works to protect the wilderness and its animals, announced the death “with great sadness” for one of the “most iconic and well-loved tuskers.”

The death of the elephant, the latest in a surge of the giant mammals killed by poachers for their ivory, came a day after wildlife regulator CITES warned entire elephant populations are dying out in many African countries due to poaching on a massive scale.

“It is with enormous regret that we confirm there is no doubt that Satao is dead, killed by an ivory poacher’s poisoned arrow to feed the seemingly insatiable demand for ivory in far off countries, a great life lost so that someone far away can have a trinket on their mantlepiece,” Tsavo Trust said in a statement released late Friday.

“Rest in peace, Old Friend, you will be missed,” it added.

Poachers had hacked off the elephant’s face and stolen the tusks, but conservationists who had followed Satao for years identified the body from the ears and other signs. The carcass was found earlier this month.

– Official figures doubted –

More than 20,000 African elephants were poached last year alone for their tusks, which rake in thousands of dollars a kilo in Asia, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Organised crime syndicates and rebel militia looking for ways to fund insurgencies in Africa have become increasingly involved, eager to reap the benefits as demand in China for ivory to use in decorations and in traditional medicines has fuelled a multi-billion-dollar illicit trade.

The famed elephant lived in a vast wilderness stretching over a thousand square kilometres (400 square miles), a major challenge for rangers from the government-run Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to patrol.