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Saving Mountain Bull: Famous Elephant is De-Tusked For His Safety

November 22, 2012

One night in August 2012, Mzee Mungamia woke to the loud sound of snapping fence wires. Cautiously heading out with his torch, the small scale maize farmer from Lewa’s neighbouring Mbuju community confirmed his worst fears: an elephant had broken past his fence, and in a few minutes his yearly harvest would be reduced to nothing. A closer look at the animal revealed that it was a male, with long tusks shining in the moonlight, spotting a collar around his neck. Mungamia knew immediately which elephant this was - Mountain Bull. 

Mountain Bull - often referred to simply as MT Bull - is a 45-year-old elephant whose dedication to using the traditional elephant migration routes that cut through Mount Kenya, Ngare Ndare Forest and Lewa made him a legend in northern Kenya. However, human encroachment and increase in population has severed these routes and they now lie on farms and homesteads, exacerbating the human-elephant conflict in the region: the elephants are forced to go through these inhabited areas as they move back and forth. The elephant underpass constructed in 2010 sought to alleviate this conflict by offering a safe passage for the pachyderms. 

However, the very clever MT Bull has gained notoriety for his refusal to use this underpass - the only elephant to do so – preferring to go through farms and raiding crops along the way. In the last few months, he had taken to breaking the Lodomoru fence line that separates the Ngare Ndare Forest from smallholder irrigated community farms destroying potatoes, maize and peas. Mzee Mungamia’s case is one of the many recorded instances of the Bull’s destruction. And even though the community members understand the value of wildlife, their tolerance towards MT Bull’s behaviour had slowly started to wane, with well-founded fears that they would be forced to drastic measures to stop the rampages and protect their crops. 

De-Tusking as a Viable Solution
MT Bull’s technique in breaking fences is quite simple. Using his tusks, he would push the wires up or down until they snap, granting him free pass. Shortening the length of his tusks would definitely make it very difficult for him to continue his destructive behaviour. 

“Monitoring of previously rogue elephants after de-tusking has shown a significant decline in the rate of fence breakages,” explains Lewa’s Chief Conservation Officer Geoffrey Chege. 

After months of careful planning, the de-tusking of Mountain Bull happened on Friday the 31st of October in the neighbouring Borana Conservancy. And not surprisingly, the Bull did not make it easy! The exercise took half a day of trekking through the rugged terrain, patiently waiting for him to move to an ideal location. Finally, just before sunset the joint team from Lewa and Borana got a perfect chance and in a span of 30 minutes, MT Bull was successfully de-tusked. 

The Bull has worn a collar fitted by Save the Elephants for the past several years, making it possible to track his movements. We hope that the de-tusking shall deter him from breaking fences and raiding farms, and as a result reduce the human-elephant conflict in the region.