One of Africa's largest elephants has died in Kenya after being shot by poachers using poisoned arrows, wildlife officials revealed yesterday as they mourned the loss of an "old friend".
The elephant known as Satao and famed for his giant tusks, was aged around 45. He was wounded in May in Kenya's vast southeastern Tsavo national park.
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 Satao, the latest in a surge of the giants killed by poachers for their ivory, came a day after wildlife regulator Cites warned entire elephant populations were dying out in many African countries due to rampant poaching.
"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," the Tsavo Trust said.
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.
The famed elephant lived in a wilderness stretching over 1,000 square kilometres, a major challenge for rangers from the government-run Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to patrol.
Last month poachers on Mount Kenya killed an elephant called Mountain Bull, who had gained fame after being fitted with a radio collar tracking its movements. The data was crucial to opening a wildlife corridor. His carcass was found with spear wounds and the tusks taken.
While the number of elephants poached in Africa last year was staggering, latest figures show a levelling off after a decade of soaring slaughter.
In 2011, a total of 25,000 of the world's largest land mammals were killed, and the number was around 22,000 in 2012.
In Kenya official figures estimate almost 100 elephants have been killed by poachers this year, while experts argue the number is far greater.
"Nobody in Kenya believes this figure, which suggests that less than 1 per cent of the national elephant population have fallen to poachers' guns," Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumba, who heads the campaign group Wildlife Direct, wrote in a report published on Friday.