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Paying the Ivory Price: Elephant Icon 'Satao' Killed by Poachers

Jun 17, 2014 03:05 PM EDT

The animal kingdom lost a beloved friend when poachers in Kenya killed the world famous elephant named Satao solely for his ivory - a "monumental" loss, experts say.

At around age 45, Satao was considered by some to be the largest and oldest elephant left in Africa, his massive tusks having grown long enough to reach the ground. Trotting around Kenya's Tsavo National Park, he was easily recognizable by staff and visitors.

Sadly, despite conservation efforts, he was killed May 30, his carcass identified by park staff June 2. His head was mutilated and there were two holes left where his great tusks had been.

"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," wrote Richard Moller of The Tsavo Trust. "A great life lost so that someone far away can have a trinket on their mantelpiece."

Satao isn't the first elephant - and far from the last - to pay the ivory price. Just last month, Mountain Bull, another iconic Kenyan elephant, was killed by poachers. More than 20,000 African elephants were slaughtered in 2013, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Kenya Wildlife Service says 97 elephants and 20 rhinos have been slain this year, but others say the real numbers are much higher.

"Elephant poaching in Kenya is at least 10 times the official figures," Dr. Paula Kahumbu, who leads the Hands Off Our Elephants campaign, told The Telegraph.

The national park in which Satao resided is roughly 386 square miles - a massive expanse for already thinly-stretched resources to cover. Reports indicate that Satao had started to migrate towards the park's border - areas known by conservationists to be highly active for poaching.

When the adored tusker was born in the late 1960s, more than 275,000 elephants roamed Kenya. Now, that number has dwindled to around 38,000, and continues to fall fast, according to the website The Dodo.

If there is any silver lining to this story, it's that Satao's offspring survive, and that Satao's tragic ending may be able to inspire others to take conservation efforts more seriously.

"If Satao's death can galvanize the focus on what's actually happening here in terms of poaching, then he won't have died in vain," said nature documentarian Mark Deeble, according to The Dodo.

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