A Lonely Elephant Cautiously Explores Post-War Somalia
Solitary bull returns to former conflict zone
Decades ago, tens of thousands of elephants roamed the shores of East Africa. A wave of poaching in the 1970s and ’80s wiped out many of the gentle creatures. And in 1991 Somalia collapsed into a bloody civil war that would grind on for 20 years.
The elephants that had survived in Somalia quickly fled to safer regions. Soon there were no elephants at all in Somalia.
But now, following successive foreign interventions and the establishment of a new government, Somalia is increasingly at peace. And the elephants are apparently beginning to figure that out. In February 2016, a male elephant marched more than a hundred miles from coastal Kenya to southern Somalia, following ancient pachyderm migratory routes that the 30-something bull either remembered from his youth or learned from other, older elephants.
The trekking bull, known to conservationists as “Morgan,” was apparently looking for females to mate with — and for some reason Somalia struck him as just the place. “He obviously had something in his mind about where he’s going,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants, a conservation organization.
Scientists had fitted Morgan with a tracking collar and could monitor his weeks-long trip to Somalia and back. The bull traveled only at night and hid in forest during the day, maintaining this pattern for 18 days. “He’s adopted this extreme form of survival strategy to traverse one of the most dangerous places for elephants in their African range,” Douglas-Hamilton said.
A recent wave of poaching, driven by Asian demand for ivory, has killed more than 100,000 of the world’s roughly half-a-million elephants in the span of just five years. While better law enforcement has helped reduce poaching in the past year or so, poachers still strike in even the best-protected ranges. That Morgan survived his journey into unprotected territory is as remarkable as the unlikely destination is.
Morgan stayed in Somalia one day. As he was, at the time, the country’s only elephant, he was obviously unsuccessful in finding a mate. Morgan turned around and marched right back into Kenya.
“No one has seen anything like this before,” Douglas-Hamilton said. Scientists hope that more elephants make the long journey into Somalia and eventually re-establish permanent herds in the country.