You might ask; “Why help Tusker Elephants, and what is The Askari Project about?”
‘Tusker’ is the term used to describe bull (male) elephants that have tusks weighing over 45kgs, while a ‘big tusker’ also has tusks reaching the ground. The largest tusks officially recorded belonged to an African bull elephant shot in 1898 on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro. His two tusks weighed 209kgs – with the longer one measuring 318cms.
Tuskers have roamed the African Savannahs passing on their genes, knowledge and experience to future elephant generations, and hunting elephants for their ivory has resulted in the ‘big tusk gene’ becoming increasingly rare.
Over the last decade, researchers have found through study and documentation that;
The Greater Tsavo ecosystem containing Tsavo East, Tsavo West and Chyulu Hills National Parks is home to the largest population of tuskers left in East Africa. The Tsavo Conservation Area (TCA) is Kenya’s largest conservation ecosystem, holding a significant percentage of wildlife species, including extremely large numbers of high value species – 40% of Kenya’s overall elephant and 18% of the black rhinoceros populations.
Richard Moller, Tsavo Trust’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), believes there are only about 15 tuskers left in the whole of Africa, and 5 of these recognised Tuskers are currently under his guardianship.
Tusker bulls are in their prime for breeding and preferred by females when they reach their mid-40s to early 50s. This means they have accumulated a vast amount of social and ecological experience, which makes them important role models and leaders for other males and younger elephants.
Research shows that younger male elephants can become aggressive when older bulls aren’t around, displaying a similar behaviour as juvenile delinquency in our own cultures when fathers are absent as strong male role models.
Sadly, many tusker elephants are killed in their prime before they have an opportunity to mate. Richard Moller has identified 16 young elephants within Tsavo that are on target to have record breaking tusks in the next decade.
During the first year of life, a baby elephant’s tusks will replace its set of milk teeth, extending from a socket in the skull. One third of the tusk is hidden from view and embedded deep in the elephant’s head. This part of the tusk is a pulp cavity made up of tissue, blood and nerves. The visible, ivory part of the tusk is made of dentine with an outer layer of enamel.
Elephant ivory is unique; when viewed in cross-sections it reveals criss-cross lines that form a series of diamond shapes.
Elephants tusks never stop growing and may result in big tusker elephants. Evidence suggests that elephants normally prefer one tusk over the other, like being left or right handed in humans. The preferred tusk is known as the master tusk.
One of the key differences between African and Asian elephants are the tusks. All African elephants, male and female, have tusks whereas only some Asian males have tusks. About 50% of Asian females have short tusks known as "tushes" – which have no pulp inside.
Tusks are used;
They forage, dig for water or roots, strip off bark from trees, push trees down, establish trails, create new patches of grassland for other wildlife — and they act as biotic agents by dispersing seeds over long distances through dense forests and across the savanna.
When elephant populations are doing well within a given habitat, we see positive trickle-down benefits for other wildlife in the ecosystem.
Askari is a term often given to young male elephants found in the company of larger, older and more experienced bulls.
These young bulls learn many things from their more experienced teachers, such as behaviours and skills which they will need to become dominant bulls themselves in the future.
In return these ‘askaris’ serve as a bit of a gang, providing company and security to the older bulls, with many eyes and ears being more effective at detecting threats and danger.
In May 2014, Mountain Bull and Satao — two of Kenya’s oldest and most famous elephant bulls — were killed by poachers inside two national parks.
In early May 2014, poachers armed with spears illegally entered Mt. Kenya National Park, killed Mountain Bull and hauled away his ivory. A few weeks later, poachers breached the border of Tsavo East National Park, killed Satao with a poisoned arrow and ferried away his tusks.
Where these majestic bulls once roamed for more than four decades — surviving even the ivory wars of the 1970s and 1980s — their carcasses lay still and sprawled in the dirt.
The deaths sent shock waves through Kenya’s conservation community and to animal lovers and conservationists around the world. With the outpouring of eulogies and tributes that followed their deaths, Mountain Bull and Satao put a face on the tens of thousands of African elephants killed every year.
The killing of these two bull elephants lead to the Askari Project being officially set up in late 2014. The Askari Project is also an Australian representative for The Tsavo Trust. The Tsavo Trust works with the support of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), researchers and other conservation partners.
Every cent that The Askari Project raises goes to the Tsavo Trust. Richard Moller, CCO, monitors the elephant population using his 5Y ACE light aircraft. In such a huge, remote place as Tsavo, an aircraft is a vital conservation tool, providing an important ‘eyes in the sky’.
As well as contributing to scientific data collation, the reports transmitted in real-time from Tsavo Trust's aircraft can assist KWS in mounting an appropriate response to any identified threat to the park’s elephants.
In response to the escalating poaching situation, Tsavo Trust has started extending The Big Tusker Project to include a on-the-ground follow-up capacity to bolster KWS anti-poaching efforts.
Working alongside KWS in a supporting role, Tsavo Trust has boosted patrol numbers on the ground, assisting to locate elephant carcasses, determine the cause of death and recover tusks, as well as locating poachers’ platforms, hides, camps and illegal charcoal kilns. They also assist to patrol Tsavo’s rhinoceros sanctuary and free release zones.
Every dollar that is donated to the Askari project will be used directly to protect the ‘tuskers’. All donations are welcome and accepted with great thanks. It is through the immense effort of individuals and organisations like the Askari Project, that will increase the changes of Africa’s unique wildlife being protected for future generations.
For more information, visit the Askari website at www.theaskariproject.org/