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Little Fellow Knew Nothing About CITES

On Friday, February 22, we spent a couple of hours with a teenage male elephant named Little Fellow, in a conservancy outside the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.

Little Fellow was a good-looking young bull with splayed tusks and ear lobes that curled out. We estimated that he was about 16 years old, just reaching puberty.

But Little Fellow would not live long enough to pass his genes on to the next generation.

Over a period of six weeks he had been treated several times by the Kenya Wildlife Service veterinarian for a spear wound. The beep-beep-beep of a metal detector indicated that part of the spearhead was still lodged in his left front leg.

His injured leg was twice the size it should be. One look at it was enough to know that he wouldn’t pull through, despite the vet’s heroic efforts and the vigils of those, both elephant and human, who came to comfort him.

Pus oozed from the gaping wound. Septicemia had set in, and the infection was coursing through his body.

 

Little Fellow rested his head in the fork of a tree to take some weight off his exhausted body, and right, front leg in particular. (ElephantVoices/Petter Granli)
Exhausted, Little Fellow rested his head in the fork of a tree to take some weight off his body, especially his right front leg. (ElephantVoices/Petter Granli)

 

His infected leg was swollen to gigantic proportions. (ElephantVoices/Petter Granli)
His infected leg was swollen to gigantic proportions. (ElephantVoices/Petter Granli)

 

Little Fellow could no longer walk. With tremendous effort, he could muster a sort of hop, dragging his enormous leg with him. He rested often, his trunk draped over a fork in a tree, seeking momentary relief from the suffering.

He knew he couldn’t lie down again—he’d learned that when he was immobilized for treatment and was unable to get back up without assistance from ropes attached to a vehicle.

Despite exhaustion and agony, Little Fellow was fighting for his life with dignity and purpose, staying near water, good pasture, and shade—within yards of the safety of the Conservancy Manager’s house.

He wasn’t the first male we knew who had come to die here. Lekuta, a mature elephant twice speared for his tusks and treated many times for the wounds, had also died close to Manager’s house. His bones lay scattered nearby, and elephant dung strewn among them was testimony that he had not been forgotten.

On Monday, February 25, Little Fellow died. Like Lekuta, he will not be forgotten by the people or the elephants who have cared about him.

 

 

The Urgency is Real

 

Born in the late 1990s, Little Fellow entered a world that was pretty safe for elephants. But today, 24 years on, it certainly isn’t. The ongoing slaughter is threatening the survival of the species, as well as tourism, economies, and stability in many African countries.

Little Fellow knew nothing about CITES CoP16, the meeting currently taking place in Bangkok, Thailand. He knew nothing of the many documents, arguments, and words that CITES attendees and experts have spent on elephants.

CITES is the organization whose mandate is to ensure that species are not endangered by international trade. It is the only instrument the world has to set boundaries on the exploitation of species and to decide upon global action when one is under siege.

The CITES delegations know nothing about Little Fellow. But they do know about the shocking number of at least 25,000 elephants killed last year for their tusks.

Based on what we know and what we hear, the actual number may be as high as 50,000. That’s ten percent of all the remaining elephants in Africa—a terrible and terrifying reduction in a single year.

We believe that the controversial CITES-approved one-off sales of ivory to China and Japan have contributed to the current mass killings of elephants by stimulating a huge increase in the demand for ivory.

We can only hope that Little Fellow didn’t die in vain. We can only hope that this time CITES and its member states will put elephants above trade and profit and stem the ongoing massacre.

We’re not in Bangkok. But from Kenya we’re following closely how CITES confronts the current crisis. Thailand’s Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, set the right tone when opening CoP16 on Sunday, March 3, by promising to ban Thailand’s internal ivory trade. We hope she has inspired other state leaders as well. If similar action is followed in China, the lives of tens of thousands of elephants could be spared.

We wish all the delegations a successful conference, and we urge that sound science, not politics and horse-trading, be allowed to prevail.

Comments

  1. Richard G. Ruggiero
    Arlington, VA
    March 12, 2013, 2:08 pm

    Joyce and Petter, thanks for your posting. You paint a scene we have seen now for decades. During the dreadful years before the ivory ban, we watched Sudanese horsemen kill and wound hundreds of elephants in northern CAR. Our memories of those times linger in our minds, watching the suffering of elephants we had known for years. To see it still happening breaks my heart, as it would anyone who witnesses these crimes against nature. At least your Little Fellow’s death was brought to light. It is yet another lesson in how much the price of ivory costs the world of innocence.

  2. Joyce Poole
    March 7, 2013, 7:19 am

    Prabhakar – thank you for your comment. It is true that we must depend upon politicians and law makers to make real change, but I don’t agree that we are helpless – we choose our politicians. If together are able to change the way the public thinks and votes, then we can also change the way politicians vote.

  3. PRABHAKAR
    Bangalore,India
    March 7, 2013, 7:06 am

    I am sorry to say the truth of fact. What ever we cry for the pity situation of these animals and nature, only politicians and law has to comeforward to control it.
    I doub’t & this would never ever happen on this planet.

  4. BONTI
    chennai
    March 5, 2013, 10:40 pm

    Such gentle giants…….strictly vegetarian too?

  5. Penelope Wells
    Alaska USA
    March 5, 2013, 9:37 pm

    Thank you, Joyce, for your deeply moving tribute to ‘Toto’ (Little Fellow). Many followed his heart-wrenching struggle to survive the wounds from a poisoned arrow and thought he was going to make it, only to have our hopes dashed in the end. It is comforting to know he was with the best of humans, Fly4Elephants and KWS veterinary teams. You are all so courageous. Thank you for your steadfast support in Little Fellow’s hour of need. His death represents the thousands of his kind who are meeting a similar fate. We are all waiting on CITES delegates to do the right thing and ban the illicit ivory trade and save the African Elephant. Let’s help protect the elephants of Maasai Mara by spreading the word and going to elephantvoices.org/studies-a-projects

  6. Penelope Wells
    Alaska USA
    March 5, 2013, 9:26 pm

    Thank you, Joyce, for your deeply moving tribute to ‘Toto’ (Little Fellow). Many of us followed his heart-wrenching struggle to survive the wounds from a poisoned arrow. And, we thought he was going to make it but only to have our hopes dashed in the end. We feel comforted to know he was with the best of humans, the Fly4Elephants and KWS ranger/ veterinary teams. You are all so brave and courageous. Thank you for your steadfast support in Little Fellow’s hour of need. His death represents the thousands of his kind who are meeting a similar fate. To the rest of us, please help protect the elephants of Maasai Mara by spreading the word and going to elephantvoices.org/studies-a-projects
    We are all waiting on CITES, and its member countries, to do the right thing and ban the illicit ivory trade and save the African Elephant.

  7. Anne Dillon
    Waitsfield, Vermont
    March 5, 2013, 7:44 pm

    Thank you for posting this incredibly sad but essential story, which the world needs to hear. Let’s hope some decent policy comes out of CITES as regards the elephants. Let’s hope the delegates there have some semblance of a soul.

  8. Joseph F. Chabot
    USA
    March 5, 2013, 2:35 pm

    CITES is purely voluntary and is NOT enforced by
    international law. So CITES can not make any
    member country do a darned thing.

  9. Monic Wijffels-Rijkhoff
    Amsterdam Netherlands
    March 5, 2013, 7:21 am

    Thank you National Geographic for covering the story of this young bull. We urgently need a ban on ivory by CITES and to make China a.o. stop this huge market it is providing. The world needs to realize this is a huge tragedy and we are looking at extinction if we don’t put a halt to this very soon.

  10. Johanna van Emst
    The Netherlands
    March 5, 2013, 5:53 am

    I am working as a volunteer in a Dutch Zoo and we have Asian elephants. It is terrible to know what happens to the African elephants. It happens also with the Asian elephants but not for the ivory. I know all about CITES and the trade in ivory has to stop. For me it is strange that the convention is in Bangkok. Thailand is one of the “trade” countries.

  11. Finn
    Denmark
    March 5, 2013, 3:19 am

    It’s time to ask China to leave Africa (and rest of the world) in peace. They are so dangerous. Even Napoleon knew it – the called them the sleeping dragon (I will say the sleeping devil). Now Rhinos and elephants can feel it. Africa without rhinos and elephants? Yes in 5-10 years.

  12. Save Queenie Save Elephants Facebook
    Facebook
    March 5, 2013, 1:27 am

    May the elephants stay safe, though evil pervades the savannahs; and that LIttle Fellow, and all too many like him have not died a painful death in vain. We work facebook to help all elephants. Please join us facebook.com/saveallelephants

  13. Joyce Poole and Petter Granli
    March 5, 2013, 12:03 am

    Hello Luke – have a look at our page on elephantvoices.org http://www.elephantvoices.org/support-now/what-you-can-do-support-now-70.html and in the context of the poaching crisis never doubt the power of your own voice. You can help spread the word by downloading and putting the artwork Every Tusk Costs a Life to good use http://www.elephantvoices.org/news-media-a-reports/every-tusk-costs-a-life.html. Thank you! Joyce

  14. Luke
    Minnesota, USA
    March 4, 2013, 11:11 pm

    I feel helpless. What can I do?