Africa's Famous Elephant Big Tim Dies At 50

Feb 6, 2020
Originally published on February 6, 2020 9:21 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Africa lost its most famous elephant, Tim. One of the biggest bull elephants left on the continent made his home in southern Kenya and died yesterday of natural causes at age 50. NPR's Eyder Peralta has this remembrance.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Tim was hard to miss. His tusks were so big they almost touched the ground as he walked. Dr. Paula Kahumbu, the CEO of Wildlife Direct, has tracked Tim for years, and last year, she filmed him for her wildlife show.

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PAULA KAHUMBU: Tim is in the front, at the left, and next to him are his fierce defenders. There's Tolstoy and Townshend, his cousin.

PERALTA: Tim was super photogenic. He would stare right at the camera - his gang of bull elephants flanking him, his tusks swooping below him, Mount Kilimanjaro with its snow-capped summit often rising behind him.

KAHUMBU: He was incredibly friendly. He was one of the very rare elephants who had so much confidence that he didn't think any human being was a threat to him.

PERALTA: But in a lot of ways, he was lucky to live this long. As Kahumbu explains, tuskers, elephants with ivory this big, are often poached young, before they get a chance to breed to pass on their big tusk genes.

KAHUMBU: So many populations in Africa, they ended up with populations of elephants which had no tusks at all.

PERALTA: Tim was also at risk because he terrorized local farmers, eating tomatoes and corn by the acre. In 2014, he was injured with a spear. Kahumbu then led an effort to put a tracking collar on him. When he was tranquilized, wildlife officials called Tim's human neighbors so they could touch him for the first time.

KAHUMBU: He was a terror for them. He was a terrifying animal, and so they were scared of him. And they came, and they touched him. And they said to us that they actually love elephants because elephants are always smiling. You know, because of the nature of their tusks, they look like they're smiling all the time.

PERALTA: Information from his collar helped Kenya's wildlife service create an elephant corridor that lessened human-wildlife conflict. And to the community, a huge, scary tusker became an international celebrity named Tim. Now he will be stuffed and displayed in Kenya's National Museum.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.