Wednesday, March 3

Tributes to Great Tusker Tim who died this year

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February 5th, 2020

“Tim was born in January 1969 to Trista of the TD family. We first met him when he was only 4 years old, we watched him grow and become independent, then grow further into a magnificent mature male. Later in his life Tim became one of Africa’s most famous elephant icons and people flocked to Amboseli in the hope of seeing him.

To us, it wasn’t his spectacular tusks that made Tim so special, it was his calm and gentle nature. To us, and the other members of the ecosystem, he was a polite elephant, and very popular with other elephants of all ages, both male and female. Male elephants often befriend and follow older experienced males in order to learn important survival and social skills, especially when they first become independent. Tim welcomed these friendships; he was playful and tolerant with younger males, even when he was mating or guarding oestrus females. Unsurprisingly females thought him to be a good choice for mating and we know he passed on his genes many times over the years.

Wild male elephant lifespans are almost always shorter than those of females; in 47 years studying the Amboseli population we have only recorded 14 males who were older than 50 when they died. Tim was 51 and in musth, so he was in good physical shape and there is every chance we will get more babies born to him in the coming 22 months if he had been mating recently.

The post-mortem results from Kenya Wildlife Service revealed he died of a twisted gut, which is a natural cause of death for elephants, although we don’t know why this happened at this time.

Of course we are incredibly sad that Tim is dead; he has been part of our lives for so long. It’s hard to believe we will never see his unmistakable tall form striding the Amboseli plains, and all of us will miss the thrill of his company.

Our trust with the elephants is always precious, but with Tim it was extra special – having a male of that size and stature come up to greet us, then rest by the car always gave us goosebumps. But we take comfort in the fact that Tim’s life had significant impact for both elephants and humans: protecting him catalysed positive collaborations, his fame sparked huge public awareness and his legacy lives on in the lives of the male friends who he taught, and the calves he fathered.”

Dr. Cynthia Moss Director of the
Amboseli Trust for Elephants

And here’s another story about him,

“In 2014 during a board meeting in Amboseli, we found out that Tim was injured. Someone had speared him and he was limping. My board was very upset that such a giant had no protection. They immediately committed to saving Tim. It wasn’t until late 2016 that we could put a collar on him. The project involved many players; Save the Elephants, Big Life Foundation, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Kenya Wildlife Service, and the community. Tim was fitted with a collar and that meant he could be followed, protected and kept out of farms.

It worked exceptionally well. Too well. Tim lost weight because he couldn’t raid farms. But within two years he somehow got rid of his collar. Without it, he and his gang could return to his nocturnal terrorizing raids on nearby farms.

During the filming of Wildlife Warriors last year we went to look for Tim. He was standing with his askaris, a group of big males who stood in a defensive array of outward-pointing tusks. There was Tolstoy who is easy to spot as the tips of his tusks have been sawn off and Townsend, who is Tim’s little nephew. They wafted their ears lazily even though they looked awake and terrifying, we could see that they were asleep. Tim slept last – mostly because his body kept swaying slowly from side to side with the incredible appearance as if he was about to fall down.

The next day a National Geographic crew came to shoot with us and after seeing our footage of Tim and his gang, were determined to get the same image. We returned and found Tim with about fifty other elephants. It was a family gathering. After about an hour, the bulls pulled away. We followed them from a distance. They stopped and stood out in the open. We got to within ten meters. They didn’t seem to care, and one by one they lay down, then snored for two hours. Tim surprised everyone. He was a crop raider but he was a gentle, calm, intelligent being. His size was breathtaking, and he seemed to know it.

As a huge male, Tim secured many matings with the females and so we are certain that he’s a baby daddy to many little ones in Amboseli. The gene for ‘super tusker’ has been passed on many times.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t heartbroken that Tim is no more. But I’m also proud. Proud that he died of natural causes. That our work did create awareness of this giant in Kenya and around the world. I’m sad we never got to host the Elephant Naming ceremony with President Uhuru Kenyatta – an event that we hoped would really create much more awareness about our pride and heritage. I’m sad that we were unable to persuade others that we should be celebrating and naming our elephants as a nation.

RIP Tim, fly with all the other Elephant Angels.”

Dr. Paula Kahumbu, CEO Wildlife Direct


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