Will Burrard-Lucas, the same photographer who captured this rare black leopard on camera for the first time in 100 years, has done it again – photographing a wild animal few others have had the chance to see, let alone document.
The talented photographer captured a series of photos featuring a majestic “tusker” elephant that survived to a very old age despite all odds. His images are the last ever taken of her before she died of natural causes.
To make these pictures even more incredible, there are believed to be less than twenty tusker elephants left on the Planet.
Burrard-Lucas nicknamed the majestic giant the “Elephant Queen.” Sadly, she passed away shortly after these photos were taken. She lived in the Tsavo region of Kenya and was technically known as F-MU1.
African elephants are referred to as “tuskers” and if their tusks are long enough to touch the ground they are called “big tuskers” or “super tuskers.” Their valuable tusks are a big target for heartless poachers, hence why there are so few left.
Super tuskers, like the Elephant Queen, are shockingly rare today. After all, larger tusks are more valuable, and this puts a huge target on them.
Many of them are killed before they reach their reproductive prime.
As a result, “super-tusker genes are being bred out of elephant populations, and we could very well be seeing the last of them,” Mark Jones from the Born Free wildlife charity explained to BBC.
The Elephant Queen was estimated to be around sixty years old in these pictures, quite an impressive age for an animal so coveted by poachers.
“She had survived through periods of terrible poaching and it was a victory that her life was not ended prematurely by a snare, bullet or poisoned arrow,” wrote Burrard-Lucas in a blog post.
“If there were a Queen of Elephants, it would surely have been her,” he added.
Sadly, around two years ago, a 50-year-old tusker elephant was killed by poachers in the same region of Kenya.
Capturing the elephant on camera was no easy task. Burrard-Lucas worked alongside wildlife-conservation organization Tsavo Trust as well as Kenya Wildlife Service to find her. The team spent days scouring the area with a car and spotter plane.
He was able to get incredible up close and personal photos of the elephant using his self-developed and remote-controlled BeetleCam.
“I looked down at the live view on my wireless monitor and had to pinch myself,” he shared.
“It was a feeling of privilege and euphoria that will stay with me forever.”
Burrard-Lucas plans to release unseen photos of the Elephant Queen and other tuskers in his book “Land of Giants” scheduled for release this month.
Few people who live outside of the region even knew about F-MU1’s existence. Burrard-Lucas considers the opportunity to photograph her as one of the “greatest honours of my career.”
The photos were captured in August 2017 as part of a collaborative project with Tsavo Trust to create a coffee table book profiling the work they do with elephants living in Tsavo.
The talented photographer rode in a Land Rover alongside Tsavo Trust’s “Tembo 2” research team. They traveled down narrow dirt roads surrounded by thick brush on all sides.
Up above, they could hear a small spotter plane guided by the founder of Tsavo Trust, Richard Moller. His mission was to guide them towards the “extraordinary cow elephant known to Tsavo Trust by the code F_MU1.”
Easier said than done. This continued for days as they searched the vast wilderness, until, at long last, Richard spotted her from his plane. From there, he guided them towards her where they’d have an unobstructed view.
“Over the bushes I caught a glimpse of an elephant’s back and seconds later she stepped out into the open. I was speechless,” Burrard-Lucas writes.
He described her as “skinny and old” yet every bit as graceful with tusks “so long that they scrapped the ground in front of her. She was a relic from a bygone era.”
The team followed her all morning long, she even led them to a waterhole. They marveled at how she patiently waited her turn to drink from the hole, despite how warm it was and how thirsty she must have been.
“Her temperament was gentle and calm. Sometimes she would come so close to me that I could have touched her.”
Burrard-Lucas was lucky to find her again several more times. Allowing him to capture the image below, which is featured on the cover of his book.