Tragic news from Queen Elizabeth National Park this week-end: Mary the orphan elephant has been found dead, believed to have been poisoned.
This famous elephant was raised by Marcel Onen (who worked for Michael Keigwin, my boss and Founder of the Uganda Conservation Foundation (UCF), for seven years. Michael writes “After years of Mary entertaining us all in Mweya and elsewhere in QE it is very sad, but somewhat inevitable, that this would happen. Everyone is very upset.”
Recently, Mary has been quite the media darling, appearing in the local newspaper stopping traffic and of course causing losses to some traders, who just couldn’t keep up with her demand for bananas. Just last week my colleague Patrick met her at Katunguru where she was rubbing her shoulders against a tree.
She was a delicate lady: friends have told me stories of how she would delicately remove all the crockery from the outside sink – without breaking a thing – before turning on the tap to quench her thirst.
Despite our best efforts, ivory poaching and retaliatory killings of elephants are on the increase in Uganda. The poaching / global ivory trade now operates on an industrial scale, and growing human populations encroach on what little remains of the Protected Areas. Fact is though, Mary was harmless – all three tons of her. She’d been reared by humans, was not one of the destructive crop raiding elephants and was adored by thousands of tourists and rangers. She’ll be sorely missed.
The Uganda Conservation Foundation works with the Uganda Wildlife Authority to try to protect elephants and sensitise local communities to the benefits of community conservation. However, the prevalent mindset is still simply to kill any animal that gets in your way.
We won’t give up however: there are many dedicated men and women rangers who put their lives on the line on a daily basis to protect wildlife, and they need our support more than ever.
UCF has the fastest growing conservation page on Facebook in Uganda, with supporters from across the globe.
Do you have any funny stories about Mary you’d like to share? We’ve created a Facebook photo album in Mary’s honour and invite everyone to upload photos, post comments and share this link with friends.
If you’d like to support UCF, a British registered charity that has been operating in Uganda for ten years, you can donate here