Saluting Changila

Update on January 28, 2013:

Dear friends of Changila,

I am deeply moved by all your letters, which I have read over and over again. Thank you.

I share your feelings of rage and sadness. It will be a long battle to put an end to this “legal” and illegal ivory trade. I do not have any answers, but we can make our voices heard: Tell them, the Kenyan authorities, to stop the illegal trading of blood ivory. And ask the Chinese authorities to close the door on ALL ivory coming into and out of China or being sold in China. They should help in every way to put an end to BLOOD IVORY TRAFFICKING. They should close all ivory shops.

The killing of elephants continues. Last night under the full moon, three of our elephants were killed. Nearly all our big bulls have gone, gone to ivory trinkets, and among our studied elephant families in northern Kenya, we already have five orphaned families in which every senior female has been killed, leaving small groups of orphans to find their way in the battlefield without leadership.

Thank you all for your heartfelt messages.


On January 3 Oria Douglas-Hamilton flew in tribute over the mutilated remains of an elephant named Changila, slaughtered outside Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve. He was killed the day after her 80th birthday.

By Oria Douglas-Hamilton

Flying with the vultures, I salute you Changila, to say farewell. You will now return to the earth where you and I came from a long long time ago. Piece by piece, vultures will take you away and bury you, leaving only white bones by the river to mark your grave, where you stood that last moment in your life. We did not know you well, but you were named Changila, “Fighter.”

You came from the north in December, as you always do. Now at 30, having survived droughts, war, and floods, you stood tall and strong, heading south in full musth over well trodden paths, leaving a scent trail behind, your trunk sweeping the ground as you searched for fertile females to mate with. The land was lush and green after the rains. Butterflies fluttered from flower to flower, and step by step, your great big feet crushed the long grass stems. Like all warriors, you came to fight, to do what you were known for. Did you leave us an heir in your kingdom?

The new year had just begun. We’d seen you here and there for a few days, and then you disappeared, walking back west. Oh yes, people saw you—you were so determined; no one stood in your way. You drank and washed and crossed the river. Alone, you stood on warm earth pondering your next move while the sun’s rays lit the sky red. The day was ending.

Gunfire broke through the silence of dusk, and you fell.

I apologize for man, my species. You did not deserve this.

Changila destroyed by poachers, January 3, 2013. Photo courtesy of Chris Leadismo, Save the Elephants.


As I flew over you, I scanned the eroded gullies on the hillside, wondering where the men had been sitting, watching, waiting for you to turn and face them, guns at the ready. They hit you not once but two, three, times, and you fell. I saw your leg covered in dark red blood. Your eyes were open. Did you see them as you were dying, coming toward you with their axes? And then, without a moment to waste, demented, they hacked into your skull, just below your open eye, your blood spattering those hands that would steal the prize you carried: two beautiful tusks, white like your bones will be, but stained with blood.

I will never forget your face, so savagely butchered. Rage fills my heavy heart, Changila.

Where will your tusks go? They will leave Africa, hidden in dirty sacks, in boxes, trucks, and stores, changing hands from man to man. No one will know who you were, where you lived. You will be like thousands of others, unknown, abused, and used. One day, a piece of you will be cut into myriad items.

I’m sorry, Changila. May your name live forever—we will miss you.


Oria Douglas-Hamilton

In 1997 Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton established the Research Centre in Samburu to study the elephants that frequent the reserve and range beyond it. Four years later Oria opened Eco Camp, Elephant Watch, where guests can go out daily to spend intimate hours with the known elephants. Changila was one of the few remaining big bulls in the area.





More from National Geographic Magazine

Ivory Worship
Thousands of elephants die each year so that their tusks can be carved into religious objects. Can the slaughter be stopped? By Bryan Christy.

Family Ties: The Elephants of SamburuBy David Quammen.

Africa’s Elephants: Can They Survive? By Oria Douglas-Hamilton.


  1. philip muiruri
    tsavo kenya
    March 11, 2015, 4:34 am

    its very painful as our elephant keep on being killed for ivory…let’s join hand to fight poaching.

  2. martina stamm
    September 3, 2013, 11:52 am

    :'( Tears in my eyes, it’s so horrible that i don’t find words for this. Please stop this cruelity!

  3. Nandita Gupta
    April 14, 2013, 1:21 pm

    Is it possible to saw off the tusks of all elephants so that poachers have nothing left to poach for and the animals are left to live? I believe its been done for rhinos (their horns) in India

  4. Adan hassan mohamed
    March 28, 2013, 5:23 pm

    I feel like we as kenyans aren’t doing enough to protect this majesticaly made elephats i hope changila didnt in vain my heart is with u Hamiltons.

  5. bourse france
    March 16, 2013, 11:15 am

    Salut tous le monde,

  6. Ann Early
    North Carolina, USA
    February 5, 2013, 6:41 pm

    I was so fortunate to go on safari in Kenya in June 2011 and to visit magical Samburu. Obama the elephant visited my tent after dinner at the Elephant Bedroom Camp, putting his tusks on the screen beside my bed, giving this safari novice the thrill of a lifetime. I visited as an innocent, not yet aware of the escalating crisis. Not long after I returned home, enthralled and in love with Africa and its wildlife, my innocence was shattered, first by the killing of Khadija in July, then by the August Vanity Fair article. The elephants are on my mind every hour, and I scour the Internet for signs of hope, for solutions, for ways to help, for anything to ease this heartache even for a few moments. I can only imagine what it is like for those of you who live in the midst of this holocaust of the elephants you love. Oria, you expressed the terrible sadness of the loss of Changilla with exquisite beauty. All of us who love them from afar are with you in spirit. I am trying to spread the word here in my little corner of the world. Thank you for all you are doing, may better days be just around the corner. Much love to you and everyone at Save the Elephants from North Carolina.USA.

  7. Tracy Elsen
    San Francisco, CA
    February 1, 2013, 12:35 pm

    All of us at WCN are thinking of you, Iain, the STE staff and all of the elephants through this news. Thank you for giving your voice to the elephants, and for all that you are doing to protect them. We are here to help in any way that we can!
    Tracy & the WCN team

  8. Deborah Leripe
    January 23, 2013, 6:18 pm

    So so sad. When I see these elephants that have been brutally killed because of ignorance and greed it makes me so upset. I always wonder is this one of the elephants that graciously let met sit and observe while they ate with their family, is it one of the elephants that came to Ewaso to drink while I sat on the opposite river bank, is this one of the elephants that has given me so much pleasure just by its presence, was this elephant one of my neighbours. RIP Changila

  9. Shashidhar
    January 22, 2013, 10:24 pm

    Really Tragic news. It really pains when any wild animal is killed in this fashion. The demand for the Tusks in Asian market is what driving this illegal hunting. Unless the demand is curbed, there is no future for these giants. If we proceed at this rate, in next 50 years the elephants will disappear in wild.
    We are all sorry Changila, we did not do enough to protect you.

  10. Pat Morris
    Santa Cruz, CA
    January 22, 2013, 4:13 pm

    Dear Oria,
    So very sorry for your loss. I hope you can turn the pain of this horrific sight into energy to keep fighting the good fight to protect his kin from similar fates. Thank you for all you do!

  11. Nina Bowry
    Perth, Scotland
    January 22, 2013, 2:53 pm

    What a dreadful and stomach-churning piece to read – written so movingly, with such love and affection towards Changila and all the 1000s of others who have, and continue to be slaughtered in Kenya. Oria, thank you for informing us of this horrific end to Changila’s long life. He WAS so beautiful. There exists such a terrible, and dark element in this, our species – the human being. How can it be? It is heartbreaking.

  12. Laura Savill
    Hertfordshire, UK
    January 17, 2013, 12:22 pm

    Like everyone I took am so angry about yet any elephant gone for the earth through ruthless greed. Every time poaching occurs I despair how can it be stopped – the brave men and women on the ground are risking their own lives to protect the wild for all mankind. We must stop purchsing goods from those countries that want poached materials, educated the locals that destroying the wild will be less revenue in the long run because nobody wants to see land without life. Once nature is destroyed it cannot be brought back spread the word about the slaughter the tide must be turned before it is too late – donate whatever you can afford to help stop poaching before it is too long and all the gentle creatures are gone!

  13. Tasha Kimani
    New Zealand
    January 16, 2013, 4:24 am

    Beautiful writing Oria on such a sad, sad story. Happy New Year to you and the family, love the Kimani’s from NZ.

  14. Bellachella
    Buffalo, New York
    January 15, 2013, 9:11 pm

    Like others, my heart is completely broken, engulfed in rage.I weep for this magnificent soul and the souls of the other 35,000 or so elephants brutally slaughtered every year in Africa. I wish I were the God that I no longer believe in, so I could send plagues like the world has never seen to punish these despicable thugs. Sending them to jail is not enough; neither is an easy death, for the criminals get to keep their faces and teeth, and that hardly seems equitable. Thank you STE for all that you do to try to save this magnificent species. It is already too late in some African countries, as you know, but please please please…keep fighting for them.

  15. Professor Roger Short
    Melbourne, Australia
    January 15, 2013, 8:30 pm

    Oria, how terribly sad! I feel for you. The recent accounts of the mass slaughter of Ugandan elephants by The Lord’s Army in helicopters were also horrific. With ivory now fetching $2,000 per kilogram on the Chinese black market, I fear for the future. It already looks as if Asian elephants will be extinct before the end of this century, for similar reasons. I wish I loved the human race, I wish I loved its stupid face. Keep up your wonderful work with Iain, Roger Short.

  16. Wybe
    January 15, 2013, 1:23 pm

    I hope these poachers meet as gruesome and painful a death

  17. Fernando Sobral
    January 15, 2013, 12:22 pm

    A defesa destes seres vivos tem de ser garantida 24h sobre 24h. A mão do diabo não pode continuar a livre soldo. STOP!!!

  18. Barnia Scruggs
    Tennessee, U.S.A.
    January 15, 2013, 12:19 pm

    Very well written, Oria. I salute you and Iain for standing for the elephant for so many years. I have never been able to stand on African soil and behold the sights of this wonderful creature first hand, but, as I receive the poached images my heart breaks for each victim. The elephant is one of God’s most glorious creatures and I believe He feels the pain with each graphic offense. Changila was a beautiful elephant. Things must change or we shall lose this beauty forever. Thank you for sharing this salute. May God bless your efforts.

  19. Kristian Keddie
    Fife, scotland
    January 15, 2013, 12:17 pm

    Heart breakingly sad how long until there is absolutely nothing left ?

  20. Barbara Baron
    January 15, 2013, 12:09 pm

    I feel So much sorrow for Changlia and all the others killed for Insatiable human avidity. I feel so helpless and I feel such a rage, wanting to kill these killers the most painful way I could find. I’m so angry at all people trading and buying ivory and their ignorance – shame on all of you !
    Hope your safe and happy now, great brother, my heart’s with you !

  21. Abby Michelle
    United States
    January 15, 2013, 12:02 pm

    My heart is broken for this magnificent creature. I like to believe that fate and god will play a role in the fate of the poachers who did this to Changila. It is an Elephants right to roam the earth freely and out of harms way. We must ban together and prevent this senseless slaughter. If the ivory trade in Asia were not so lucrative there would be no motivation to killing anything for it’s tusks. We must appeal to the Asian cultures and their governments to take a more global, ethical/moral, and conservational view of the world.

  22. Julie White
    January 15, 2013, 10:32 am

    I hope these poachers meet as gruesome and painful a death as they have given these beautiful elephants. The human race does not deserve this earth. Be well and happy at the Rainbow Bridge brave Changila. 🙁

  23. elise
    washington dc
    January 15, 2013, 10:27 am

    How the world can keep allowing this to happen is an outrage. Humans are the cruelest and most vile species on earth. Maybe we need to get rid of ourselves, before we destroy ever other living animal on earth. I am disgusted by our greed and depravity. RIP beautiful Changila, I can onlly apologize for what we have done to you and your species.

  24. Alden O'Brien
    Washington, DC, USA
    January 15, 2013, 10:12 am

    We must do more than cry—donate (often!) to Save the Elephants and help them help these beautiful creatures and fight the poachers. . It infuriates me that people use ivory to make religious items–they worship with objects made through these horrific murders. Every god so prayed to must weep and rage.

  25. Marla & Thom
    Strasburg, Colorado USA
    January 15, 2013, 10:06 am

    Sending our healing energy and love to the elephant community and to the beings that commit such atrocities – they see the light and beauty of our fellow inhabitants and have a basic respect for all living and breathing life.

  26. Valarie
    January 15, 2013, 9:50 am

    My tears are uncontrollable as I read about Changila and many other elephants that don’t stand a chance in the cruel world filled with greed over their precious Ivory… 🙁
    I’m sickened saddened & feel hopeless as I sit here and read these gruesome events that take place over & over again with no one to help these beautiful docile animals..
    I frequently sign many petitions in hopes they can help but do they???
    Thanks to everyone who’s in the quest to end this evil trade and put an end to the merciless killings of innocent elephants…
    I salute you.
    Valarie O’ Connell

  27. Debbie Tolond
    Abingdon UK
    January 15, 2013, 9:41 am

    So So Sad to see the brutal slaughter of a beautiful beautiful Elephant. RIP Changila

  28. Donna gyarmati
    January 15, 2013, 9:36 am

    This old elephant reminds me of my grandad. You could’nt but love him. Unless you were greedy ruthless theives. How cruel can anyone be? To one whose lived so long and should warrant respect of the highest level.

    The people who buy ivory is no better.

    • David Braun
      January 15, 2013, 9:38 am

      To the people who buy ivory: Look at the photo of Changila dead and see what you paid for.

  29. Juliet Barnes
    January 15, 2013, 9:21 am

    Dearest Oria, this made me cry, as it did you.
    I continue to send light and love to these wonderful creatures and just hope we get a new and energised government who will put a stop to it all xx

    January 15, 2013, 8:33 am

    It really surprise me the amount of comments and post you see over the internet over any subject and no post or comments on this tragic news. It appears we simple don’t care about out our earth, about our animals than been here long time before we arrive to this wonder full earth. It seems people are so immersed in his owns life that cannot see this tragedy.
    I had the wonderful opportunity to be in Samburu and meet Oria and Ian, I have the opportunity to see this elephants on the long grass and I cannot imagine the tragedy they have to face month by month on the full moon.
    Gratitude is everything and I really want to thanks Oria and ian for the work they do on the middle of Africa to preserve and fight for this wonderful animal.
    I invite people to visit and learn more they wonderful work.
    The buy of IVORY must stop or elephants will disappear.!
    You can support this crusade visit
    Thanks Oria and Ian from the deep of my heart.!
    I hope will be a time with this massacre ends. .!!!!


  31. Karen docherty
    Scotland. United Kingdom
    January 15, 2013, 8:21 am

    So very very sad… Rip changila