Breaking Bad: Poachers on the Loose in Kenya

I was in Kenya this July, in Samburu County, working on a story about cheetahs, and found myself camping with conservationists at the ranger station in Meibae Community Conservancy.

Meibae, founded in 2006 through the Northern Rangelands Trust, borders the Ewaso Nyiro River in Samburu County. It’s a dry, rocky region, subject to drought, and it’s a key wildlife corridor for the endangered Grevys zebra, as well as cheetahs and elephants.

The local people, the Samburu, are pastoralists who keep goats, sheep, and camels and live in semi-permanent home clusters called manyattas.

Samburu communities collaborate with the Northern Rangelands Trust in monitoring wildlife and creating management plans and future tourism initiatives.

My Samburu guide, Chris Lentaam, was kind enough to act as an interpreter and facilitate interviews in the local market, where we spoke with young warriors (known as moran) and women about the state of wildlife and their concerns about the recent severe drought.

The day was cut short when word came from the ranger station about a dead elephant in the area.

The rangers’ truck was out for repairs, and they needed a ride to the site.

We dropped off two rangers by the side of the road, and they marched into the bush where the elephant was said to be, about six miles from the road.

By nightfall, confirmation came that the elephant had been poached.

The tusks had been cut off with a hacksaw, but not in their entirety from their root within the skull.

One of the men with us was close to tears, and I was in shock at how close to this story I’d just become.

I asked permission to be taken to see the carcass. After some negotiation, it was agreed that a small team would be allowed to go at dawn.

We drove as close as possible, over difficult terrain, then hiked the rest of the way.

Led to the carcass by fresh hyena and leopard spoor, we passed the spot where the poachers had paused, possibly for a hit of miraa (a popular amphetamine).

About a hundred yards away lay the elephant.

She was roughly 45 years old, with a gunshot to the head. She lay on her side in a pool of blood.

Rangers from the Kenya Wildlife Service had visited the night before and removed the base of her tusks.

We stayed there by her side for five long minutes. Nobody said a word until the head ranger quietly mentioned that it was time to go.

During the course of the next week, a small band of rangers scoured the bush in search of the poachers.

By then, though, the men had long since disappeared. They’re still on the loose.

Who are these poachers? Nobody knows, and nobody is talking on the record.

This was the second elephant slaughtered in the region in less than a month.

The fact that they left a portion of the tusks suggests that this elephant’s killers are new to poaching—low men on the chain of command.

What in their lives drove these men to break bad, and who are their bosses?

For more information on the fight save Kenya’s elephants, go to Save the Elephants


Photo courtesy of Marcy Mendelson.


  1. Nicole P.
    San Francisco, CA
    December 14, 2013, 2:55 am

    This is horrendous. I hope that there will be a solution soon to stop this massacre. I know there are many amazing efforts, but unfortunately poachers are still rampant.

  2. Matt Goldman
    September 28, 2013, 6:36 pm

    • Marcy Mendelson
      September 29, 2013, 11:59 pm

      Hi Matt… Interesting video. When and where was this shot? And how did you get anyone to agree to be on camera? I must stress that my report does not point fingers at anyone. I make no assumptions without proof and evidence.

  3. Pam
    September 25, 2013, 11:47 am

    These magnificent animals are kind, family oriented and live for a very long time. I would take these poachers, their clients and anyone else involved in this horrible deed and bury them alive, really, (bury them alive).

  4. Emily Menezes
    Toronto Canada
    September 25, 2013, 9:44 am

    Everybody can do something about this. The photos are there because people are desperate for action on this issue. If you care about wildlife at all, the environment, and global security you have to join action on this movement. Next week there are marches in 39 cities to demand action for elephants. Get out your boots and walk. Most marches are talking petitions to government. Every voice counts.

  5. Liz
    September 24, 2013, 10:45 pm

    I have just read that the poachers have put cyanide in the watering holes and killed 81 elephants in Zimbabwe….this beggars belief, these majestic animals have done nothing wrong….this takes things to a new low…….we should have international hunters for poachers……..I hope the Zimbabweans upgrade the punsihment for these dropkicks and they never see the light of day again.

  6. maxine
    new jersey
    September 24, 2013, 10:36 pm

    we take the horns from the rhinos to keep them safe,why can we not saw the ivory tusk from the elephant to prevent the murders of these magnificent creatures.Is it so difficult to rmove or damage their tusks so they become so undesirable that they are not killed??????

  7. Tzipporah
    September 24, 2013, 7:26 pm

    Tell us what kind of action to take, who to contact, etc. And I agree with the other poster, I don’t want to look at slain animals, either as it’s like preaching to the choir.

    • Marcy Mendelson
      September 25, 2013, 1:02 am

      Hello Tzipporah, I understand these images are heartbreaking and difficult. As the author I can tell you it was incredibly hard to be a witness to this. To answer your question, go to this link: Save the Elephants is a great organization doing incredible work in Kenya.

  8. Margaret Mitchell
    Pittsford NY
    September 24, 2013, 6:41 pm

    I do not want to JUST view wild animals in videos..or pictures in the future..Do You?

  9. Margaret Mitchell
    United States
    September 24, 2013, 6:38 pm

    Its a sad state of affairs when this big beautiful creature, that can not defend themselves ,against evil men, that have no respect for themselves or animals. They are continuously found dead, for there tusks, a crime that is illegal, and criminal in that they have to kill the animals to achieve there goal. I sit and stare at these beautiful beings and hope that in our life time there will still be elephants for my grandchildren to see, to wonder about, to see the beauty in all of gods creatures, that are slowly being killed. So that man can occupy more and more land, and animals hides. They take away all that we all hold dear..Elephants,Tigers, Polar Bears, Bees, & Butterflys..When was the last time you say a monarch butterfly..they used to be everywhere. The plight of the elephant is in all of our hands..we must find a way to stop this nightmare from continuing.

  10. wendy maison
    United States
    September 24, 2013, 6:35 pm

    Man won’t be happy until every last animal is dead..And that’s what will happen if we don’t take drastic measures to stop this…Shame on them