- Satao had tusks so large, they touched the ground
- Beloved elephant was a hit among tourists at the national park
- Conservation groups: Surge in illicit ivory trade results in killing of 30,000 African elephants a year
Poachers killed one of Kenya's most beloved elephants -- a behemoth animal with tusks so large, they touched the ground.
Satao was shot with poisoned arrows in the sprawling Tsavo National Park in the country's southeast.
Wildlife officials found his carcass with two massive holes where his tusks once stood. His face was so badly mutilated, authorities used other ways to identify him, including his ears and the pattern of mud caked on his body.
"Satao is dead, killed by an ivory poacher's poisoned arrow to feed the seemingly insatiable demand for ivory in far off countries. A great life lost so that someone far away can have a trinket on their mantlepiece," Tsavo Trust said in statement late Friday. "Rest in peace, old friend, you will be missed."
Satao was about 45 years old, and a hit among visitors at the national park, where understaffed conservationists monitored him regularly to protect him from poachers.
"When he was alive, his enormous tusks were easily identifiable, even from the air," said Tsavo Trust, a non-profit that protects wildlife.
Though he mostly roamed within a limited part of the park, he recently started venturing to an area considered a hotbed of poaching activity.
The area he moved to in search of fresh water is hard to access due to its thick vegetation and scarce roads.
"With today's mounting poaching pressures and anti-poaching resources stretched to the limit, it proved impossible to prevent the poachers getting through the net," Tsavo Trust said.
His carcass was found earlier this month, but authorities verified his identity Friday.
"We are left with no choice but to acknowledge that the great Satao is no more," the trust said in a statement.
Satao is a victim of an illegal ivory trade that has doubled worldwide since 2007, with the United States among the top markets for illegally acquired tusks because of unregulated ways of purchasing ivory, including the Internet and auctions. China is the largest market, and other Asian nations such as Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam also drive demand.
Conservation groups say the recent surge in the illicit ivory trade has resulted in the killing of 30,000 African elephants annually in recent years. The tusks sell for thousands of dollars, making it a lucrative trade and endangering already fragile populations in Africa.
"The surge in the killing of elephants in Africa and the illegal taking of other listed species globally threatens not only wildlife populations but the livelihoods of millions who depend on tourism for a living," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. environment program.
Armed groups are capitalizing on the increasing value of ivory by killing elephants and trading their tusks for arms and ammunition.