By Sarah Sutton , CNN Written by
There’s been no shortage of black and white shots of endangered elephants in recent years.
Analysing them requires a postgraduate training, but what really distinguishes this image from the rest is its subject’s sight.
By Sandra McLellan, the original image of a lost front tusk became an iconic image of the day. The scene was snapped near Honam in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province, where poachers have been known to target the endangered African elephant.
We have long known that the rusty tusk of a female Asian elephant ‘s front tusk is significantly bigger than that of a male. That’s because it has the benefit of accessing a deeper pool of lymphatic fluid from the primate part of the elephant brain.
But while this helpful extra bit of bone helps the elephant drain more fluid from the brain, the tusk also helps the elephant grieve for dead offspring.
In essence, it’s the tusk that tells the elephant the difference between the life to come and the loss of one’s children. When a rare baby elephant is lost, the full body of the animal collapses at the same time.
“A trunk is one of the last of its kind — the remnant of a primate head,” explains wildlife conservationist and photographer Tom Squires. “It carries sensitive info on how the pain from losing a baby is very different to losing an adult elephant. It can even give clues about disease risks for the mother.”
Although African elephants are facing an uptick in poaching due to growing concern for ivory’s cultural and political value in China, Asian elephants aren’t so lucky. Some 100,000 elephants were killed last year for their tusks.
And poachers are trickier to catch.
“Indonesian poachers are notoriously fast, mobile and hard to catch,” Squires says. “They travel through dense vegetation, making it hard to spot them. It’s also more dangerous for the poachers, as a rare and highly effective forest police unit is not available at the moment.”
Despite these obstacles, an internal army of rangers patrolling the Karanung wildlife sanctuary in West Kalimantan with mobile cameras and tracking devices (called SAFER in Indonesian) are continuing to track poachers and kill them when they’re spotted.