By Bill Marsh, Map by Joe Burgess
Like so many of Africa’s wilderness areas, the Buffalo Springs and Samburu reserves in Kenya are too cramped — smaller than the city of Detroit — for the majestic inhabitants they are supposed to protect. Every savannah elephant that dwells in these reserves also roams far beyond the invisible boundaries, along the well-worn paths of its ancestors in search of food and water. These routines take elephants through unpatrolled regions that are hunting grounds for poachers. Lately, nowhere is safe: killings are rising inside the reserves. Researchers with the conservation group Save the Elephants have studied the roughly 900-strong (and declining) population there since 1997. They now watch with heartsick dismay as the elephants are cut down for the surging trade in illicit ivory, with 27 killed in December and January alone. Tens of thousands are felled across Africa yearly, dozens per day, their tusks smuggled to Asia and the rest left to rot. Here are three of the dead, and a look at how one of them, a mother of six, wandered the wider area in her last year of life. Graphics.