February 2010, a couple of months after the end of one of the worst droughts in Amboseli ever. The vegetation is flourishing thanks to the recent abundant rains and Elephants are gathering around Longinye swamp in their hundreds. Among them many cows in estrous and bulls following them. The late Tim was certainly the one that stood out, he was clearly the dominant male and the protagonist of most of the mating going on at the time. At the fringes of the herds one afternoon I came across another amazing bull whom I hadn’t seen before. One of his tusks, the left one, was long and curved, reaching the ground, the right was broken. It was Tolstoy, born in 1971, son of Teresia, uncle of Tim, member of the famous T family, studied since the early 1970s by the Amboseli Elephant Trust. He fed in the marsh until the late afternoon when he came out and walked towards the east, where a cow was being trailed by a group of bulls. Tolstoy attempted to approach the female but a bigger bull faced him with head held high. Tolstoy waved his ears and raised his head too, but he eventually backed off and stayed behind. I watched him walk alone in the plains with a thunderstorm behind, an image I still keep in my mind.
When I saw him in July 2015 he was in musth and was spending a lot of time in the west of the park, following and mating with a female. He was different from my previous sightings, as his right tusk had grown quite a lot but most importantly, his left tusk, the very long one, had been trimmed by the Kenya Wildlife Service, to prevent the tusk from scraping the ground, possibly leaving a trail behind him that could lead poachers to him. His tusks were now approximately of equal lenght, about half way to the ground.
Tolstoy wandered far and wide all across the Amboseli ecosystem, of which the National park is only a very small part. The habitat inside the park is mostly composed of grasslands and marshes, while Elephants require to alternate their diet with bushes and trees which mostly occur outside the park. The surrounding woodlands are therefore crucial to the survival of the Amboseli Elephants’ population.
In one of the protected areas outside of the park, the Kimana sanctuary, in September 2019 I found Tolstoy with his nephew and friend Tim, a real sight to behold watching these two magnificent bulls together, a sight that is becoming more and more rare in Africa.
My most memorable sighting of him dates back to June 2021, when I came across Tolstoy in the magnificent and stark dry Amboseli lake bed. By now his tusks had grown back to reach the ground and he was magnificent. He was with a group of bachelor bulls, but he didn’t stick around with them for long, as in the late morning he decided to walk towards the park alone, following an ancient trail.
I last saw Tolstoy briefly and from a distance in late February 2022, just a few weeks before his death, in a remote area east of the Kimana Sanctuary, about 50km away from the Amboseli NP. He was resting under a tree with two other big bulls, but as he heard us approaching, he immediately retreated to the thick of the bushes and into rocky terrain, when we were still a few hundred meters away. Definitely not the same confident and relaxed Elephant as when he was in the park or in the Kimana Sanctuary.
Outside of the protected areas, Tolstoy like many other bulls developed the habit of raiding the cultivations that are ever increasing within the Amboseli ecosystem. Farmers obviously don’t want the Elephants to destroy their crops and therefore actively chase the Elephants away using all sorts of methods, including poisoned arrows which can kill an Elephant. Rangers from KWS, Big Life Foundation, Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, have been trying to keep the Elephants away from the farms for years, to keep them from getting in trouble. A greatly successful endeavour as Tolstoy survived until 51 years of age, like his companion Tim. However, the consequences of a poisoned arrow, treated by the vets two weeks before his death, eventually took Tolstoy’s glorious life. May his death be a call to action for all stakeholders to preserve the ecosystem surrounding Amboseli National Park. In the meantime, Tim and Tolstoy will be walking the fields of heaven together once more.