“When I first saw her I was awestruck, for she had the most amazing tusks I had ever seen. If I hadn’t looked upon her with my own eyes, I might not have believed that such an elephant could exist in our world. If there were a Queen of Elephants, it would surely have been her.”
So writes photographer Will Burrard-Lucas just a few weeks after his photographs of a black African leopard, rarely pictured in the wild, went viral. For his most recently released pictures, the photographer was back in Kenya, this time working with the Tsavo Trust – a not-for-profit conservation organisation.
Click through the gallery above to see Will Burrard-Lucas's amazing photos of big tuskers in the wild
A land of giants
The elephant Burrard-Lucas speaks of was one of the last big tuskers on the planet. These African elephants have giant ivory tusks that can grow long enough to reach the ground and there are less than 30 of them left in the wild today. This particular queen of the plains wandered Kenya’s wilderness for over six decades. Named F_MU1 for conservation purposes, the photographer's describes himself as being awestruck when he first saw the animal who has since passed away from natural causes.
“Elephants with tusks like hers are so unusual that they eclipse the black leopard in terms of rarity,” Burrard-Lucas explained.
Getting up close
The photographer uses a BeetleCam to capture many of his rare photographs. In this project, by placing the camera next to the paths and waterholes that the herd of elephants frequented, the creatures became accustomed to its presence and would ignore it. This allowed Burrard-Lucas to capture exceptional footage.
Through his work, he felt like he came to know this queen of the elephant world and writes in his blog that: "Her temperament was gentle and calm. Sometimes she would come so close to me that I could have touched her."
But it wasn’t all calm in the plains. On one occasion, when his camera was next to a watering hole, a fight broke out between two bull elephants, jostling for priority. A couple of powerful kicks were sent in the camera’s direction but the photographer later retrieved it undamaged.
The fight against poaching
Burrard-Lucas’ latest work is in support of an ongoing conservation project that aims to protect the remaining big tusker elephants. As recently as October last year, stories surfaced online about a big tusker being shot dead by a poacher in Zimbabwe.
Two years ago, an elephant called Satao II was killed near the Tsavo National Park border. It’s an ongoing problem that the Tsavo Trust is confronting via its Big Tusker Project. This ongoing initiative hopes to protect and secure a future for these mammoth creatures via surveillance, ground patrols, aerial reconnaissance flights and community outreach activities.
On March 20, a book called Land of the Giants will be released containing 150 unseen pictures of the elephant herd taken by Burrard-Lucas over the course of two expeditions to Tsavo. The book is being published as a way to remind people that there are still amazing elephants out there, and that it's not too late to save them.