Voortrekker's Story (1969-2019)
Animal Stories from All-Creatures.org

FROM People 4 Pachyderms
July 2019

On Tuesday, June 25, 2019 Namibia’s most famous elephant bull - to thousands of tourists and locals - was shot by a trophy hunter, ten years after he first escaped the hunter’s bullet.

Elephant Voortrekker

Here is a tale of courage, perseverance and tenacity. The story of Voortrekker, the famous Namib Desert Elephant bull pictured below.
Voortrekker means"pioneer," "the leader," or "the one who shows the way." Never has there been a name more apt than his.

In the 1980s there were no elephants left in the northwestern stretch of Namibia's Kunene region due to over-hunting and rampant poaching. Then in 1989, Voortrekker visited the area, scouting around for a couple of weeks, patiently assessing every possible location, looking for danger, protection, hide-a-ways, watering holes and secret juicy food supplies.

A few weeks later Voortrekker returned, bringing his family to the Ugab River area. The small group of elephants must have been surprised at their leader's actions, but trusted him implicitly, as his instincts always had turned out right before. The family unit, consisting of only about 20 individual elephants, had moved in. The Damaraland Desert was now their home and they had to survive.

Voortrekker taught them how to dig wells with their trunks and which shrubs contained the softest, moist foods. He showed them how to store water, in a pouch in their throats, to use a couple of hours later; when they weren't near the watering holes anymore. He led them straight to the fragrant Commiphora plants for a special treat.

The original group of 20 elephants split into three distinct family units, each favoring specific areas of the Desert for themselves. Over the years they traveled many miles, their feet developing wider than those of other elephants. They became skinnier than normal elephants, and they started nursing their babies for twice as long to adapt to the harsh conditions.

In 2008, the Namibian government decided to issue permits to hunt these elephants. Six permits were issued, one for Voortrekker. An urgent appeal was launched, with the help of Desert Elephant Conservation, in order to stop the hunt; sadly, five elephants were still killed.

A group of 10 dedicated women took up Voortrekker's cause, and walked 140 kilometers (about 87 miles) through the desert, in order to raise the funds needed to buy the bull elephant's permit. His hunting tag was successfully purchased from the Government for a total of $12,000 USD, as a live trophy. The other five elephants had lost their lives, but Voortrekker was now a living legend.

On Tuesday, June 25, 2019 Namibia’s most famous elephant bull - to thousands of tourists & locals - was shot by a trophy hunter, ten years after he first escaped the hunter’s bullet.

Voortrekker was shot on a “problem elephant” permit. However it appears that this was false, as a letter from three communal conservancies opposing the hunt sent to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) earlier in the week shows.

Voortrekker had a personality all of his own, and with his infinite and ancient knowledge, his wisdom has helped to bring the Namib Desert elephants to the current population numbers; if left alone, they will survive and prosper. He was stocky, and strong, often photographed with his trunk hanging over one tusk.

“We remember Voortrekker as an incredibly gentle, peaceful and magnificent elephant. His presence has often calmed other inexperienced elephants around him. He was known locally as the ‘Old Man’, that was always welcome because he never caused any problems or induced fear.”

This magnificent pioneer was mischievous, but never viciously destructive. In dreams, he still visits the humans who care for him and protected him all those years ago, like a phantom in the night, with a silent whisper of thank you echoing through the quiet desert night.

An elephant like Voortrekker, the most iconic Desert dwelling elephant bull of Naimbia, deserves to have the same legendary status as Satao and Mountain Bull, and any of the others that we sadly are so frequently mourning for these days.

Not only is the death a blow to those who loved the elephant, but vital big elephant genes have now been removed from the population.

A number of private investigations are now underway to try and pinpoint exactly how and why permits were granted.

Sadly, nothing will bring this giant back.

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