You are forgiven for thinking that F_MU1 is a woolly mammoth brought to life. Queen of Elephants, the name photographer Will Burrard-Lucas gave to F__MU1, was a rare “big tusker” elephant, one of perhaps only 30 left in Africa. This royal creature enjoyed a peaceful life for more than 60 years in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park.
These images of F_MU1, renamed Elephant Queen on WBL’s website, are among the last images captured of her. Over long periods of horrific, violent poaching in Kenya, Elephant Queen is a survivor, and she died a natural death shortly after Burrard-Lucas made these magnificent image captures for his new book ‘Land Of Giants.’
Burrard-Lucas embarked on the ambitious project in partnership with Tsavo Trust in August 2017, in an effort to promote worldwide support for the elephants of Tsavo.
In his own words, the photographer shares his story of meeting Elephant Queen for the first time:
Shortly after arriving in Kenya, I found myself in a Land Rover with Kyalo, Katana and Christine, from Tsavo Trust’s “Tembo 2” research team. The old vehicle was rattling along a narrow dirt track flanked by thick bush. Circling overhead was Richard Moller, founder of Tsavo Trust, in a small spotter plane. He was on the radio guiding us towards an extraordinary cow elephant known to Tsavo Trust by the code F_MU1.
We had been looking for this elephant for several days, but finding her in a vast wilderness the size of Switzerland had proven difficult. Now Richard had spotted her from the air and we were converging on her position. I had a feeling of great excitement mixed with anxiety that she may yet evade us in the thick vegetation.
Kyalo swung the Land Rover off the dirt track towards the circling aircraft and started weaving left and right as he sought an unobstructed path through the bush. We eventually emerged out into a dusty clearing and Richard’s voice came through on the radio, “She’s heading your way, you should be able to see her”.
Over the bushes I caught a glimpse of an elephant’s back and seconds later she stepped out into the open. I was speechless.
F_MU1 was skinny and old but she strode forward with stately grace. Her tusks were so long that they scraped the ground in front of her. She was like a relic from a bygone era.
Burrard-Lucas employed his BeetleCam to photograph his Elephant Queen several more times, remarking that her temperament was gentle and calm, sometimes coming to close to him that he could have touched her. In this proximity, the photographer made his favorite capture, the image of Queen of Elephants that became his book cover.
Especially through the lens of BeetleCam, Elephant Queen also reminded him of a mammoth.
You can see from the images that Kenya was in a period of drought, threatening the very survival of all the elephants. Burrard-Lucas believes that with only thorny branches of acacia trees to eat, lack of food and water contributed to the death of Elephant Queen.
There was little for the elephants to eat except the branches of thorny acacia trees. One afternoon we watched as F_MU1 pulled a large branch down and spent the next hour or so eating every last scrap. I was again able to deploy BeetleCam to capture some unusual perspectives.
It was a waterhole that brought Queen of Elephants and Will Burrard-Lucas together one last time. He writes:
It was a memorable morning because elephants and a large herd of buffalo were battling for control of the waterhole. When eventually it quietened down, F_MU1 arrived and I had BeetleCam perfectly positioned to capture one last image of her… the Queen of Elephants…
It’s clear from these jaw-dropping images that BeetleCam became a combo of the Mars Mission Land Rover and Star Wars R2-D2. Because of the incredible treasure trove of priceless images, BeetleCam assumes a sort of persona herself. Watch this dream girl in action:
Burrard-Lucas concludes his blog post with a heads up about a new nature documentary titled “The Elephant Queen” featuring another “big tusker’. AOC is on the lookout. Land of Giants , including images of other “big tuskers” in Tsavo, will be released on 20th March and is available from WildlifePhoto.com and Amazon UK. You can find out more about the book at www.landofgiantsbook.com.
It seems only right for us to take a moment of silence to think about the elephants and other wildlife of Kenya’s Tsavo National Park. While this entire conservation challenge verges on an epic battle, with trophy hunting, rich people’s demand for ivory, climate change and the growing intersections of humans and animals adding layers of complexity, we simply cannot let up on our determination to insure that creatures like Elephant Queen continue to live on Planet Earth.
With the death of Elephant Queen, we have lost a great matriarch and there aren’t many left in any species to inspire us forward. ~ Anne