British wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas, recently in the news for photographing a rare black leopard in Kenya, has taken a series of beautiful photographs of a female elephant in Tsavo, Kenya. The elephant, known by the code F_MU1, lived for over 60 years in Tsavo. Her tusks had grown so large that they would scrape the ground in front of her as she walked. Shortly after the photos were taken, the elephant died of natural causes.
“When I first saw her I was awestruck,” Burrard-Lucas writes on his blog, “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.”
Burrard-Lucas adds that F_MU1 had “survived periods of terrible poaching,” and few outside of Tsavo knew of her. “Photographing her, in partnership with Tsavo Trust and Kenya Wildlife Service, was one of the greatest honours of my career.”
The images were taken with BeetleCam, Burrard-Lucas writes in an email to Hyperallergic. The camera is set up with a remote-control camera buggy that Burrard-Lucas developed in 2009. In 2017, Burrard-Lucas had partnered with Tsavo Trust to produce a coffee table photography book featuring the elephants of Tsavo, he explains on his blog. In a Land Rover with three members of Tsavo Trust’s “Tembo 2” research team, and Richard Moller, founder of Tsavo Trust in a small plane overhead, the group found F_MU1 after searching several days.
F_MU1 is known as a “cow elephant” and “big tusker,” meaning her tusks weigh over 100 pounds on each side. Less than 20 of these elephants are thought to be left on Earth, and more than half are in Tsavo.
“I had a feeling of great excitement mixed with anxiety that she may yet evade us in the thick vegetation,” Burrard-Lucas writes of the experience.
“Over the bushes I caught a glimpse of an elephant’s back and seconds later she stepped out into the open. I was speechless,” he adds.
Burrard-Lucas then says he and the team stayed the rest of the morning and followed F_MU1 to a waterhole. He positioned the BeetleCam to get a number of stunning images, including one that showed the elephant’s tusks “stretching down towards the camera.”
“It was a feeling of privilege and euphoria that will stay with me forever,” writes Burrard-Lucas. Of the elephant, he says, “She was like a relic from a bygone era.”
Will Burrard-Lucas’s book, Land of Giants, features 150 black and white photographs taken over the course of an expedition in 2017 and two in 2018. The book is meant to support the work of Tsavo Trust to conserve wildlife and combat wildlife crime, showing the world that these elephants still exist, and it’s not too late to protect them.