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Why One Elephant's Long Walk Is a Hopeful Sign for War-Torn Somalia

An African Bush Elephant. Photo released under GNU Free Documentation License by Wikipedia user Muhammad Mahdi Karim.

An African bush elephant. Photo released under GNU Free Documentation License by Wikipedia user Muhammad Mahdi Karim.

A lone male elephant named Morgan has shocked conservationists after walking 220 kilometres (137 miles) from Kenya to Somalia. The animals have rarely, if at all, been spotted in Somalia in the last 20 years due to the country's civil war.

Morgan, who is in his 30s, was wearing a tracking collar, which allowed conservationists to see his three-week-long trek northwards. Some reports called it the first confirmed sighting of an elephant in Somalia since war broke out in the 1980s, although Al Jazeera quoted local Somalian authorities in September 2015 saying elephants along with lions, leopards, giraffe, buffalo and ostriches had already crossed the border at that point.

“Out of all the tracking we’ve done in Africa, these movements –- and these circumstances –- are exceptional,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton of the Save the Elephants organization. “The wandering of this one bull across the entire expanse of Lamu district, from the Tana river to the Somali border, no-one has seen anything like this before.”

Morgan left the Tana River Delta in Kenya in mid-February and arrived in Somalia early this month. The elephant only spent less than 24 hours in Somalia before turning back.

Why did elephants leave Somalia 20 years ago?

The Somali Civil War, an ongoing civil war that started in the 1980s, has not only displaced thousands of people, but also wildlife in the country. As people were fleeing to refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and elsewhere, many wild animals, especially the Big Five (the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and White/Black rhinoceros), migrated to game reserves in Kenya.

Apart from conflict, animals in Somalia such as elephants suffered from poaching, which was used by militants as a source of income.

The southern part of Somalia was a sanctuary for Big Five animals before the collapse of the central government of Somalia in 1991. The region is arable, compared to the rest of Somalia which is arid and semi-arid, and two largest rivers in Somalia, Jubba and Shabelle, pass through the area.

But that same area was one of the most lawless, under the control of the militant group Al Shabaab before they were removed by Somali government forces backed by Kenya. The brief return of Morgan is probably an indication of stability returning to the region.

As expected, many people have received the news with joy and excitement. On Twitter, the Wildlife Conservation Society noted:

‘the BEST thing you can do for Morgan is to please SHUT UP’

Reacting to Morgan's story posted on the Save the Elephants Facebook page, some readers wondered why the story was not kept secret for the animal's safety. Poachers could use the publicity to find Morgan, they argued, though the current location of Morgan has not been reported other than the fact that the elephant walked three kilometres inside Somalia before turning back.

Adrienne Hesford wrote:

the very best thing for Morgan, would have been to keep silent about his existence and whereabouts. I now fear for the safety of him and any other elephants in his area.

Julie Goodison advised:

the BEST thing you can do for Morgan is to please SHUT UP about his whereabouts for heavens sake!!!! and dye his tusks of course

Christie Haskins questioned the logic of the publicity around Morgan's long walk to Somalia:

This post and publicity is bad because it places this magnificent elephant at unnecessary risk. I'm very worried about him.

African elephants are considered a vulnerable species, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with poaching and habitat destruction being the two biggest threats.

‘Miracles happen’

Reflecting on the story, Barbara Thomson remarked:

Miracles happen, now we must keep an eye on this elephant, and the Somalis should be encouraged toward conservation and not killing.

Julius Mbuyi suggested that Kenya is the best place for Morgan:

That elephant need to be returned to Kenya at the earnest time possible!

Nilmini Lekamge suggested a guard for the elephant

Can they put a guard for him? He is tagged after all. If there is only one, it shouldn't be hard. I hope!!

One Somali Facebook user, Young Ak, used the opportunity to ask Kenya to return Somali elephants to the country:

Sweet home sweet welcome back home civil war is over! Kenya should return the remaining Somali Elephants or share 10% of Tourist revenues for 200 years with Somalia.

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