The crack of a heavy rifle, designed specially to kill elephants, is unmistakable. It’s a little like a sonic boom, a crash followed by a roll of sound not unlike thunder. This is what the Big Life Foundation rangers, manning an observation point on the Tanzania border, heard on 28th October, 2012. Three shots in quick succession.

At midday the gut-wrenching news arrived: three dead elephants had been found, their faces cut away, their ivory gone. The dead elephants were identified as Qumquat, born in 1968, one of the area’s most famous and oldest matriarchs, and her two daughters, Qantina and Quaye. Just 24 hours before they were gunned down, Big Life’s Nick Brandt took the photo of the three of them, alive on their last afternoon together.

When the rangers found the carcasses, Qumquat’s youngest calf, Quanza, only ten months old, was also there, watching over his mother’s carcass. The calf, traumatised at having watched its mother shot and butchered, had stood vigil all night alone. He was caught and picked up by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rescue team and flown to the elephant orphanage near Nairobi.

With the help of Big Life’s informer network, the team was able to locate one of the key poachers, and the following day, the Big Life teams arrested him.

Text: New York Times
Photo copyright: Nick Brandt