World Elephant Day: Celebrating the Return of Big Tim

On August 12th, MCV joined the rest of the globe to mark this year’s World Elephant Day with a united call by conservationists to save the iconic and endangered species. With a theme to “bring the world together to help elephants,” this year’s World Elephant Day proved a monumental one for the Maasai community. 

For thousands of years, the Maasai have coexisted in harmony with wildlife. Recently, Big Tim, one of the largest elephants living in Amboseli, passed away less than 1 kilometer from the Maasai Heritage Museum. For over 50 years, Big Tim lived with the Maasai, spending over 80% of his time living in peace on Maasai community-owned land. An Amboseli icon and known for his distinctly uneven tusks, Big Tim drew large numbers of tourists each year eager to photograph him. Throughout his life, Maasai community members and rangers played a key role in conservation efforts protecting Tim, whose mother and relatives died to poachers. In 2020, Tim died of natural causes, making him a symbol of hope for the Maasai and conservationists. 

To the Maasai, Big Tim was a family member. His death produced a hole in the heart of both the Amboseli ecosystem and the people who lived with him. On August 12th, at a meeting between government officials, conservation stakeholders, and Maasai community landowners and leaders in conservation efforts, attendees agreed that Big Tim’s remains should return to Amboseli and be housed in the Maasai Heritage Museum. 

“As Governor and a son of this soil, I welcome you to Amboseli National Park, this is my home and where I grew up. I want to inform you that on behalf of the Maasai community we are saying bring Big Tim back home. Tim belongs to us, it is our resource. Nobody loves Tim more than we do, we lived with him for over 50 years. We want Tim brought back to the Maasai Heritage Museum in Amboseli. As Maa Nation, we will tell our story and Tim is part of our story.”

~His Excellency Joseph Ole Lenku, Governor of Kajiado County

“I know the role the Maasai play in conservation. As the Kenya government, we are here to support the community. This ecosystem and assets don’t belong to the Kenya Government, it belongs to communities and the people on the ground. We don’t own anything; we are custodians to the people. I fully support Tim to be brought to The Maasai Heritage Museum so the whole world will come to see where Tim was born and where he passed away.”

~E.G.H Cabinet Secretary for Tourism Honourable Najib Balala

My Chosen Vessels is grateful for the unity demonstrated on World Elephant Day and looks forward to honoring Tim and the efforts of conservationists worldwide with our new exhibit: the Maasai Conservation Exhibition.

Coexisting and preserving the integrity of wildlife remain integral parts of Maasai culture, and Tim’s life is a beautiful example of successful wildlife conservation. The new exhibition will display Maasai conservation models, emphasizing the place of indigenous ecological knowledge in wildlife preservation. While many tourists enjoy visiting Amboseli National Park for safaris, less often are tourists privy to the Maasai’s perspective and deep knowledge of the area and its wildlife. A community initiative, the Exhibition will allow the Maasai to share their practice and experience with local wildlife while encouraging sustainable and traditional conservation methods.

Thanks to the efforts of all stakeholders, government officials, and community leaders, Big Tim’s life will continue to inspire and educate all those who hear his story.

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