Biggest tusker elephant in Botswana killed by trophy hunter Leon Kachelhoffer

The large elephant was carrying 91kg of ivory in its nearly eight-foot-long tusks.
The large elephant was carrying 91kg of ivory in its nearly eight-foot-long tusks. Photo credit: Facebook/Seretse Khama Ian Khama

Botswana's biggest tusker elephant has been killed by a trophy hunter, re-igniting debate in the country around elephant hunting.

Tusker elephants are elephants with tusks that are so large they almost touch the ground. There are only a small number of tusker elephants alive with estimates ranging from 20 to 40 tuskers left in the world.

The large elephant was carrying 91kg of ivory in its nearly eight-foot-long tusks before it was shot dead by professional hunter Leon Kachelhoffer.

According to The Times, Kachelhoffer paid around US$50,000 for the days-long hunt on Botswana’s northern border with Namibia in order to kill the elephant on behalf of a wealthy client.

"To be in a position to hunt a bull like that, it's an incredible privilege," Kachelhoffer told the Blood Origins podcast. "When you take a bull like that, there's a lot of remorse, there's a lot of sadness, you think about the great life that this elephant has led."

"You know, there's more to it than shooting a bull, taking a photograph, becoming a hero and all this other nonsense."

The killing has re-sparked the controversial debate surrounding trophy hunting in Africa.

Former Botswana president Ian Khama imposed a trophy hunting ban across the country in 2014, which was then scrapped in 2019 by his successor Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Khama posted on Facebook that the elephant has been an "iconic" tourist attraction.

"An elephant that tour operators constantly tried to show tourists as an iconic attraction. Now it is dead," he wrote. "How does it being dead benefit our declining tourism due to poor policies. Our tourism is wildlife based. No wildlife means no tourism, no tourists no jobs, and no revenue stream." 

"Incompetence and poor leadership have almost wiped out the rhino population, and now this!"

Elephants are an endangered species and Botswana has one of the largest elephant populations with 130,000 estimated in the country.

According to The Times, elephant hunting raised US$2.7 million in 2021 for Botswana and 400 licences have neem sold this year.

There are restrictions on the number of elephants that can be killed, making the biggest elephants a target for hunters.

A spokeswoman for the country's hunting industry said the over 50-year-old elephant would have no impact on the elephant gene pool because it was beyond its prime breeding years, and rather provided income to the community.

"The income and meat from the hunt will make a huge difference to a community," Debbie Peake told the outlet. "If it had been killed by a poacher there would have been no benefit to the local community."

The ivory that comes from the tusks and teeth of elephants is a prized material used in ornaments, jewellery and in the manufacturing of items such as piano keys.

According to the Department of Conservation, it is illegal to bring ring elephant ivory into New Zealand without a permit. There is no ban on the domestic sale of elephant ivory within the country but the department is currently reviewing this option.