F_MU1 is known as the queen of the Elephants. She was an incredible elephant who lived more than 60 years peacefully in a quiet corner of Tsavo in Kenya. When I first saw her in photographs, I was awestruck. She had the most beautiful and largest tusks that I have ever seen! At first, I couldn’t believe that such an elephant existed in our world. Will Burrard Lucas is a world-famous wildlife photographer. He is the one who captured the final photos of this queen and he has beautifully described the incredible experience he had when he met this amazing creature. Today I’m going to bring his experience as a beautiful story!
Few people outside the Tsavo knew about this F_MU 1. Lucas could photograph her with the support of Kenya Wildlife Service and Tsavo Trust. According to him, it was one of the greatest honors he had in his career.
In August 2017, Lucas was very busy as he was occupied with a new project that was the best part of two years. He initiated a partnership with Tsavo Trust for this project. His project was to produce a new coffee table photography book with the works of Tsavo Trust and elephants in Tsavo.
Shortly after he arrived in Kenya, he got into a land rover with the “Tembo 2” research team of Tsavo Trust. The group included Katana, Kyalo, Christine and Lucas. They were rattling along with the old vehicle through narrow tracks flanked by thick bushes. Richard Moller, the founder of Tsavo Trust was in a small spotter plane circling over them. He was guiding the team through the radio to find the extraordinary elephant known as F_MU1.
They have been looking for her for several days. But finding her was quite difficult because the vast wilderness is larger than the size of Switzerland. Then one day, Richard spotted her from the air and the ground team started to converge on her position. “I had a great feeling of excitement mixed with anxiety that sometimes she may evade us” Lucas said.
Kyalo turned the Land Rover off from dirt track and followed the circling aircraft. He was weaving the Rover left and right as he couldn’t find a clear path through the bush. They emerged out into a dusty clearing and Richard spoke to them through the radio. “You should be able to see her now, she’s heading your way!” Over the bushes, Lucas could see an elephant’s back and within a few seconds she came out of the bush!
She was so old and skinny but she strode with grace. Her tusks were very long and they scraped the ground in front of the queen. They stayed with this queen for the rest of that day and she had taken them to a waterhole. As it was the dry season, most of the elephants gathered to enjoy some cool water. Most of them would have trekked more than two or three days to come to this spot after they had their last water.
She patiently waited for her turn to drink water. As the terrain was flat and open, Lucas knew it was a perfect opportunity to deploy his camera. He aimed it at ground level and clicked an amazing shot of her which showed F_MU1’s tusks stretched toward the camera.
With the support of the Tembo 2 team, Lucas managed to photograph F_MU1 several times. Sometimes she came very close to him and he could even touch her. Her temperament was actually calm and gentle.
There was a drought ongoing and it made the lives of elephants very hard. It was the same for old ones and young ones. According to Lucas, it might be one of the contributing factors to her death a few weeks after they captured her photos. One afternoon they found F_MU1 when she was trying to pull a large branch of an Acacia tree. She spent the next hour eating that branch to its last scrap. Lucas could capture some amazing images again at that time.
Lucas had his last encounter with F_MU1 at another waterhole. It was also a very special and memorable morning because a herd of elephants and a large herd of buffalo were fighting for control of that waterhole. When eventually it became quiet, F_MU1 arrived at the waterhole and Lucas could position his camera perfectly to capture the last image of the Queen of Elephants!