Khadija, an African elephant matriarch in Kenya's Samburu National Reserve, stands with members of her herd in late June, just weeks before she was gunned down by poachers and stripped of her tusks.
When this photograph was taken, Khadija was suffering from bullet wounds from a failed poaching attempt. She survived her injuries after being treated by members of the Nairobi-based nonprofit Save the Elephants. But on July 12 she was targeted again and killed.
Khadija was about 45 years old when she died. She left behind eight orphan elephants, including three of her own female calves. (Get the inside story of an orphan-elephant rescue center in the most recent issue of National Geographic magazine.)
According to a paper in this week's issue of the journal Nature, more Samburu elephants have been poached in the past 2.5 years than in the previous 11. In fact, 2011 has been especially bad for the Samburu herds: The highest poaching rates yet were recorded in the first five months of this year.
"Khadija is actually the eighth or ninth known elephant to be poached this year," said George Wittemyer, scientific director of Save the Elephants and a co-author of the Nature article.
Also read a Q&A about the recent rise in elephant poaching with Save the Elephants founder Iain Douglas-Hamilton >>
Elephant Pictures: Killed Female Highlights Poaching Rise
The recent killing of an adult female highlights the worst poaching rates seen in years in Kenya's Samburu National Reserve, experts say.