Just after dawn, Tolstoy lumbers into view. A wandering giant, with tusks almost scraping the earth, this great elephant has roamed beneath Mount Kilimanjaro for nearly 50 years.
He has survived ivory poachers, spear attacks and terrible drought, but the mighty bull could be confronting a new threat to his natural realm: surging demand for avocados.
A turf war has erupted over a 180-acre (73-hectare) avocado farm near Amboseli, one of Kenya’s premier national parks, where elephants and other wildlife graze against the striking backdrop of Africa’s highest peak.
Opponents of the farm say it obstructs the free movement of iconic tuskers like Tolstoy – putting their very existence at risk – and clashes with traditional ways of using the land.
The farm’s backers refute this, saying their development poses no threat to wildlife and generates much-needed jobs on idle land.
The rift underscores a broader struggle for dwindling resources that echoes beyond Kenya, as wilderness is constricted by expanding farmland to feed a growing population.
Kenya is a major avocado grower and exports have soared as the green superfood has become a hipster staple on cafe menus around the globe.
Already the sixth-largest supplier to Europe, Kenya’s avocado exports rose 33 percent to $127m in the year to October 2020, according to the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya.