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  • Writer's pictureKire Godal

Field Update: Part 2-Understanding the delicate balance in Kenya's human-wildlife conflict

"Tolstoy the Tomato Thief" is the story of an unlikely friendship between the son of a tomato farmer and his sworn enemy, a large bull elephant named Tolstoy.


Big Life’s Johnson and Job are Emergency Response Rangers. Like firefighters they respond to farmers’ distress calls 24/7, chasing elephants out of tomato farms and protecting both the lives of elephants and farmers. As Maasai, they understand the delicate balance in this human-wildlife conflict.

Humans are not the only ones that have fallen for tomatoes. Tolstoy, a 50-year-old Super Tusker - one of about 24 Super Tuskers left on earth - is positively addicted. And because of this his life is in grave danger.

Nov 2021 - It’s evening, we arrive with Job and Johnson to their stakeout. It’s clear why they chose this farm, a carpet of rejected tomatoes is strewn all over the ground.  It’s mid harvest, and the air smells just like tomato soup. “This will get Tolstoy’s attention,” Johnson says with a smile.  


I’m with Joel Kanchori, my Maasai camera assistant and Mike Moller my sound man – we get situated in the middle of the tomato field; as all goes dark, we stand alert, quiet and ready.  “Will he appear, and will he charge us?”, I wonder.  Tolstoy and his gang remind me of wild west train robbers.

The farmers sit by a small campfire, tense. They are ready to defend their harvest with homemade fire torches. In the pitch black I can’t see anything. Now I understand how vulnerable they feel. If they can just get through this night without a raid they can rest. Hours go by in silence. Job and Johnson remind me of UN Peacekeepers on duty poised to intercept.

When Tolstoy comes, there is no warning, other than the ranger’s voice whispering “He’s here.” I turn my camera on and point the lens to the faint munching noise in the near distance. 

When Job and Johnson turn on their flashlights, I’m amazed at how many bulls are with him. Tolstoy is in front with the long tendrils of tomato plant dangling out of his mouth. My camera is rolling. I’m focusing my lens by hand and I can just see Tolstoy’s long ivory and his eyes. Both rangers and farmers leap into action - homemade fire torches burn: I can smell smoke, see flashlights flaring, and hear yelling and running - the drama begins!

"Tolstoy the Tomato Thief" takes us on a journey of a Super Tusker elephant and a little Maasai farm boy who hates him - as they navigate a changing African landscape.


Stay tuned for Field Update Part 3!

More soon, Kire Godal

Kire Godal is the Director/ Cinematographer of the upcoming film "Tolstoy the Tomato Thief". 

She's currently in postproduction with her partners Flat-Out Films and Diamond Docs. Her film tells the story of human-wildlife conflict from all sides, giving voice to the Maasai children who grow up hating elephants, the conservationists working against the clock in real-time trying to avert disaster - and finally Tolstoy’s voice (through the use of ‘magical realism’) as he navigates change, tragedy, fear and love.  


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