AERP report for January 1, 1999 to June 30, 2000

Sat, 2007-09-15 14:52 by hcroze · Forum/category:


General Conditions
Human Relations
The Elephants
Current Research
Data Analyze, Papers and
the Book

Training Program
Public Awareness
Elephant Trust

July 2000
Dear Friends of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants,
Greetings from Amboseli. I’m sitting at the desk in my tent looking down
across the southern glade to the palms at the edge and above them a spectacular
view of Kilimanjaro. It’s the cold season now and usually the mountain is
covered in clouds, but today I’m lucky and the snow-capped peak is out in all
it’s glory. I don’t think it will surprise any of you to know that I never
get tired of seeing that sight.
Many of you who have opened up this Elephant Trust web site know me and the
Amboseli Project, but for those who don’t, let me give you a very brief
history before I embark on a report for this past year.
I started the Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AERP) in September 1972. I
had come to Africa originally in 1968 to work on an elephant project in
Tanzania. When that was completed I wanted nothing more than to start my own
project. I chose Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya because the small
population there was relatively undisturbed and I felt that the behavior and
ecology of these elephants could provide a base-line for the important knowledge
that was necessary to conserve Africa’s elephants. That original impression
holds to this day. The elephants in Amboseli have not been heavily poached nor
have they been compressed into a small protected area. With the exception of
humans riding around in vehicles and stopping to watch them once in a while,
their lives are not all that different from what they were 500 years ago.
Amboseli has been and continues to be an extraordinary natural laboratory. The
research project has run uninterrupted for nearly 28 years and a great deal of
what we know about elephants has been discovered by researchers working as part
of AERP.
Below is a report which covers 1999 and the first half of this year. I will
be writing more frequent reports for the Elephant Trust web site from now on.

General Conditions

During 1999 Amboseli National Park was looking exceptionally beautiful, and
in most ways was in the best condition I’ve ever known it. Part of the reason
is the vast expansion of the swamps, which have been increasing in size since
the early 1990s, turning Amboseli into a gorgeous wetlands park with an
incredible variety and density of birds. Another reason is that off-road driving
was virtually eliminated several years ago under our excellent warden, Naftali
Kio. All the unsightly tracks and scars have healed and vegetation has all but
erased them. And a third more recent and immediate reason is the effect of the El
rains of two years ago. From November 1997 to mid-May 1998 the
ecosystem received a huge amount of rainfall, nearly twice the yearly average.
The rain resulted in an amazing amount of vegetation, which has still not been
eaten down by the animals.
During El Nino getting around on completely submerged roads and trying
to keep the camp dry was a nightmare, but the elephants were very happy indeed.
They just left for higher ground and proceeded to stuff themselves with all the
nutritious vegetation.
At the same time conditions were equally good for the Maasai livestock with
the result that there was virtually no competition between wildlife and cattle.
During and after El Nino there were very few incidents of elephants
injuring people or livestock or Maasai spearing elephants. There has been normal
to higher than average rainfall during the remainder of 1998 and all of 1999. It
was a time of plenty and peace.
I wish I could say that those beautiful and serene times have continued, but
I can’t. We received adequate rain during what are called the “short rains”
of November and December 1999, but the “long rains” due in March, April and
May 2000 did not materialize. In all my years of living in Africa this failure
of the rains is the most devastating I have known. The meteorologists are saying
it is the worst drought for 40 years. At the moment, the animals are not
suffering from lack of food, because there was such an abundant “standing crop”
of vegetation from the good years, but by September and October the situation
will be dire. We cannot expect rain until November.


Human Relations

Our livestock consolation program (which pays the owner a set amount for
livestock killed by elephants) continues to make for a positive relationship
between AERP and the Maasai community. As expected very few cows, sheep and
goats have been killed by elephants (three cows and five sheep and goats in
1998; only two goats during all of 1999), but when it has happened Soila
Sayialel my project manager has been on the spot to give the payment to the
owner of the animal. The speedy reaction and the fact that we are concerned have
made all the difference. There has been a definite reduction in spearing
incidents since the program was set up in March 1998.
Leonard Onetu, AERP’s community conservation officer, has returned to
university to obtain his Master’s degree. He did some very crucial work during
the time he was with us and we were reluctant to see him leave, but knew that he
was making a wise decision. We feel sure that he will be a great asset to the
Maasai community and to wildlife conservation in Kenya. We have recently hired a
replacement, Jonathan Lekanayia, also a Maasai from the Amboseli area. He is
very experienced and knowledgeable having worked for several years for an arid
lands program and more recently for a conservation organization in the Maasai
Mara. We are very pleased to have been able to get him on our team.

The Elephants

[A photo of Ely taken by Cynthia Moss in June, 2000]

The Amboseli elephant population has been positively thriving. From just
under 1000 at the beginning of 1999 it has reached over 1132 now. This
exceptional increase is another result of El Nino. The elephants got into
excellent condition and when that happens their thoughts turn to “love” and
any female who is available, that is, has no young calf and is old enough,
starts breeding. There were 112 births in 1999 and already 60 this year. This is
an unprecedented baby boom, beating all previous records. Every single family
has at least one small baby and most have four, five, six and even more. They
are absolutely delightful to watch. (If ever there was a time to visit the
Amboseli elephants this would be the year.)
At the same time, because of better relations between the Park, the Project
and the local people there have been very few elephants killed due to conflict
with humans. Poaching is also low, probably non-existent, and sport hunting
across the border in the Longido area of Tanzania has remained banned for
elephants. In late January 2000, the Amboseli Elephant Project, along with the
Kenya Wildlife Service and Save the Elephants (Iain Douglas-Hamilton’s
organization) conducted a four day simultaneous ground and aerial survey. The
aerial count was a valuable exercise in cross-checking our known population
figures with the aerial survey methods. It is called “ground truthing”. The
teams were pleased to find that the numbers tallied. The best news from the
count was that there were very few carcasses discovered from the air and non was
recent. Even better news was that there were no new carcasses seen in Longido,
which confirmed that the situation is peaceful for the elephants in Tanzania.
News of individual well-known elephants is also good. Ely, Echo’s famous
son, who was born crippled but miraculously recovered, reached his 10th
birthday on February 28. He is beginning to show signs of wanting to go
independent and we think he will strike out on his own earlier than the average
age of 14. Echo is still going strong, the very matriarchal leader of a big
family of 23. She and her family continue to be endearing and much beloved by
all of us. The youngsters are also as mischievous as ever. Just two days ago I
was out with Norah and Katito doing censuses. I got back around 4 o’clock in
the afternoon and walked down to my tent, which is at the far end of the camp. I
immediately noticed that my two towels were out in the grass in front of my tent
and that the line that they hang on was broken. At first I thought it must have
been vervet monkeys but then I went out to pick up the towels, took one look at
them and knew it had to be elephants. One towel was pierced in three places and
covered in streaks of black mud. The other was just covered in mud. I could
imagine what happened. One of the youngsters must have pulled on a towel, broke
the line and then carried the towel off. Another calf probably took the second
towel. The family had no doubt just been in the swamp next to the camp and so
covered in slimy black mud. Once the towels were captured they became great toys
to whip around, slap against the body, and step on. It made me laugh and I just
wish I could have seen whoever it was having such a good time. I suspect the
main culprit was Ebony, Echo’s five-year-old daughter.
I am also happy to report that Tuskless’s family, the TAs, appears to have
recovered from her tragic death in 1997. Her daughter Tulip who will be 16 next
month has had a second calf, a son. Her first calf, who was nicknamed “Tailless”
now has a proper name, Teryl. She, like her mother and grandmother, is tuskless
and seems to have inherited their sweet character and beauty. I realize it may
seem strange to talk about elephant beauty, but some really do have more
pleasing proportions than others. Tuskless was exceptionally beautiful and so
are Tulip and Teryl.
The rest of the TA family is also doing well. Tonie is being a good leader.
Tilly just had a new calf a few weeks ago, a daughter. Little Tecla, who was
orphaned when Tuskless was killed, is being an ardent allomother to Tulip’s
new calf. The family has grown to 12 although Tilly’s son Terry will soon be
off. It made me very happy a couple of days ago to watch them in the little
swamp behind our kitchen. The adults and bigger calves were feeding but the
little calves had nothing to do. Tecla lay down as an invitation to play and
immediately Teryl and Tulip’s new calf came over and started to climb on her.
Tecla wiggled and kicked her legs till they slid off. She sat up, lay down again
and the two calves, now joined by Tilly’s new calf, came back for more games
and they all ended up in a heap on the ground. It was so good to see Tecla
playing and being such an important part of the family.

Current Research

The long-term monitoring continues to be carried out by my three research
assistants, Soila Sayialel, Norah Njiraini and Katito Sayialel, six days per
week. They keep track of births and deaths, group dynamics, association
patterns, and habitat use. They also monitor vegetation, rainfall, and the water
Karen McComb and Lucy Baker of Sussex University completed their three-year
study of elephant social relationships and communication last month. They are
now back at Sussex analyzing data and beginning to write papers. One paper is
already in press. In it we present results which show that elephants have the
largest social network of any land mammal.
Hamisi Mutinda is well into his Ph.D. study of ranging patterns of the
Amboseli elephants. He has been collecting very interesting data on the use of
trails by different families and also on the order of movement within families.
The matriarch is often the last in a line or column of elephants and a younger
female is usually at the lead, frequently the matriarch’s daughter or sister.
Joyce Poole has returned to work in Amboseli part-time on the vocal
repertoire of elephants. She has found well over 30 separate calls with separate
meanings or messages.
A study of DNA and social relationships will get under way later this year.
The principal investigator will be Dr. Susan Alberts from Duke University. Her
graduate student, Beth Archie, will be carrying out the fieldwork and will also
be doing the DNA analysis in the lab at Duke. We are interested to find out how
relatedness of individuals affects their social relationships. I am very excited
about this study and can’t wait to start seeing some of the results.

Data Analysis, Papers & The Book
Good progress is being made on producing the scientific book on the
Amboseli Elephants. After our workshop at White Oak in 1998, Harvey Croze and I,
who are co-editing the book, produced a detailed outline and proposal for the
University of Chicago Press. It was sent out for peer review and eventually
brought before the academic board of the Press and approved. We will be signing
the contract within the next few weeks. It will be a multi-authored 500-page
book. Due in January 2002, the working title is: THE AMBOSELI ELEPHANTS: A
(alphabetically): Susan Alberts, Sandy Andelman, Harvey Croze, Andy Dobson, Iain
Douglas-Hamilton, Kadzo Kangwana, Phyllis Lee, Keith Lindsay, Karen McComb,
Cynthia Moss, Hamisi Mutinda, and Joyce Poole. All have worked as part of the
Amboseli Elephant Research Project.
In the meantime, we have gone ahead to start the analysis and chapter
writing. In January 1999 we applied for a grant to the National Center for
Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California at Santa
Barbara. Set up to provide a facility for working on large complex data sets,
the Center is supported by the National Science Foundation and grants are very
competitive. We were absolutely thrilled when we got word that our proposal had
been accepted. In October 1999 and again in April 2000 seven of us Amboseli
colleagues held a two-week workshop at NCEAS. Both times I then stayed on as a
sabbatical fellow for another four weeks. Both the workshops and my sabbaticals
were extremely stimulating and productive.
The following scientific papers have been published since the last report:

Lee, P.C. & Moss, C.M. (1999)
The social context for learning and behavioral development among wild African
elephants. In: Box, H.O. & Gibson, K.R. (eds) Mammalian Social
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 102-125.

McComb, K., Moss, C.J., Sayialel, S. & Baker, L. (in press) Unusually
extensive networks of vocal recognition in African elephants. Animal

Poole, J.H. (1999) Signals and assessment in African elephants: evidence
from playback experiments. Animal Behaviour, 58: 185-193.


Training Program

The Amboseli Elephant Research Project Training Program, sponsored by Joseph
and Carol Reich in memory of Carol Reich’s brother, Townsend Friedman,
continues to be successful and much appreciated by the students we host. The
program, available only to African nationals, is designed to train scientists
and other wildlife personnel in methods for studying elephants. Each course is
10 days long and includes eight days in the field in Amboseli with me and my
team of researchers. The trainees learn: 1) how to find, approach, observe and
count elephants; 2) how to design data collection systems; 3) how to sex and age
elephants; 4) how to identify, photograph and set up individual recognition
files; 5) how to study behaviour, social organization and demography; 6) how to
maintain records and data; and; and 7) how to apply the knowledge gained to the
situation in their home country.


Public Awareness

During 1999 AWF had a major public awareness drive for AERP. It centered
around a nine-week lecture tour partially funded by the Disney Wildlife
Conservation Fund. I traveled to 13 cities; gave 13 full-length lectures and
numerous shorter presentations; attended lunches, dinners, and receptions; held
meetings with groups and individuals; and was interviewed by journalists for
print, radio and TV. It was utterly exhausting, but hopefully it fulfilled its
purpose. It is difficult to measure the effect of public awareness activities.

I wrote three popular articles during 1999:

Moss, C. (1999) Last chance for
freedom. Nature’s Best, Winter-Spring, PP 18-19.


(1999) Thirty baby elephants. ASPCA’s Animal Watch, Spring, pp.

(1999) Three days in Amboseli. Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Preview
Issue, pp. 100-104.


The AERP research team was honored
to be chosen for a four- page article in Time magazine as part of their “Heroes
for the Planet” series. The article ran in the February 28, 2000 issue and we
have had some very nice comments and messages about it.
I am delighted to report that a new edition of ELEPHANT MEMORIES is being
published by the University of Chicago Press on July 15, 2000. Originally
published in 1988, this book provides the most detailed account of my Amboseli
work. In structure it follows the lives of the T families over 13 years. I have
written a new 7000-word chapter covering an additional 13 years with the latest
information on the elephants, the Park and the Project. (To order this book
click on to through this web site, and a small percentage of the
retail price will go to the Elephant Trust.)

I received two conservation awards in 1999. The Oakland Zoo presented me
with an award of excellence when I visited and lectured there in May. Oakland
has been exceptionally generous in supporting the Amboseli Project. It is not a
rich zoo and yet each year they hold a “Celebrating Elephants” day with the
sole purpose of raising money for Amboseli. Last year I was able to attend the
event, which was entertaining, informative and fun. They raised over $12,000 for
the project.

In Seattle at the Woodland Park Zoo, I was awarded their first ever
Conservation Award. Again I was very touched by their endorsement and confidence
in the Amboseli Project.


Elephant Trust

The endowment fund that I have been trying to establish for the last several
years is finally a reality. AERP’s wonderful champion, Susannah Rouse, has set
up the fund, gotten it registered, obtained tax deductible status (501c3),
appointed a board, produced a beautiful brochure, and has even received some
donations. One generous couple has left a bequest of approximately $1 million.
Of course, we won’t get that for many years, but it is a good feeling to know
it will be used for elephants one day. Our aim is a minimum of $7 million, so
there is still a lot of work to do. Once we can start using the interest, the
money will go to the African Wildlife Foundation for the running costs of AERP.
Any additional funds will be directed towards supporting and establishing other
elephant research projects in Africa.
One of our first fund-raising endeavors is a Kilimanjaro climb in January
2001. Each person will pay or be sponsored to pay $1.00 per foot or $19,340, all
of it tax deductible. That includes the cost of the safari as well. And it is a
wonderful safari, starting in Amboseli to meet the elephants with me; then the
Kili climb from the Kenya side, which is very exclusive; three days on the
Galana River in Tsavo East, which is another fantastic elephant area; and ending
up in the warm, soothing waters of the Indian Ocean at Hemingway’s in Watamu.
(For more information check out the section on this web site for Kilimanjaro



Finally, I want to thank you for your interest and concern for the Amboseli
elephants and the research project. Without you we could not go on. As always we
are struggling for funds and in this year of the drought we will need extra
funds for emergency situations. Despite the lecture tour in 1999 we actually did
not have a good fund-raising year. This situation actually surprises me since
the economy in America is booming. I fear sometimes that people are giving up on
Africa. Please don’t. For nearly 28 years AERP has helped to keep the Amboseli
elephants relatively safe. We can still do it for many years to come, but I need
your help, both immediately to keep the project going now and in the long-term
to assure that your grandchildren and your grandchildren’s grandchildren can
some day watch a magnificent herd of elephants striding across the African


Cynthia Moss
Amboseli National Park


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