Chapter Summaries for The Amboseli Elephants

First Part ▶

Since 1972, the Amboseli Elephant Research Project (the ‘research arm’ of ATE) AERP has been a wellspring of scientific knowledge on the African elephant, with more than 100 peer-reviewed papers, and recently a large scientific book, The Amboseli Elephants: A Long-Term Perspective on a Long-Lived Mammal.

We’ve come to realize that this major compendium of more than three decades of research, published last year by the University of Chicago Press, may not be the sort of book that graces every coffee table or shelf of Africana.

But we feel that we owe it to our supporters to share the information in a form more generally palatable than your average scientific publication, particularly one that is nearly 400 pages long with well over 1,000 references, hundreds of tables and graphs, and only five photographs (albeit gorgeous ones by Martyn Colbeck, who has been the lead cameraman in numerous award-winning films about the elephants and us).

So, we’ve decided to serialize the book’s contents and main conclusions in a series of short summaries over the following months. The précis will be highlighted in our monthly Newsletter, and a complete set archived here on our website.

We hope the summaries will provide points of interest and perhaps a teaser or two for those who may even want to buy the tome to delve deeper into the substance of the life and times of the Amboseli elephants.

Details: Moss, C.J., Croze, H. $ P.L. Lee (2011) The Amboseli Elephants: A Long-Term Perspective on a Long-Lived Mammal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 432pp. Hardback and ebook available from Chicago and Amazon.

Chapter 1 – The Amboseli Elephants: Introduction

Chapter 1, The Amboseli Elephants: Introduction (Cynthia J. Moss, Harvey Croze, and Phyllis C. Lee), sets the scene historically and in substance. When Cynthia and Harvey each moved from their elephant work in Tanzania—with Iain Douglas-Hamilton in Lake Manyara National Park, and with the Serengeti Research Institute, respectively—they joined forces in 1972 to start a systematic study of the Amboseli population called the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, AERP. There were fewer than 800 elephants back then. Thanks to the intolerance of Maasai inhabitants of the ecosystem to interlopers, the elephants had been relatively untouched by the poaching scourge of the 1970s. It appeared to be a perfect population for baseline studies on elephant social and reproductive behavior, and population dynamics.

The chapter lays out the three main elephantine threads of the book: longevity, size and intelligence, with a fourth dimension—the future of the population in its ecosystem—looming in the background. The threads define the special fabric of both AERP and the elephants themselves. Only a long-term project (which even so has only been working for just over half an elephant’s potential lifespan), working with a population of known individuals, could capture the physical, developmental and social ebbs and flows of a large-brained, big-bodied, highly intelligent and communicative social animal. Imagine trying to capture the story of The Sopranos in just one episode. Impossible.

Thus the editors and chapter authors decided to present a three-decade slice—from 1972 to 2002—of the life and times of the Amboseli elephants, the longest studied and best known population in the world. Much of the information presented in the book is new, or newly analyzed, to augment and build upon the 100-plus peer-reviewed papers that form the AERP canon of scientific literature.

The chapter features a house-keeping box with definitions of terms used throughout the book. We eschew the bovine term ‘herd’, and refer instead to ‘groups’: Cow-calf group, bull group, mixed group and so on. Everyone must know by now that the smallest elephant group is a family unit, led by a matriarch. Adult females come into estrus, nutrition allowing, and males have more or less annual periods of musth, during which high testosterone levels move them to compete for female attention.

The body of the book is laid out in five parts. Part 1 establishes the ecological, temporal and human context of the population in an ecosystem that is larger by twenty times than the protected central confines of Amboseli National Park. Part 2 details how the elephants make a living in the Amboseli habitat and the impacts on their population dynamics and distribution. Part 3 comprises an exploration of elephant behavior and communications, rounded out with intriguing perspectives on cognition. Part 4 examines the complex nature of elephant society and the consequences for female and male reproductive success. And Part 5 looks at the trials and tribulations of elephants in Amboseli’s fast-changing human context, finishing with a look to the future of the elephants and the ecosystem.

[Please note that summaries will be added as they become available. The chapter authors are very busy people with full-time teaching and research jobs.]

First Part ▶