Losing Old Friends

Sun, 2009-08-02 09:55 by cmoss
Ulla Grace Odile Ebenezer

Amboseli is experiencing the worst drought in decades. The Maasai elders say it is the most severe drought since 1961 when they lost almost all their cattle. I have been through two previous bad years: 1976 and 1984. By the end of 1976, 68 elephants had died, many from the drought, others from the competition and conflict caused by the drought, and still others from poaching. During 1984, 70 elephants died, most from the same three causes.

There is a pattern in the deaths due to drought. Young calves under three months old die, probably because their mothers do not have enough milk or rich enough milk. Then older calves 8-12 months old die towards the end of the dry season in September and October when they should be supplementing milk with vegetation. There is simply nothing for them to eat and their mother’s milk is not enough. Calves 4-5 years old also die. These have been weaned and also cannot find enough vegetation to sustain them. Once an elephant is over five it seems to be able to get through the droughts. Unless elephants are speared or poached they tend not to die as adults until they are in their 50s or 60s. The adults that suffer particularly during droughts are the old females. Their teeth are worn down and they cannot find enough food that they can process. Losing these old matriarchs and other big females is by far the hardest thing I have had to deal with over my 37 years in Amboseli.

Now at the end of July 2009 after three years of low rainfall and an almost total failure of the rains this year, there is very little vegetation for the animals to eat. There is still water in Amboseli. The springs fed from Kilimanjaro continue to flow into the swamps, but the vegetation in the swamps has been eaten down to almost nothing and in any case what there is is not very nutritious.

Animals are dying everywhere: zebras, wildebeests, buffaloes, hippos and elephants. It is very depressing and frustrating standing by and watching this tragedy unfold. There is nothing we can do and we feel so helpless. Even if it was a policy to feed wild animals during droughts, there is not enough hay in all of Kenya to feed the wildlife for even a week. We try to tell ourselves it is a natural phenomenon, but it doesn’t stop the pain of watching the animals suffer.

During 2008, 137 calves were born which broke all previous records for annual births. So far in 2009, another 53 calves have been born. We fear that most of these calves will die. A minimum of 30 young calves have died. This is just the beginning of August; it won’t rain until late October or early November so there is three more months to go and we have to face the fact that many of the remaining calves will also die. It won’t be until it rains again and the families come back into the park that we will know the total loss.

In the meantime, I am losing some of my old friends whom I’ve known for 36-37 years. So far the matriarchs who have died over the last year are: Echo, Grace, Isis, Leticia, Lucia, Odile, Ulla and Xenia. Echo, Isis, Leticia and Ulla had been the matriarchs of their families since the 1970s and some from even earlier. Their families must be very distraught and confused. Personally I will miss them terribly. They have been a part of my life for so long.

Older males are also dying but not from the drought. They are being poached for their tusks. Just in the last 10 days three more big males have been killed. One, Ebenezer, had his tusks cut out with a power saw. The poachers are definitely getting more serious. We are doing everything we can by working closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service and providing support to the Amboseli-Tsavo Game Scouts Association. On Thursday, at a special ceremony, Soila and Harvey, representing ATE, presented a motorbike, tents, rations, and money for vehicle repairs and running to the Scouts. We were able to give this support thanks to a generous donation from the Elephant Sanctuary.

We need more help. The day of the presentation the scouts set up two anti-poaching camps, but there is need for another. It is our estimate that it will cost about $10,000 to set up and run one of these camps. If any of you can help it will be greatly appreciated and I believe it will save elephant lives.

Thanx to Ele warrior..

Sun, 2009-08-16 11:56 by shantanu khilare

Sorry to add Ele Warrior ( Your Work is really appreciable )

Worst Drought in Decades

Sun, 2009-08-16 07:34 by Tenley

I just visited Amboseli and was horrified by the sight of a dead elephant outside of Ol Tukai lodge on my first day. It was very sad seeing all the elephants making vain attempts to eat what little food there is. They seemed confused as to what to do. Hopefully the BBC reports will help get attention to stop the poaching but if global warming continues, I wonder how the Park's animals can survive.


Wed, 2009-08-05 10:17 by jamie1990

so sad to hear that these old elephants are dying. I wonder who is the oldest matriarch left in amboseli? and what are her chances of surviving this drought?

Oldest Matriarchs

Thu, 2009-08-06 05:02 by cmoss

The oldest matriarchs in Amboseli are: Freda, Phoebe and Deborah. They are all well into their 60s. We fear that Freda may already have died because she hasn't been seen for some time. However, we're holding out hope that she has gone off by herself, something she has been known to do. We don't know the fate of Phoebe and Deborah because their families are spending most of their time outside the Park. We will only know who made it through the drought in December or January.


Sat, 2009-08-08 17:01 by jamie1990

Hi Cynthia, ive been reading Elephant Memories and in the chapter about Births and Babies its estimated that Deborah was 47 years old in 1980, does this mean Deborah is possibly well into her 70's at this time?

Ageing Adult Elephants

Sun, 2009-08-09 08:44 by cmoss

Hi Jamie, Thanks for asking this question. When we first starting studying the elephants in Amboseli there were obviously both calves and adults in the population. It wasn't difficult to assign ages to the calves, especially those under 10, but the teenagers and adults were more difficult, especially the big females. We could only estimate their ages. Elephants grow throughout their lifetime. Female growth in height almost levels off by about 25 years, but they do continue to grow in back length and their tusks get thicker. Males grow steadily right up until they die and because of this continued growth it is easier to estimate their ages based on shoulder height, the shape of their heads, and the thickness of their tusks. Because Amboseli is such a long-term study we have the advantage of being able to refine our estimates all the time. For example, in 1972 when Deborah was first photographed she was an adult female estimated to be about 34 years old. Today we have known-age females who were born in 1972 and are 37 years. We can see what they look like and we know their shoulder height (through special photography that can measure the height) and we can compare their appearance to the photographs we took early in the study of the females who are now in their 50s and 60s. Looking at the early photos of Deborah I think 34 was an overestimate. We may have been off by 5-10 years. I estimate that she is 63-68 years old. This is not to say she won't reach 70. To truly find out how long elephants can live we'll have to continue the Amboseli study for another 30-40 years! I fully intend that to happen.


Mon, 2009-08-10 08:41 by jamie1990

Thank you for such a detailed reply Cynthia, i hope all 3 of the old females survive this drought, and i have no doubt that your study in Amboseli will continue for another few decades!

So Sorry

Tue, 2009-08-04 11:41 by Alison1962

Dear Cynthia,
i am so sorry the news from Amboseli is one of concern and helplessness, it must be really hard for you and the team at ATE to witness the terrible drought and deaths of the amimals without being able to intervene, sometimes nature delivers hard blows. I have sent a donation through the click and pledge and hope you can put it towards the anti poaching camps.I wish i could do more to help ,i think what you do is amazing.

Thankyou for letting us know what has been happening i had been wondering how things were, i have read your report on the EBs and again am saddened to hear about the calfs which are gone , I was lucky to have seen Enid with her calf in may and feel really sad for her to have lost her mother and baby so close together. i really hope the others will make it through this terrible time. I was glad however to hear they have started to come closer together,
Again thanks for the news i really hope things will improve soon.


Losing Old Friends

Tue, 2009-08-04 01:42 by Donna

Well, I should have read this first. You answered some of my questions. This is a sad, sad report. If you have not already used it, please put the money I send earlier to support the third anti-poaching team. You know I support you.

The "one off" sale of Ivory ...

Mon, 2009-08-03 21:41 by Jude

It does not come as a suprise that there has been a rise in organised crime (poaching for Ivory) following the sale of the Southern African nations Ivory stockpiles last year - unfortuantely how can this ever be proven that the current escalation of poaching is a result of the sale? Can this information be sent to CITES convention for their consideration in future requests from Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa and Namibia to stop another agreement for "one off" sale of Ivory stockpile?

Generation of Matriarchs

Mon, 2009-08-03 09:45 by Anna Martinsson

All these old wise elephant's disappearing around the same time, decades of experience, leadership together with that special knowledge and instinct of survival must be felt by the Amboseli population as a whole….. I hope the successors have had time to accumulate as much of the same,

Your Old friends must all have belonged to a very strong, successful and exceptional "generation" of Matriarchs, whom so many have enlighten us and shared their lives with you and your team to give us a deeper understanding of elephants and their complex lives and no one more so then Echo, I can truly understand your feelings of helplessness,

Such terrible times, even if it is natures way to a degree, one can't but think the combination of poaching, the severe drought and the economic climate all together contributes to these tragedies…. As for the poaching, this is now becoming so critical and disturbing all over Kenya and Africa, can we use the Wildlife Direct and your ATFE blog there to raise funds for this new team of scouts ?

Wildlife Direct blog

Mon, 2009-08-03 10:00 by cmoss

Yes, I have sent it to Wildlife Direct. Thanks for your concern.

Old Friends

Mon, 2009-08-03 01:35 by hge

It is so sad to watch these old friends and young calves die. My heart is with you Cynthia and your colleagues.
I am very sad that Odile didn’t survive this drought. She survived the terrible head injury 5 years ago. I thought she would have a long life after that. I wish her family well.
Hope everyone in Echo’s family is doing better.
I will contribute my little token and will always support your project.

Take care,


Sun, 2009-08-02 21:25 by Shuger66

Hi Cynthia, I can only send $100 but it's now yours. How can I send it ear marked for your new camp?

Ear-marked donations

Mon, 2009-08-03 06:59 by cmoss

Thank you so much. Every bit helps. If you send it through Click & Pledge we will put it in the anti-poaching fund and specifically for the camp. We can do this because you have indicated your preference here on the website. If you write a check and mail it you can specify on the check or in a note.


Mon, 2009-08-03 17:44 by Shuger66

Hi Cynthia, just to confirm, I just now donated through click&pledge, $100. If I could send $10,000 I would in a heartbeat. All the best in your anti-poaching program!

Noella Ashley


Mon, 2009-08-03 18:06 by cmoss

Noella, Thank you so much. Your donation will be put to good use. $100 can pay for several scouts' rations for more than a week. It's so important to keep them out there in the bush where the poaching is occurring. Cynthia

Losing Old Friends

Sun, 2009-08-02 13:17 by clm1950

It is so heart-breaking to read about the terrible devastation the drought is causing and I feel the pain and helplessness you and your staff are going through.

My thoughts and prayers are with you ....

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