Elephants dying in Amboseli

Dear readers,

We are losing old friends in Amboseli. 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.

Tulla elephant amboseli


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 seemed 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.

Grace, Amboseli elephantOldie Amboseli elephant Ebenezer Amboseli elephant

Grace, Odile and Ebenezer

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, Freda, 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.

Cynthia Moss


August 2, 2009

Death of Echo

I have some very sad news to relay. Echo died today at 2:42pm in Amboseli. She collapsed yesterday morning and was unable to get up. ATE staff Katito and Robert stayed with her the whole time. We believe she died from a combination of old age and the long three-year drought Amboseli has been experiencing. Echo was probably the best known wild elephant in the world because she featured in three BBC documentaries about her and her family: Echo of the Elephants; Echo of the Elephants, the Next Generation; and Echo of the Elephants, the Final Chapter? as well as the book Echo of the Elephants. In addition she was in many other films, most recently the film about Martyn Colbeck’s work called An Eye for An Elephant., and photographs of her have been seen around the world.I arrived in the US a few days ago to start a fund-raising tour so I was not there for Echo’s passing. I’m cancelling my trip and flying back to Kenya tomorrow. I need to be with my staff who are devastated and also to start observing the family to see how they will react to the loss of their matriarch. Echo was the leader of her family for at least 36 years. When we first recorded her in 1973 her family numbered seven. At her death it numbered 40. For all of them, except for her sister El la, Echo was the only leader they have ever known. The loss will be very disturbing and disrupting for them. For us on the Amboseli Elephant Research Project she has been an invaluable research subject providing us with insights into elephant behavior, leadership, communication, social relations and intelligence. But she was more than that. She was a daily presence, almost a companion to all of us. She gave us joy and filled us with wonder.
Cynthia Moss blog at http://elephanttrust.org

May 3, 2009

Article at the following link:


Illegal Quarry Devastates Communities and Wildlife Area

April 29, 2009

Illegal Quarry Devastates Communities and Wildlife Area

Nairobi, KENYA 29/4/2009 – On Saturday, Chinese-owned Sinohydro Corporation Limited began detonating heavy explosives in a sensitive wildlife area to begin the excavation of an illegal rock quarry, effectively signaling the end of a key wildlife corridor and potential tourism revenue for local communities.

Sinohydro Corporation located the quarry and a staff camp within a critical wildlife corridor extending from Amboseli National Park to Kimana Sanctuary to Tsavo and Chyulu National Parks. This corridor is vital to the survival of Amboseli’s wildlife as well as tourism and income-generating enterprises benefitting the local communities.

Community members of Oloitoktok District, the African Wildlife Foundation, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, and other alarmed conservation groups are protesting the project, which is in direct violation of a Stop Order issued by the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) on Friday of last week.

The quarry, to be used for the Emali-Oloitoktok Road, falls within the 3,000 acre (1,214 hectares) community-owned Osupuko Conservancy, which was created by 50 landowners from the Kimana community via a lease agreement signed in October 2008 with AWF.

The staff camp is located on the east side of the road, directly adjacent to the Kimana Wildlife Sanctuary, a community sanctuary providing benefits to members of the Kimana Group Ranch. The camp is in direct violation of the 2007 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which states, “Contractor’s Camp shall… not be installed in the areas used as wildlife grazing areas or migratory corridors.”

“The quarry and camp will have a severe impact on the wildlife, natural surroundings, and livelihoods of people living in the area,” said Dr. Helen Gichohi, President of the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). “By no means are we against the road development. However, Sinohydro can and should use an alternative site for the quarry and camp that is not in a wildlife corridor, and they should obey Kenya’s environmental laws.”

Disregarding the Stop Order issued by NEMA, Oloitoktok District Commissioner, Mr. David Ole Shege, authorized excavation to begin on April 25. Mr. Ole Shege brought police to the construction site to bar community protesters and wildlife scouts from the site as Sinohydro began the illegal work.

Currently, AWF, the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, the East African Wildlife Society, African Conservation Centre, Satao Elerai, Maasailand Preservation Trust, Ol Donyo Wuas, Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, Campi ya Kanzi, and community members are seeking the Stop Order issued by NEMA to be obeyed.

“If action is not taken soon to stop the construction, it could cause irreversible damage to the region, and hurt the livelihoods of Kenyans who are starting to participate in wildlife-based enterprises,” said Dr. Harvey Croze of Amboseli Trust for Elephants.

African Wildlife Foundation and Amboseli Trust for Elephants are not-for-profit, conservation organizations that have provided wildlife management information and conservation leadership in the Amboseli ecosystem for decades. We and the other organizations listed above are convinced the proposed quarry and camp are harmful in the extreme to the wildlife and the human livelihoods of southern Kajiado.

Photos and Maps available upon request


African Wildlife Foundation

In Kenya:

Paul Thomson, (+254) 20-271-0367;

(+254) 0722454494 (mobile)

[email protected]


Elizabeth Miranda, (+1) 202-939-3324

[email protected]

Amboseli Trust for Elephants

Soila Sayialel, (+254) 722399491 (mobile)

[email protected]

Amboseli elephants being poached

Poached elephant Amboseli

Elephants are being wounded and killed by spears, poison arrows and bullets at an alarming rate. Thsi has been going on for the past few years but has been especially bad in the last 4 months. For the first time in many years, tusks are being removed by unknown persons. Through our investigations we have discovered that the ivory is being sold at 3000/- shillings ($38) per kilo. Most of the ivory is reported to be going across the border into Tanzania. Unless this killing and the trade are stopped now, the famous Amboseli elephants will be decimated.

Human-Elephant Conflict

Conflict between elephants and people has been growing steadily since farming was introduced in the eastern range of the Amboseli elephants. Farmers moved into the Kimana and Namalog swamps to the east over 30 years ago. These two areas have well-established farms fed by irrigation from the local springs and swamps. Both areas have been fenced although the fence around the Kimana area is not maintained. More recently other areas especially on the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro are being farmed using rainfall only. These farms are unfenced and they have been placed in what had been for hundreds of years elephant habitat. Not surprisingly, there is now acute human-elephant conflict.

People’s crops are being destroyed by elephants and elephants in turn are being shot with guns and poisoned arrows or speared. The Kenya Wildlife Service, local government, and NGOs are trying to find solutions. Our own organization, the Amboseli Trust for Elephants has conducted three major projects on conflict and its possible management.

That situation is on-going and still desperately needs solutions, but what is now occurring is dramatically and alarmingly different. During 2008 we began to get many more reports of wounded and dead elephants both during periods when crops were growing but also when there were no crops (in this past year of very low rainfall, this has been most of the time). What is particularly disturbing is that dead elephants were found with their tusks removed. In Amboseli when elephants are killed by Maasai in retaliation for people being injured or livestock killed by elephants, the tusks are not taken. We now see tusks pulled out from old carcases or chopped out from fresh carcases.

The Data

During 2008 and the first month of 2009, 44 elephants were reported wounded or killed by spearing, poisoned arrows or bullets. Of these we know that 19 have died. We do not know the fate of most of the other 25 who were wounded. The dead elephants ranged from a four month old calf who was speared dozens of times in a brutal attack to an old matriarch who should have died naturally of old age. Some of the individuals known to be dead have disappeared and we do not know if their tusks were taken. (At the present time there is no aircraft in Amboseli and so carcases are found only by ground survey and reports from Maasai scouts.) Of the 19 carcases that were recorded, the tusks were taken by unknown people in ten cases. This is the first time ivory has been stolen from carcases in Amboseli for many years.

The ten cases are a minimum because we know that more elephants have died but we don’t know the fate of the tusks.

The rate of killing and wounding is accelerating. Already in January and February 2009, four elephants have been wounded, one of which, a large adult male, died and had his tusks chopped out. (The photo is of this male, who we fear is a well-known bull named Ezra.) Several more adult females are missing.

Only two years ago we saw only spear wounds and a few possible bullet wounds, but now we are seeing far more poison arrow wounds and this change is very disturbing. We believe the poison being used is Akocanthera, a deadly toxin made from a common bush found in Kenya. This poison was used by the famous Waliangulu elephant hunters who lived in the Tsavo area. The toxin is frighteningly effective and there is no antidote. An elephant shot with an arrow smeared with this poison dies a long, agonizing death. We are seeing these elephants dying in this way now. Just last week the Kenya Wildlife Service vet came to Amboseli to treat two injured elephants. One was Seamus who was found by our scouts barely able to walk. The vet saw him and said there was no hope and that he would have to be shot. The second elephant, a stranger, probably from Tsavo, was treated for a spear wound and will probably survive.

Ivory Trade

Through our thirteen Maasai research scouts and also through the Amboseli-Tsavo Group Ranch Association anti-poaching scouts we have learned that there are people buying tusks for 3000/- ($38) per kilo and selling it on for 5000/- ($64) per kilo across the border in Tanzania.
We have also been told that the poachers are using crop raiding as an excuse for killing elephants. They wait for the elephants to come near the farms, spear them or shoot them with poison arrows, and then track them for hours or even days hoping they will die before the incident is reported to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). Once the elephant is dead they chop out the tusks. These activities are occurring in the eastern and southern parts of the ecosystem and the trade is going on near and across the border.

Other ivory trade points have also been reported to us. There are two Chinese road camps in the general area: one working near Emali and the other on the Namanga Road. We have been told by our informants that they are buying ivory, bush meat and dogs.

The Governments response

We presented an earlier version of this report to KWS, the government body responsible for all wildlife in the country, and their response has been rapid and serious. They were already aware of some of the activities that were going on, but our data on wounded elephants and mortalities was very useful to them. Several important meetings have occurred since then, including a crucial cross-border one in which Tanzanian security people from several departments strategized with their Kenyan counterparts.

The elephants in Amboseli have large tusks, some well over 50 kilos each. A typical bull might have tusks weighing 30 kilos each. Such tusks could bring 180,000/- Kshs or $2300 to the poacher, a huge amount of money in East Africa. Decisive action has to be taken now to stop this killing and trade before it becomes a big business that will spread throughout Kenya, rapidly exterminating elephants, not only in Amboseli, but also in the rest of the country.

As a research project our role in these efforts to stem the slaughter is to provide KWS with all the information we can on mortalities of elephants. We can also relay any information we get from our local Maasai scouts. In order to collect these data we have to boost our surveillance in three ways:

More support for both our scouts and the ATGRA scouts on the ground ($185 per week to keep on seven-man patrol in the field)

Aerial support to find carcasses and wounded elephants (approximately $200 per hour plus fuel)

Money for ATGRA to pay informers and rewards (about $130 per week)

This is a difficult time for finding additional funds because of the current economic situation but anything you, our donors, can send to help us would be greatly appreciate. We can’t lose the Amboseli elephants or watch them suffer.
Cynthia Moss, Amboseli Trust for Elephants

February 14, 2009


Early Warning in Amboseli: It’s going to be a ‘bad’ year

Human-wildlife conflict is increasing everywhere: human populations burgeon; land use changes erode natural ecosystems. Conflict escalates when sporadic natural events dramatically reduce the availability of food and water for people and animals alike. Long term monitoring and ecosystem surveillance by the Amboseli Elephant Research Project provides early warning of impending natural deficits and alert us to the need for short-term responses to defuse clashes. 2007-08 is likely to be a bad year in Amboseli.

What’s a ‘bad’ year?
A year with inadequate rainfall to get people, wildlife and livestock through the long dry season (May-October).

Amboseli only has on average some 330 mm (13 inches) of rain per year. And it can only support the magnificent array of wildlife and Maasai stock because of the additional input of water and food from the swamps that are fed by the water percolating from the Kilimanjaro forests.KWS rangers between eles and Maasai cattle, Jul-05

If rainfall is poor, cattle and wildlife converge on dwindling water and forage resources, and conflict ensues: cattle and goats get killed; elephants and lions get speared.

What’s happening this year?
Too little, too late. Apart from the good, but short-lived, rainfall in March, it is close to a disaster.

2007-08 rain
2007-08 Amboseli rainfall

From the graph, we can see that rainfall every month since the middle of last year (except December and March) has been well below average. In fact this rainfall year is similar to three other years (’83-84, ’96-97 and ’99-00) in which rainfall was poor, and there were consequently increased incidents of elephants being speared or livestock getting injured when they bumped into elephants at waterholes.

It’s possible to predict that 2007-08, with a low rainfall total and virtually no effective rain after March, will be a year with a lower than average forage reserves by the end of the dry season. And obviously, water will be at premium as well. The shortages will make life difficult for both wildlife and livestock, and are very likely to lead to high levels of competition and conflict over dwindling resources throughout August, September and October.

What can be done?
Well, since we cannot make it rain, we have to find ways to show the Maasai community that we are concerned about the plight of their livestock as well as the elephants. We believe we should try to pre-empt conflict and build goodwill by helping the Maasai in key areas with access to water away from the central swamps in the Park.

After talking to community leaders, we think the best ‘pre-emptive strike’ would be to help refurbish up to ten critical ‘silangas‘, which are earthen stream dams in the ecosystem outside of the national park.
Maasai woman at silanga
Massai woman at silanga

For details on the implications of such support, please visit the main ATE website’s forum topic Early Warning in Amboseli.

What would be the impact of our help?
Improving the livelihoods of the local community, delaying or at least reducing the magnitude of the seasonal ‘invasion’ of cattle into the park, and, last but certainly not least, generating goodwill and enlisting elephant allies in what will certainly be a long dry season.

And, as a bonus, the goodwill generated by short-term action will certainly extend well beyond this particular ‘bad’ year, and strengthen the partnership between ATE and the local communities in working to achieve the vision of a world with room for both people and elephants.

Amboseli Trust for Elephants

The elephants of Amboseli in Kenya are the most celebrated wild elephants in the world. Since 1972, close observation by Cynthia Moss and her research team has led to intimate knowledge of these intelligent and complex animals.
Echo and grandkids
The revelations from Amboseli form the basis of contemporary understanding of elephants and provide the knowledge needed to conserve and protect them.
ATE, the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, is a not-for-profit trust registered in Kenya and the USA (501(c)3). ATE’s operational focus is in Amboseli National Park and the surrounding ecosystem; its influence reaches out to elephant conservation, management and policy-setting worldwide.
ATE has an administrative, fund-raising and advocacy office in the United States, a program management office in Nairobi, and a field research office and camp in Amboseli national park. The Nairobi office provides a base for administration, project support and field support.

AERP, the Amboseli Elephant Research Project is the trust’s research arm. For nearly four decades AERP has studied the Amboseli elephants, making it today one of the longest studied populations of free living large mammals in the world.

AECT, the African Elephant Conservation Trust, is an endowment fund established in the USA. The long-term objective of AECT is to initiate, support and ensure the continuation of key elephant research projects across the African continent modeled on the ATE philosophy and research methodology. In time, income from the endowment can used to fully fund the work of ATE and AERP and enable the field researchers focus their energies on their project and relieve them of the burden of continued fund raising.

AERP’s unparalleled body of knowledge will thus be made available to those addressing issues such as land use, wildlife education, protected area management, and the consequences of human population expansion. Development threatens Amboseli

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