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

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  1. Katherine Herzog, USA
    Posted August 3, 2009 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Cynthia –

    My deepest condolences for the loss of your friends. This is truly the worst drought that I can remember for Amboseli and most of Kenya. Hopefully the recently confirmed El Nino weather event will send some rain to Amboseli in a few months’ time – though not soon enough to save so many beautiful animals.

    The poaching of these magnificent elephants is infuriating and I hope KWS, INTERPOL, NGO’s can get some help on halting these despicable crimes.

    (I tried to donate but the PayPal donation site is undergoing “maintenance”. Will try again later.)

    All my best, Katherine

  2. Annie
    Posted August 3, 2009 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    I am so sorry to hear this…it is just awful. Unbelievable that the poachers would stoop so low during this difficult time to steal tusks. I am praying for rain!

  3. Corinna M
    Posted August 4, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Hope my small donation helps a little. I was lucky enough to see Echo & the EBs in March and it was extremely dry then, so heaven knows what it is like there now. Echo is very well known in the UK and is sadly missed. All the best with the anti-poaching activities. You are all doing a brilliant job.

  4. one
    Posted September 4, 2009 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    this is so sad!!
    just terribly sad!!
    “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.”
    and this is just adding to it,
    this is a tragedy!
    hopefully this winter will be better then last years, giving this animals some spare time,
    if i’ll have the chance i’ll come visit over there, maybe to help, maybe to do something.
    this is the saddest thing to be heard in a long time.

  5. Rebecca, Australia
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    Not only is drought the problem, but more so it is the destruction of the Mau forest.

    Check out the in depth report published today by the BBC:

    It details why the Mau forest is so integral to the entire Kenyan ecosystem, as well as Tanzania and even the Nile.
    If things aren’t reversed, Kenyan wildlife parks are going to suffer immensely.

  6. Corinna M
    Posted October 19, 2009 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Hi Cynthia,

    Just watched ‘Echo & the Elephants of Amboseli’ on Animal Planet here in the UK – what a fantastic series, looking forward to the next episodes. I’ve made a donation in honour of Echo, towards the good work you all do. I hope the camp is starting to recover from the fire.

    With all good wishes, Corinna

  7. Jide
    Posted November 23, 2009 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    This is a very sad news but over the years has any work being done to ascertain the carrying capacity of most of our protected areas? I think we must start approaching conservation in a new light with regards to carrying capacity cos there is nothing new under the sun implying that no matter how much you look after a banana plant it will only fruit once

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Baraza » Tough Times for our Bloggers on August 5, 2009 at 6:03 am

    […] the severe drought that is bringing Kenya and other east African states to their knees. They have lost valuable matriachs – and old friends – such as Echo, Grace, Isis, Leticia, Lucia, Odile, Ulla and Xenia in the last 1 […]

  2. […] The place is littered with dead wildlife; buffalo, zebra, wildebeest and sadly elephants are dying too. […]

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