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Amboseli, home of Ombella, underwent the worst drought in living memory in 2009. Nearly 400 elephants died including 250 calves. In the OA family there were 12 deaths. Most of these were calves under two years old, but much more devastating three of the big females died: Orlanda, Odette and Olive.
Losing a matriarch is very hard for an elephant family. Orlanda had been their leader for 35 years. She was their anchor and their leader. Normally the family members would turn to the next oldest female, in this case Odette, but she soon died herself, and the third oldest female, Orabel – mother of little Ombella – took over.
Rains finally came in December of 2009 and more rain fell in early 2010. Vegetation grew and the elephants began to recover. It was fascinating to see how the families would respond. Elephants live in a fission-fusion society, which means their social structure is very fluid. They come together, split apart, come together again. Almost every family had broken down into small sub-units trying to find enough to eat. Elephant always surprise us. Families that were thought to have split for good got back together and began to move again as one family.
This is a photo of Orabel, Ombella, and her newborn calf.
Photo copyright and text: Cynthia Moss & Amboseli Trust for Elephants