Oscar’s story is a rather tragic one. He was a result of the so-called OA family joining the baby boom. In 1980 two calves were born. Opal gave birth to her first calf, Oscar, in January. The OA little family had grown to eight. These new calves caused great excitement among the OAs since the last newborn calf they had in the family was in 1975. The babies were excessively fussed over, fondled and almost certainly spoiled.
The population was growing rapidly. However, environmental conditions changed once again. In 1984 Amboseli experienced one of its periodic droughts, but this one was harsher than most. In 1984, the rains basically failed with only a miserly couple of inches falling during what was supposed to be the wet season. It was sad and depressing watching the calves get weaker and weaker and then disappearing. Their mothers had milk but probably not in great quantity or quality. What really seemed to affect the calves was the lack of suitable vegetation to feed on once they reached the age when they should have started to eat solid food. Calves start to eat a bit of grass when they are between three and four months old, and by the time they are eight months old they need quite a lot of vegetation in their diet to sustain them. In 1984 as the drought progressed there was only swamp vegetation which the young calves had difficulty both handling and digesting. Many of the calves that had been born in the early part of the year died in September, October and November.
At the same time the Maasai had promoted a new warrior set and the combination of the drought and scores of young men out to prove their bravery was devastating for the elephants. In all 67 elephants died during 1984: 11 adult females, 13 adult males, three juveniles, 13 weanlings, five second-year calves, and 22 first-year calves. Sadly, the OAs suffered losses during the drought. Oscar, and his playmate Olive’s both died in November 1984. The following year there were another two tragic losses for their family. Oscar’s mum, Opal, and her other, ’83 calf were speared and died.
Text: Cynthia Moss & Amboseli Trust for Elephants
Photo copyright: Save the elephants