Observed by Cynthia Moss first time during the launch of the innovative Amboseli elephant research, Penelope was presumed the matriarch of the later called P group, because she usually led the group and the others seemed to orient towards her.
During a later baby boom in Amboseli in 1979-80, the Ps began to increase and over the next three years despite some deaths, they grew to 29 animals from 22. By this time they were beginning to split up more often, but there did not seem to be much consistency in the splits. It looked as though Penelope was the leader of one group and Phoebe another. As indeed by 1983 some sort of elephantine decision was made and the Ps basically split in two. There were two clear-cut families: Penelope’s, which continued to be designated the PAs, and Phoebe’s, which became the PCs. The two families formed a bond group as they still spent some time all together and greeted each other when they met.
By the end of 1994 the two families were well and truly split, and only rarely associated with each other anymore.
The next seven years continued to be good ones for the PA family. More calves were born and no adults were lost, but then in 2001 the greatest tragedy a family can experience occurred. Their matriarch, Penelope, died in August of that year. The cause of death was unknown but it was suspected to be the result of poaching or spearing. The PAs were now spending much of their time in and around a sanctuary to the east of Amboseli where there were also farmers growing crops. It could be that the family fell afoul of irate farmers. Penelope would have been the one out in front defending her family. She had lived a good, long life; she was estimated to be 63 when she died.
Penelope’s youngest calf at the time, born in January 2000, also died, but her other offspring survived.
Text: Cynthia J. Moss
Photo copyright: Save the elephants