Slit Trunk was born in 1959 to the famous so-called AA family – known as the first family in the Amboseli to be photographed by Cynthia Moss on the first day of her Amboseli study, a pioneering research of African elephants.
On September 3, 1972 Cynthia and her colleague Harvey Croze observed Slit Trunk and five other elephants in his family. Named after an 8-inch deep cut that went straight through his inner nasal passage, Slit Trunk became independent from his family in 1976 as young bulls do. The average age of independence for young males is 14 – so Slit Trunk was a bit of late bloomer.
Yet he chose a very bad year to be wandering alone without much prior experience as a severe drought hit the Amboseli region. 29 new-born calves died that year, but the malnutrition wasn’t the only problem. There were a lot of Maasai spearings that year because the Maasai, their cattle, and the wildlife were packed into a small area and competing for the same resources. It was suspected that Slit Trunk was killed because he lacked experience of how to keep out of the Maasai’s way. The human-wildlife conflict is an often neglected threat to elephants. In a resource constrained land such as Amboseli in Kenya, croplands are an irresistible attraction to wildlife, and elephants can be destructive. People defend their crops in all ways possible, and sometimes this takes the form of sharpened spears.
Photo credits and text: Cynthia Moss & Amboseli Trust for Elephants