Winston was the son of the famous Kenyan elephant Willa – the matriarch of the so-called WA family in Amboseli, Kenya. Willa took over the role of the herd’s leader as early as the age of 18 years old due to death of the previous leader, who died through human interference. Winston was born in January 1980, and caused an excitement in the WA family as they lived through a period of severe drought that caused no new births in the family, only deaths. Children of matriarch learn the great survival and leadership skills directly from their mothers and from very young age. With no other new births than Wilson, other mature females of the herd like Winnie and Wendy II were seen competing over taking care of him.
As a teenager, Winston along with two other males born to the WA family went gone independent and separated from the herd – as all young males do. Females stay in their family for the rest of their lives but males leave shortly after reaching sexual maturity at 12- 14 years old. However, they have a very long wait before they can begin to compete for females. They still have a lot of growing to do. Elephants grow throughout their lifetime so the older an elephant is the bigger it is. This is particularly true for males. They grow steadily throughout their lives. Therefore a 14-year-old male who might be 6-7 feet at the shoulder is no match for a 40-year-old bull who could be nearly 11 feet at the shoulder. The WA males still had a long way to go.
In August 2002, when Winston was 22, his mother Willa died of an illness probably caused by a snare wound. In Amboseli there a few snares compared to most of the other wildlife areas in Kenya but once in a while an elephant gets caught in one. The snare did not remain on Willa but it may have caused a systemic infection. The death of Willa was very sad for the family and for the researchers who had been following her life. She had done such a good job against the odds -18 years old when she took over and died at 44 years old. A few years later Winston, who was just coming into his prime at 30 years old, was killed by poachers. He was growing into a spectacular male and his tusks attracted the wrong audience. This family story depicts all major battles that elephants are fighting: ivory poachers, extreme droughts and human-wildlife conflict – competing with local tribes over the same resources.
Text and photo by Cynthia Moss & Amboseli Trust for Elephants