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Born in 1994 to a young family matriarch Louise, Lewana was a member of the so-called LC family, who were first sighted and photographed in 1975 by Cynthia Moss, a pioneering elephant researcher working along Amboseli Trust For Elephants. Along with a few other mothers to be, Lewana had her first calf in 2008. All these calves had survived by the end of 2008 bringing the number of the family up to 19.
Unfortunately, in 2009 Amboseli (Kenya) experienced the worst drought in living memory. By the end of that year 83% of the wildebeests, 71% of the zebras, and 61% of the buffaloes had died. More than 400 elephants perished from both the drought and an upsurge in poaching. The problem was that there was almost no vegetation left to eat. Amboseli always has fresh water because of the underground rivers coming from Kilimanjaro. These rivers create permanent swamps in the Park. So the animals did not die of thirst but rather from hunger. In addition, in the case of the elephants, as they weakened they appear to have succumbed to disease as well. To add to the troubles, the researchers witnessed an upsurge of poaching for ivory at the same time, possibly catalysed by the number of carcasses, and the desperate economic losses people in the ecosystem were suffering.
The calves were the first to go. There was nothing for them to eat and their mothers’ could not produce enough milk for them, especially as the calves got older. In 2008, 151 calves were born, which was a new record. However, the next year these calves were just at the age when they needed to supplement milk with vegetation and there simply wasn’t anything they could eat. As a result 97 of them died during 2009. The calves born during 2009 also suffered but they did a bit better because they didn’t have to eat as much vegetation. Of the 85 calves born during the drought 38 died.
LC family suffered losses of calves and elderly, including their matriarch Louise – Lewana’s mother. It was a tough period but they’ve slowly and surely recovered – and soon followed with a baby boom.
Photo credit and text: Cynthia Moss, Amboseli Trust For Elephants, Frank af Petersen