Born in 1973 to Mariana, the family matriarch, Mwangi was a member of the so-called MA family, who were first sighted and photographed in 1973 by Cynthia Moss, a pioneering elephant researcher working along Amboseli Trust For Elephants.
Childhood years was a relatively peaceful period for Mwangi and the MA family, until 1984 when a serious drought hit Amboseli (Kenya) and many elephants died, including most of the male calves in the family. During this difficult year, Mwangi left the heard and went independent – probably because he didn’t have any males his own age to play and spar with. Normally young males only leave their herd when they reach puberty at around 12 –15 years. The young males will associate more with other bulls and venture around with them. There is a strict dominance hierarchy among the bulls in a given area, which is acquired and maintained by age, strength and the occurrence of ‘musth’ – a highly hormonal period of mating..
Despite the initial researchers assumptions, bulls actually have a complex social organisation. They associate with cow-calf groups randomly and will move between groups in search of oestrus females. Mwangi however did not have a chance to enjoy the adulthood for long – only three years later, in 1987 he died of unknown causes. The researchers were never sure of the cause, but suspected poaching. Being so large elephants have very few enemies, except humans. The biggest threat worldwide is poaching for ivory, and in some cases for skin (Myanmar) and meat (West and Central Africa). Poaching rate were really high that year and reached its peak in 2011 with 30 elephants being killed per day.
Since then, there has been a slight decline in poaching due to concerted efforts worldwide to stop the illegal ivory trade and to counteract poaching. Overall the African elephant population is declining by 8% per year; this means that if the poaching rate is not reversed we will lose all the elephants in Africa within the next 20 years, as the poaching rate exceeds the birthing rate.
Photo and text credit: Cynthia Moss, Amboseli Trust For Elephants, Robbie Labanowski