Born in 1965, Qessala was a member of the so-called QB family. They were first sighted and photographed in 1976 by Cynthia Moss, a pioneering elephant researcher working along Amboseli Trust For Elephants.
By the end of 1977, Cynthia managed to name all the young females in the family. The upcurved-left female was called Qualida; the even-tusked one Qessala; the straight-tusk Qatara; the two-broken tusks Qola; and the broken right tusk Qalypso.
The tusks (and ears) are a major feature that researchers recognise the elephants from. Like humans with their hands, elephants can be left- or right-‘tusked’. Tusks grow permanently at the rate of 15-17 cm per year, but the length of the tusks cannot be used as ageing criteria as there is great genetic variety, some elephants having only one or even no tusks. The latter is probably due to a shift in genetic material through the effects of poaching.
Throughout the years, QBs were a remarkably successful family. They had not lost a single adult female from the time Cynthia first met them in 1976 through 1998 despite upsurge in poaching and seasonal droughts. That’s 22 years and an amazing record. It couldn’t last and it didn’t. The first adult female to die was unfortunately Qessala. She simply disappeared in November 1999 along with her youngest calf. The researchers still don’t know what happened to her… but there are indications that she died and chances are it was either through poaching or human-wildlife-conflict.
Photo and text credit: Cynthia Moss, Amboseli Trust For Elephants, Kenya Wildlife Service