Born in 1993 to Hilda, Hestia was a member of so-called HA family, who were first sighted and photographed in 1973 by Cynthia Moss, a pioneering elephant researcher working along Amboseli Trust For Elephants. Not all the families in Amboseli (Kenya) are big and successful. Some have struggled and failed and have become extinct; because there were no females to continue. Other families hold on by a thread. The HA family seems destined to be tiny. At the time of the first encounter with Cynthia this small group consisted of a female and two calves. There were no other elephants in the immediate area.
After a lot of perturbations and deaths, by the beginning of 1997 the family still had grown to five. Sadly, just a few years later in 2000 a terrible drought hit Amboseli, causing a couple of deaths and weakening of all family members. Then in September 2001 another tragedy struck the family. Hannah the matriarch was speared and died. It was the result of an often neglected other threat to elephants: human wildlife conflict. 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.
Hestia was eight years old at the time of the matriarch Hannah’s death; and around that time the researchers noted that she only had one right tusk. Elephants utilise their tusks in varying degrees and therefore these can be short, sometimes broken off. But just as humans are right or left handed, elephants are right or left tusked, i.e. they use one or other side more.
Despite weakening changes in the family, Hestia turned out to be the first to have a calf. She reached sexual maturity, mated and gave birth in March 2007 to a male calf. Her mother Hilda didn’t have her next calf until January 2009 at the start of the worst drought in living memory in Amboseli. The calf made it through but then Hilda died in December. She was one of 60 adult females who died during 2009. The researchers never found her carcass so they don’t know if she died of the drought or of poaching. Her orphaned calf, Hestia’s sibling, died later in 2010.
So after 37 years of known records starting in October 1973, the HA family were reduced once again to only three individuals and Hestia despite her very young age of 17 years old had to take over from her mother Hilda. Fortunately, she is a member of a bigger bond group, which includes the FAs and KAs family. Perhaps this support and shared wisdom will help. We’re rooting for her!
The HA family in 1997 with (left to right): Hercules, Hannah, Harley, Hestia and Hilda
Photo and text credit: Cynthia Moss, Amboseli Trust For Elephants