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Vida was born in March 1941 to Virginia, the matriarch of the so-called VA family. The herd was first sighted and photographed in December 1973 by Cynthia Moss, a pioneering elephant researcher working along Amboseli Trust For Elephants. The VA family has always been a favourite of all the researchers who have worked on the project. From the beginning, it has been a big, powerful family with strong females, so that it was impossible not to be suitably impressed by them. At the time of their first elephant family encounters in 1973 the average family size was 7, so VAs with 18 members was exceptionally large.
Vida was already a mother to a young boy named Vladimir then. Soon Cynthia discovered it was not only the size of the family that was different to other groups - they were roamers, quite different to some of the other elephants, who were much more resident. Their travels might have taken them to good feeding grounds, but it brought trouble too, and in late 1976 two of the older females were speared and died, leaving young calves behind. Vida and her baby boy were safe, and soon in response to rich rains and a period of relative peace, a baby boom followed, including Vida’s second and third boys - Virgil and Vodka. In 1984, just as her eldest Vladimir was becoming independent as young elephant males do, Amboseli experienced a severe drought, which took a tremendous toll on the population. Many of the calves died including the VA family - Vida and her offspring survived again.
Soon after Vida’s mother and matriarch Virginia’s natural death at 60, Vida took over the lead over VA family. She wasn’t as confident with roaming far at the beginning, but soon enough that changed and thanks to collaring a few of the family members the researchers were able to see the family movements. This was crucial in mid-90s as it was another challenging period in terms of human-wildlife conflict, poaching and sadly sport-hunting across the border in Tanzania; many elephants were killed. The researchers, therefore, were keen to understand which areas elephants were using far from the relative protection of Amboseli Park. The tracking technology was not too great back then, but the team was still able to find out VA’s roaming range of over 2,000 km2 (nearly 800 mi2), an area six times bigger than the National Park.
The range of the travels brought a lot of tragedies onto the family in 2000’s. Thirty-one family members died between 2000 and 2009; some as a result of drought or illness, but others due to spearing and poisoning, followed by an even more tragic 2009 extreme drought, that wiped out half of the Amboseli elephant population. Vida sadly passed away then, yet her family managed to rebuild its structure and thanks to better technology and a tracking system the researchers team are able to protect them better.
Text and photo by Vicki Fishlock & Cynthia Moss, Amboseli Trust For Elephants