We spent 8 days in Amboseli between 11th and 18th May with a student, Blake Murray, from Seattle working with us. We experienced several close encounters with elephants, some extremely entertaining, some very sad.
As the rains began in late April Echo took her family (the EBs) to the western side of the park, an area she rarely visits. This move proved fatal for Echo’s eldest daughter, Erin, who in late April was speared twice, high on her right shoulder by Maasai moran (or warriors). Since the EBs were inside the park the most likely reason for the spearing appears to have been a show of manhood. Although Erin (or a family member) was able to remove the spears her wounds were extremely deep and became infected.
By early May, when she was first sighted, she was clearly in intense pain and unable to move more than a few steps at a time. The decision was taken to immobilize her, clean the wound and treat her with antibiotics. Although she appeared to make a comeback for a few days, the infection must have been well advanced and so on 15 May she was immobilized and treated again. The Kenya Wildlife Service crew did a great job on both occasions. To make a long and sad story short – a week or so later it was clear that she couldn’t survive – Erin collapsed, unable to stand again. After deliberation between KWS and AERP it was decided to immobilize her first (M99 the drug used to immobilize elephants contains morphine) and then euthanise her. Thus Erin’s pain and life ended.
She was mother to adult daughters, Edwina (21) and Eleanor (17), juvenile daughters, Echeri (8) and Erica (5) and several independent young males as well as grandmother to three calves, Europa (7), Elaine (4) and Elmo (4). Her youngest surviving calf, “E-mail
less than two years old, may not survive. But Echo’s family is strongly bonded and for now he is under the watchful care of his elder sister, Echeri.
After having worked with the same individuals for a long time, and based on the particular circumstances this event was stressful and extremely sad. Filmmaker Martin Colbeck and AERP’s Director, Cynthia Moss, working on the third Echo production followed Erin closely for almost 3 weeks. We also spend several days with Erin and her family over the course of this saga. Erin’s family visited her every few days and was never out of calling range for the entire three weeks. Based on typical elephant routine of staying in one place for about four days before moving on moving on, based on the fact that the EBs were many kilometers from home, and that they typically spend much of their time in subgroups, their behavior showed, without question, that they stayed together, near Erin, because of her injury.
After Erin died and communication between her and the family ceased, Echo took her family ten kilometers further southwest – across the border into Tanzania – a place that in 31 years of observations she has never before been observed. They came back days later to touch Erin’s bones and then returned west. What went on in their hearts and minds we will never know. A further introduction to what happened with Erin can be found on www.elephanttrust.org.
Erin’s drama created quite a few changes in our plans. The EB’s were difficult to find, or spent their time at locations that were difficult to get to and so we spent a few days with other families. Being the rainy season we were able to watch a lot of elephant play behaviour and that gave us cheer!
The research camp was full to overflowing with colleagues from around the globe: Oxford-based Keith Lindsay, Prof. Richard Byrne from St. Andrews, Scotland and database-expert and AERP volunteer Hans-Georg Michna from Germany being those longest away “from home”.
We will return to Amboseli on 16 June.
The photo left shows an extremely excited and playful young female tusking the ground, probably to show us how strong (and silly) she is! (Photo: ElephantVoices)