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Mariana was the matriarch leader of the so-called MA Family in Amboseli, Kenya. She was estimated to have been born in 1945, and grew up to be one of three strong females together with Mabel and Marcia.
When the herd was first discovered and tracked in 1975, Mariana was always acting as the leader and defender of the group. There was only one young calf in the family and this was a male belonging to Mariana. Just the tiny tips of his tusks were showing in November 1975, which indicated that he was about two years old and thus born in 1973. There was also a juvenile male, 10-12 years old, who was thought to be Mariana’s older son. He was given the number M118.
The MA family flourished and grew. As far as they were concerned all was well in their world except for one day in July 1977 when someone tried to shoot Mariana. She survived – and gave birth to many more calves in the following years. Their names were Marion, Maxwell, Mulberry and Marigold.
Unfortunately, in 2009 everything changed dramatically for Amboseli including for the elephants, other wildlife, people and livestock. The area and much of Kenya experienced the worst drought in living memory. Even the very old Maasai men and women could not remember a worse year. More than 80% of their cattle died. The wildlife suffered as well—83% of the wildebeests, 71% of the zebras, 61% of the buffaloes, and 25% of Amboseli’s elephants died. There simply wasn’t enough food for the animals. Although there is always water in Amboseli, fed from Kilimanjaro, but with no rain there was little or no vegetation. Most of the calves born in 2008 and 2009 died.
The MA family was far more fortunate with only one death, but that one was very significant. Mariana died in April 2009, but she left a legacy of knowledge that got the rest of her family through the drought. Not a single other member including all three calves born in 2008 died. To give some perspective, of the 151 calves born in 2008 only 41 survived. It is extraordinary that three of those survivors were in the MA family.
Photo copyright: Becky Walter