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Estimated to be born around 1957, Mabel was a member of the so-called MA family, who were first sighted and photographed in 1973 by Cynthia Moss, a pioneering elephant researcher working along Amboseli Trust For Elephants. Mabel was one of three leading ladies of the family, along with the older matriarch Mariana, and a younger teenage Marcia.
In February 1976, Mabel gave birth to a male baby calf. The rains failed this year and as a result there was a terrible drought in Amboseli, Kenya. Many elephants died that year – particularly young ones. Mabel’s little calf died when he was about seven months old. By this age calves have to supplement their milk diet with vegetation, but there simply wasn’t anything that the small calves could eat. More than half the calves born that year died.
During 1977 and 1978 only seven calves were born to the population, but there was a real baby boom in 1979 with over 50 calves born. Mabel was suspected to have had a pregnancy that was not completed or gave birth to a calf that died before it was registered.
The drought finally broke and conditions improved in 1985. Mabel gave birth to a female calf in May, but this calf also did not survive. Mabel was pregnant with this calf all during 1984 and perhaps her nutrition was not adequate to produce a healthy calf. She did not waste time, however, and conceived again in August 1985. Her calf, a female, was born in June 1987 and was named Marjorie.
With only two females giving birth in the family, there was a long gap before the next round of births. It wasn’t until 1996 that Mariana and Mabel gave birth again. Mariana had another daughter in February and Mabel had a son in March. Sadly two years later in 1998 this calf died shortly after Mabel herself became ill and died. The loss of Mabel left Mariana on her own as the only large adult female in the family then.
Photo credit and text: Cynthia Moss, Amboseli Trust For Elephants