Oralee was born in October 1994 to so-called OA family, who were first sighted and photographed in 1973 by Cynthia Moss, a pioneering elephant researcher working along Amboseli Trust For Elephants. Oralee’s mother Onyx gave birth to her at a very early at the age of 11 years old, but due to help of other more experiences mothers and the matriarch Orlanda, she did a great job. Favourable weather and conditions also helped.

Unfortunately, those good years were over when Oralee was a teenager. Amboseli underwent the worst drought in living memory in 2009. Nearly 400 elephants died including 250 calves. In the OA family there were 12 deaths. Most of these were calves under two years old, but much more devastating three of the big females who were the core and the support of Oralee’s family died: the matriarch Orlanda, as well as Odette and Olive. Losing a matriarch is very hard for an elephant family. Orlanda had been their leader for 35 years. She was their anchor.

Rains finally came in December of 2009 and more rain fell in early 2010. Vegetation grew and the elephants began to recover. It was fascinating to see how the families would respond. Elephants live in a fission-fusion society, which means their social structure is very fluid. They come together, split apart, come together again. The researchers saw this behaviour over and over again after the drought. Almost every family had broken down into small sub-units trying to find enough to eat.

Elephant always surprise us. Families that were thought to had split for good got back together and began to move again as one family. With the good rain the elephants began to put on weight and began to have energy again. Also for the Amboseli females reproductive activity started once again – and soon Oralee was reaching the age when she would start the motherhood journey herself.

Text: Cynthia Moss & Amboseli Trust for Elephants
Photo credit: Jane Wynyard