Estimated to be born in 1970, Risa was a member of the so-called RA family. The family was first sighted and photographed in 1973 by Cynthia Moss, a pioneering elephant researcher working along Amboseli Trust For Elephants.

Risa and the RAs enjoyed a peaceful period until1984, when a serious drought hit Amboseli, Kenya. Many elephants died from lack of food and from spearing by the Maasai whose cattle were in conflict with the elephants for the limited resources. The RAs did not do as badly as some families with fewer deaths in the family.

Fortunately, adequate rains came in 1985 and conditions improved for all the wildlife and the Maasai. Three of the RA females had calves that year including Risa who had her first calf, a male. The RA family seemed to have a preponderance of male calves. The actual sex ratio at birth for the Amboseli population is 1:1, but up until 1994 the RAs had fourteen male calves and only five females since the study began.

Finally in 1991, two females were born to the RAs: thanks to Risa again and Renata. Risa’s daughter was named Ramulosa and Renata’s was called Ruellia. Both these names were taken from plants that grow in the Amboseli area. The researchers began to run out of ‘normal’ first names and decided to start using themes for naming the calves born in a single year.

The following years were reasonably stable until a the worst drought in living memory hit Amboseli in 2009. The RAs suffered the greatest loss possible. Their matriarch Remedios died, as did all but two of the females over 50 years old. Over half of the matriarchs died and seriously disrupted their families. The drought coincided with a period of increased poaching around Amboseli, and we cannot be sure whether Remedios and these other adult females died as a result of the drought, or at the hands of poachers. In any case, the RA family had lost their leader at one of the most difficult times possible. However, Renata, Rebecca and Risa were all big, experienced females by this time, and helped provide some stability and leading their family to brighter future.

The photo shows Risa’s ID photo; with the big tear in her ear she was easy to recognize.

Photo and text credit: Cynthia Moss, Amboseli Trust For Elephant