Born in 1987 to Rebecca, Rusinga was a member of the so-called RA family. Great matriarch Remedios was her grandmother. The family was first sighted and photographed in 1973 by Cynthia Moss, a pioneering elephant researcher working along Amboseli Trust For Elephants.
Following a serious drought in 1984, unfortunate deaths of calves and then preponderance of male calves, Rusinga was the only female calf in the family. The actual sex ratio at birth for the Amboseli population is usually 1:1, but up until 1994 the RAs had fourteen male calves and only five females since the study began.
After two girls being born in 1991, Rusinga had her work cut out for her with the new babies. Juvenile females spend a great deal of time taking care of the younger calves. Usually there will be several of these so-called “allmothers”, to share the work, but Rusinga had the full burden. Eventually when the 1991 females were older they were able to help her out.
In following years, RAs were considered a successful family. In 1998, like the rest of Kenya, the park received a huge amount of rain. There was a super-abundance of food and all the elephants grew positively healthy on the lush vegetation. The elephants formed huge aggregations of 200-300 and there was a tremendous amount of play. Even the big adult females lost their dignity and ran around with the whites of their eyes showing attacking imaginary enemies in the long grass. It would be wonderful if it could always be like that, but nothing is predictable in African savannahs.
Towards the end of 1999, the researchers began to see the results of the heavy rain. Baby elephants seemed to be raining from the sky. Up through October 1999, there were 63 births, which was expected, but in November and December there was suddenly a deluge of new calves. These were conceived 22 months before, starting in January 1998 when the rains were well underway and the elephants were in the best possible condition to breed. In the last two months of 1999 alone 48 more calves were born giving an all-time record of 111 births for one year.
The RAs joined this baby boom and Rusinga, at that point 12-year old, gave birth to her first calf, a male, in December, making Remedios a great grandmother. Since then RAs and Rusinga have been leading a peaceful existence.
Photo and text credit: Cynthia Moss, Amboseli Trust For Elephants, Kenya Wildlife Service