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Born in 2007 to Keira, Kir was a member of the so-called KA family, who were first sighted and photographed in 1973 by Cynthia Moss, a pioneering elephant researcher working along Amboseli Trust For Elephants.
First two years of Kir’s childhood were relatively peaceful - until 2009 when Amboseli, Kenya, experienced the worst drought in living memory. Nearly 400 elephants died. Among these were 60 adult females of which 27 were matriarchs.
The calves were the first to go. There was nothing for them to eat and their mothers could not produce enough milk for them, especially as the calves got older. In 2008, 151 calves were born, which was a new record. However, the next year these calves were just at the age when they needed to supplement milk with vegetation and there simply wasn’t anything they could eat. As a result 97 of them died during 2009. The calves born during 2009 also suffered but they did a bit better because they didn’t have to eat as much vegetation. Of the 85 calves born during the drought 38 died.
On the other hand a few families made it through the drought with few deaths. One of these fortunate families was the KAs. Their matriarch Kerry got her family through the drought with no losses at all. And even more amazing the two calves born during 2009 both survived.
Kir survived and continues to spend time with the KA family for a few more years - but as all young males he will eventually go independent. Some male elephants break out of the family as young as 9-10 years, others as old as 19-20 (these are called “Mama’s boys”), but the average age is around 14. This is a very risky time for young males. As they are gradually going independent they venture off on their own and run into trouble, such as getting too close to Maasai settlements or cattle herds.
While males may not form the same kinds of close-knit friendships as female-led groups, research has proven that male aggregations are far from random. The older males mentor the youngsters and guide them through the adult world.
Photo and text credit: Cynthia Moss, Amboseli Trust For Elephants, Robbie Labanowski