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Hulk was observed by Cynthia Moss and Harvey Croze, pioneering elephant researchers working along Amboseli Trust For Elephants from 1973. When Cynthia started the study, Hulk was already an independent male so she wasn’t sure which family he was brought up in. Cynthia spotted him mating with Katrineka, who was born in the so-called KA family and was named after Harvey’s daughter.
All young males go independent from their maternal families. 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.
Despite the initial researchers assumptions, bulls actually have a complex social organisation. They associate with cow-calf groups randomly and will move between groups in search of oestrus females. Once a bull has found a female he will “test” her urine or genitals, using his trunk tip to carry scent to the specialised gland (Jaboson’s organ) in the roof of his mouth. This testing gives him information on the hormonal state of the cow. The courtship lasts up to a few days, with the bull occasionally mating with the female and guarding her against solicitation of other bulls.
The photo shows Katrineka being mated by the bull we called “Hulk”; she gave birth two years later.
Photo and text credit: Cynthia Moss, Amboseli Trust For Elephants