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Born in March 1990 to Stacey, Shekar was a member of the so-called SA family. The family was first sighted and photographed in 1973 by Cynthia Moss, a pioneering elephant researcher working along Amboseli Trust For Elephants. By the late ‘80s, she more or less ran out of the common first names to give to observed elephants.
Usually a calf is not named until it is four years old. Up until that age it is referred to by a code based on its mother’s name and its year of birth. Then the researching team decides to start using themes for each year’s calves. Thus all the calves born in 1987 were given Kenya place names. For the 1990 calves we chose Indian names: Shirley’s 1990 daughter became Savita and Stacy’s 1990 male was named Shekar.
Nine more calves were born between 1990 and 1997 into the SA family. But then 1997 turned out to be a tragic year. First their matriarch Sandy disappeared in January at the age of 54 years old. Not many of the Amboseli elephants get beyond this age. Her four-year-old son Sabachi was just old enough to survive without a mother.
Then in March, perhaps because they had lost the wise leadership of Sandy, the SAs found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Stacy and her second calf were attacked and speared by Maasai warriors. Both died, leaving Stacy’s seven-year-old son Shekar an orphan.
Like all male elephants, after pubescent years spent in the female-dominated world of mothers and then due to lack of it, maternal helpers, Shekar broke out and began spending time with other male elephants. 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. Although males leave their birth family at an average age of 14, they don’t leave family life altogether. Instead, they might move off and join another family, or move from family to family – and up to age of 25 they mostly spend time with other family groups. So despite Shekhar’s terrible losses and pain, he managed to survive the tragedies and live in company.
Photo copyright and text: Cynthia Moss, Amboseli Trust For Elephants & Kenya Wildlife Service