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Born in June 2005 to Winona, Wilder was a member of the so-called WA family. They were first sighted and photographed in 1975 by Cynthia Moss, a pioneering elephant researcher working along Amboseli Trust For Elephants. Cynthia Moss is an Amboseli (Kenya) pioneering researcher that spent many years monitoring and recording elephants and published most valuable information about these magnificent animals. Back in 1975, in the early years of the study, Cynthia was working out how many families there were in the population and who belonged in a herd. As the adult females were photographed and the composition of the groups recorded, the groupings began to emerge as families. Each of these families was then assigned a letter of the alphabet. Thus the first family photographed became the ‘A’ family, the next the ‘B’ family and so on.
First few years of Wilder’s life was great for WAs and for most of the Amboseli families. Then in 2009 Amboseli experienced the worst drought in living memory. At the same time the demand for and the price of ivory had skyrocketed especially in China, which was reflected in demand for ivory and subsequently, killings.
By the end of 2009, 83% of the wildebeests, 71% of the zebras, and 61% of the buffaloes had died. Close to 400 elephants perished from both the drought and the upsurge in poaching. The problem was that there was almost no vegetation left to eat. Amboseli always has fresh water because of the underground rivers coming from Kilimanjaro. These rivers create permanent swamps in the Park. So the animals did not die of thirst but rather from hunger. In addition, in the case of the elephants, as they weakened they appear to succumb to disease as well. The WA family did much better than most of the families in Amboseli. In fact they lost no calves and only one member of their family died. Wilder was safe.
Today the WAs are thriving and as few elephants are collared, they are providing the researchers with very important data. WA family travel farther than suspected and go to areas we will need to protect in the future. There is talk of creating a whole new town in the area they particularly like to allow this and other families to continue to be able to move freely across the Amboseli ecosystem.
Photo copyright and text: Cynthia Moss, Amboseli Trust For Elephants, Kenya Wildlife Service