Elephant Tales: Elephant Memories

August 3, 2010

“Recently one of the big adult females in the population died of natural causes and we collected her jaw after a few weeks and brought it to camp. Three days later her family happened to be passing through camp* and when they smelled the jaw they detoured from their path to inspect it. One individual stayed for a long time after the others had gone, repeatedly feeling and stroking the jaw, turning it over with his foot and trunk. He was the dead elephant’s seven-year-old son, her youngest calf. I felt sure he recognized it as his mother.”

Elephant Memories (thirteen years in the life of an elephant family) is a book by one of the greats in Elephant studies, Cynthia Moss. The book follows the TC and TD families through the years from the beginning of Cynthia’s study, till the time she wrote the book. It documents thirteen years of knowledge gained by intensive elephant studies carried out in Amboseli Park as she lived amongst the elephants and tracked them on a daily basis. But mostly it offers a magnificent insight into the lives of the individuals that live in Amboseli Park.

We follow the families through births, deaths and droughts, and along the way learn about their mating ritual, the family structure and their connections and relationships with other elephants in the park. The way they grieve, love and play…. and so much more.

Each chapter opens with a story, a situation relating to the chapter as seen from the elephants perspective. By the end you are so attached to the families, that when, for example,  Theresia, their old and wise matriarch, dies, your eyes are sure to water – or in my case overflow.

At the end of the book, Cynthia touches upon the troubles facing the elephants; from ivory hunting to the controversial topic of culling. To this she says: “Elephants are not rodents to be exterminated: they deserve something better than that and I am not afraid to say that ethics and morality should be essential considerations in our decisions for their future. (…..) The world would not be a better place if they were dead.”
Having gotten to know Torn Ear, Tuskless, Tania and the rest of the family, you will feel profoundly about the problems man has created for these magnificent animals and the importance of their survival, for all our sake.

The book was published in 1988 and I can’t even think how much more knowledge Cynthia must have gained in the 23 years since writing this book. A follow-up would be a dream come true, not just for the wealth of information, but to see how the TC and TD families are doing, how many of them are still alive and how they are coping in the twenty-first century.

* The research team collects the jaws of deceased elephants to determine their age. The best way to determine an elephants age is by their molars.

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