The Death of Eleanor (10th October 2003)

by Shivani Bhalla

Eleanor one of our elephants collapsed and on 11th October 2003, she died. Below is an eyewitness story by one of our researchers.

On the 10th of October 2003, the Save the Elephants research team in Samburu were informed by the rangers that an elephant was unwell near the Wire Bridge area and that it had fallen.  The team rushed over to the area, to find that the female was still standing but had apparently broken her tusk during previous falls and her right ear seemed damaged.  Her trunk was motionless and she dragged it across the ground as she moved forward in small steps.  The female was identified as Eleanor, matriarch of the First Ladies family. Eleanor moved towards the main road, where she fell on a gentle slope.  Grace, matriarch of the Virtues family, attempted to lift her a number of times, but unfortunately caused more damage as her pushing resulted in a number of tusk wounds and Eleanor fell heavily each time as she was thrown forward.

Grace was incredibly agitated and stressed, and she started streaming.  She showed a lot of concern towards Eleanor, indicating how elephants stick together in times of problematic situations, especially the matriarchs of different families. The STE team stayed with Eleanor for a few hours that night.  Her breathing became slower.  Grace eventually left after a while.The following morning, the STE team went back to the site of where Eleanor had fallen.  She was still alive and her breathing was laboured.  There were no elephants near her at the time.  The Samburu County Council rangers arrived on the scene, assessing the situation with the STE researchers.

Eleanor died that afternoon.  During the day, a number of families visited her.  Some tried to lift her whilst others smelt her as if to confirm she was dead. The Samburu County Council arranged for Eleanor’s tusks to be removed.  Her trunk was cut in the process, however this disappeared a few hours later and we suspect that a crocodile had pulled it into the river, as drag marks leading down to the Uaso were seen.

Meanwhile, more elephants visited her, including her family.  Her young calf tried to suckle from her and in a confused state, moved between all the female members trying to suckle from all of them.

A lioness from the Koitogor Pride fed on Eleanor on the night of the 12th.  This attracted vultures and hyenas to the scene. The lioness attempted to push away the scavengers, but was unable to do so.  However, further lions from the pride were attracted to the carcass and prevented the scavengers from preying upon Eleanor.  The Koitogor Pride fed on Eleanor for 7 days.  They did not venture far from the carcass and the 4 cubs spent a lot of time playing on and around the carcass.

Eleanor’s family stayed in the area and continued to visit her carcass often.  Her calf was ‘adopted’ by Mary, and Martha has since become the matriarch of the First Ladies family.

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