Yesterday morning (April 17), we got word that Amayeta, one of our collared elephants, had remained in the same location for many hours. When something like this happens, it’s usually due to two reasons: either the collar fell off or the elephant is sick or dead. Knowing that poachers are out in full force during a full moon, we were worried that Amayeta might have been yet another victim of poaching and we set out quickly to locate the collar.
We drove over dirt roads, muddy from the rain last night, to her last known GPS location and used our rubber-ducky antennae to listen for the VHF signal from her collar. When we located the collar, it was unfortunately attached to a dead elephant. Surrounding Amayeta’s body was a group of elephants, mourning their dead friend by quietly touching her with their trunks. Even the calves, who are normally quite rambunctious, merely stood subdued nearby.
Elephants, as most people know, are very sensitive and intelligent animals. They certainly recognize death, and will spend hours and sometimes days close to the carcass. Like Amayeta, the animals visiting her were also orphans who lost their mothers to poaching. Many of them found new families or joined with other orphans after losing their mothers. After her mother was killed in 2010, Amayeta left the American Indians family and instead attached herself to the Flowers family.
Amayeta was 14 years old when she died in a spot close to the Ewaso River. She was the youngest female in Samburu to give birth to a calf, at age 9, but her young age and the drought in 2009 doomed her calf to an early death. In 2012, she again gave birth, but lost that calf to lions soon after. When David Dabellen, the other interns and I investigated the carcass, we noted that there were no bullet wounds piercing Amayeta’s body. If there is a silver lining to this story, it’s that Amayeta’s death was natural and not caused by poaching. Instead it looked like Amayeta was about to give birth, but died due to complications. Unfortunately, wild animals don’t have access to hospitals like many humans do, and the hazards of childbirth (calfbirth?) are unavoidable.