The Great Female Leaders of Samburu


Save the Elephants

Date Published

We are so proud of the matriarchs who lead our Samburu elephant herds in Northern Kenya.  With their knowledge, experience and wisdom, their leadership is crucial to the survival of the entire group.

In honour of these wonderful ‘ladies’ and to celebrate International Women’s Day, we asked our Head of Operations, David Daballen, who knows more than 600 elephants by name, to pick some of his favourite leaders in Samburu elephant society.

Says David: “I’ve known these elephant matriarchs for years and they’ve taught me so much about leadership. These elder stateswomen, like humans, possess certain traits that are crucial to the well being of their families. They are decision-makers, good communicators and effective leaders and it’s been a privilege to watch them successfully lead their families through the good and bad times.”

Here are four of David’s favourite matriarch leaders.

Wendy – The Quick Learner

wendy and calf

Wendy and calf ©Alfred Ngachi

Wendy, the one-tusked fierce matriarch of the Poetics, learnt her leadership skills by hanging around older females when she was young. As a result, taking up the mantle as matriarch was less of a challenge. Wendy is incredibly protective of her group and this is particularly evident during collaring operations. Instead of running away when darted, like other elephants do, Wendy charges at the collaring teams to show them just who’s boss. We think her courage may sadly come from the fact she saw older female Poetics being killed during the poaching epidemic and was also a victim of gunshot wounds herself.

Monsoon – The Resilient survivor

monsoon and calf

Monsoon and calf ©Alfred Ngachi

Monsoon, the matriarch of the Storms 2 family, is a resilient leader and a survivor. After being shot five times and losing two daughters during the poaching crisis of 2009 – 2013, she amazed researchers by giving birth again for the first time in nine years.  Monsoon (estimated to be in her mid 50s) is one of the oldest elephants in Samburu National Reserve. Not only is she a fighter, but she’s also infamous for proving scientists wrong when she led her family up Koitogor, one of the biggest hills in Samburu National Reserve. Monsoon has one surviving daughter, Hurricane, who was born in 2004, and a son – born in 2009. She recently became a grandmother again after Hurricane gave birth to a son.

Rosewood – A young matriarch


Rosewood ©Robbie Labanowski

When the older matriarchs of the Hardwoods family were killed by poachers, Rosewood was thrust into the leadership role before she was ready. One of the youngest matriarchs in the reserves, she’s done her best to keep her traumatised and orphaned family intact. And it seems to be working. Sometimes when a family unit is disrupted, the orphans will leave or join other family units. However in the case of the Hardwoods, the orphans appear to have developed trust in Rosewood’s leadership and the family has stayed largely together.  Rosewood has three calves – two boys and a female.

Anastasia – Royal leader


Anastacia ©Alfred Ngachi

Taking over from the previous matriarch ‘Queen Victoria’ who died in 2013, Anastasia has proven to be a strong leader for Samburu’s largest elephant family, the Royals.  Sometimes confused for being male because of her size and physical demeanour, Anastasia is big and wide with beautiful long tusks. Very defensive of her group, she has been spotted by researchers occasionally warding off livestock that gets in the way of her group feeding. As a result of her impressive leadership, the Royals have thrived under her rule.  Anastasia has a couple of dispersed males – a sign of success for females indicating that she raised her calves well enough for them to leave and start their own life.