On the vast salt plains of Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, a matriarch, with her herd of elephants, is about to enter the swamps. This vast land, called “Empusel” for salty, dusty place in the language of the Maasais, Maa, sprawls at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro on the border of Kenya and Tanzania and is traditionally grazing grounds for the herds of Maasai cattle. They have, for centuries, shared this landscape with massive herds of elephants, prides of lions, cheetahs, leopards, and other wild animals.
Amboseli is home to some of the most charismatic African bush elephants, Loxodonta africana. With several researchers frequenting the park and making it their home, there is also a vast body of knowledge about the several families of elephants. One such family is the EA family, to which this lovely matriarch — Eloise — belongs. Born in 1964, she assumed matriarchal duties in 2006 and birthed several times.
On this day, she was covered in red earth and, with her son in tow, crossed the path in front of me before stepping into the marshlands of Amboseli. Just before she passed, she stopped and looked straight at me and held my gaze for several minutes. She was perfectly still and at ease, watching and listening, as her son suckled at her breast. After a few minutes, she moved on and into the water — but only after the whole herd had crossed safely.
I heard later that a severe drought in 2017 claimed this beautiful, able matriarch of the EA family. The news broke my heart. The changes in the climate, affecting the timing and volume of rain that falls on this fragile region, is taking a heavy toll. The wildlife and pastoralists, both depend upon rainwater for sustenance, and bear the brunt of this environmental degradation.