Amboseli Trust for Elephants

January - March 2024

31st March 2024 | Newsletter

Note from our Director

Dear Cynthia,

When studying and trying to protect wildlife, there are always high and lows. It seems rare to have periods of just floating along. Right now, we’re in a low, one that is very painful for us. Three large male elephants, who were a part of the Amboseli/northern Tanzania cross-border population, were killed by trophy hunters. Two were shot last year and one this year. Apparently, three more permits have been issued to kill males in northern Tanzania across the border from Amboseli. We and our colleagues in many other conservation organizations have been working very hard to try to stop the killing, but so far, our pleas have landed on deaf ears. The first story in this newsletter is about this tragedy.


On a happier note, we continue to have exceptional rainfall in Amboseli. In only the first three months of 2024 we have exceeded the average yearly rainfall for the ecosystem. The elephants are getting fatter every day and are expressing the joys of life with matings and musth and socializing and play. It is such a pleasure to be with them. 


In this issue of the newsletter, I am starting the family histories again. The first history, which was of the AA family, was published in 2010, 14 years ago! A lot can happen to a family in 14 years, so I decided to start updating the earlier histories. I know many of you will enjoy learning how the AA family is doing. It was the first family photographed in Amboseli back at the start of the project in 1972. 

Cynthia Moss


Trophy Hunting of the Amboseli Males

Cynthia Moss

In 1994, three well-known male elephants were killed by sport hunters just across the border from Amboseli in Tanzania. A fourth one was killed in early 1995. All four were shot very close to the border, despite the fact that there had been an unwritten agreement between Kenya and Tanzania to have no hunting in that area. The bulls--Sleepy, RBG, Sabore, and Oloitiptip--were part of a specific study of the larger, older bulls in the Amboseli population. They were totally relaxed around vehicles and people; killing them was a tragedy. 

I spent the next six months trying to prevent any further hunting. I contacted every journalist I had ever known. Fortunately, there was a huge outcry and press coverage, including an excellent segment on the US TV program “60 Minutes”. Eventually, the Tanzanians announced that there would be a ban on hunting in border region. Now 30 years later, three very large elephants with tusks weighing around 100 lbs. each were killed in northern Tanzania. These were legal hunts, 25-40 kms from the border. 


The carcasses of the three dead elephants were burned, probably to prevent us from identifying them. However, someone had taken a photo of the first elephant when he was dead but not yet burned. From that photo Norah and I were able to identify him. He was an elephant we had known his whole life--Gilgil, the son of Golda, matriarch of the GB family. He was born in December 1987 and from our oestrous and mating records we could also determine that his father was the magnificent M22 Dionysus. 

Gilgil in January 2018; he grew considerably over the next 5 1/2 years.

Gilgil dead in September 2023, shot by a sport hunter for his pleasure

At 35 years old Gilgil, was just entering his prime. Male elephants grow throughout their lifetime, and they cannot even begin to compete with the older, bigger males until they are well into their 30s. Our studies have shown that the most successful males, that is, those who father the most calves, are in their 40s and 50s. Gilgil was only getting started and had possibly not yet fathered a calf and passed on his genes, inherited from Dionysus, for very large tusks. 


The Amboseli population, which is a cross-border population, belongs to both Kenya and Tanzania. It is immensely valuable scientifically because it has been studied continuously by us for 51 years. It is also economically very valuable, because tourists come from around the world to view these well-known, relaxed elephants, including the huge males, who awe and delight the visitors.  Shooting one of these males may make money for Tanzania but keeping them alive could make so much more for both countries. And I'm not even getting into the whole ethics of killing a long-lived, highly social, sentient animal.

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Coexistence Study

Lydia Tiller

It has been a busy start to the year for the Human-Elephant Coexistence Programme, with two major studies being launched. In January, we recruited a team of 16 male and female Maasai enumerators from across Amboseli to help carry out an ecosystem-wide survey on Human-Elephant Coexistence, which will run until mid-April.

The eager survey team started the survey after an intensive two-day training course and a series of community sensitization meetings. Since then, the survey has been in full swing and over 2,500 respondents across Amboseli have already been interviewed. The information collected from the survey will enable us to understand current community tolerances and attitudes towards elephants and pinpoint hotspot areas of conflict between elephants and humans. This will form a comprehensive baseline data set and provide the critical data needed to inform the next stage of ATE’s coexistence program. Specific high conflict and low elephant tolerance areas, with different mitigation techniques, will be targeted. We are extremely grateful to our partner, WWF Kenya, for generously funding this project.

In February, we deployed 32 camera traps along the Big Life electric fence, which some elephants are cleverly breaking. In the first phase of this project, the camera traps will help us understand elephant fence-breaking behaviour by: (1) identifying the fence-breaking elephant individuals; (2) identifying the different tactics used to break the fences; and (3) determining how this behaviour is being transferred between individual elephants. We will then use these insights to help reduce fence incursions through a mix of early warning detection systems and mitigation measures. This will be phase 2 of the project, and it will start at the end of 2024. 

A big thanks to the Big Life Foundation team for their collaborative work on this project. With their security and field expertise, and our knowledge of the elephants, we can work together to try to alleviate crop raiding behaviours, thereby supporting communities and farmers to live peacefully with their elephant neighbours. Together, we're making advances towards a harmonious coexistence between humans and elephants in Amboseli. 

A fence-breaker; elephants are very, very clever

Installing a camera trap along the fence line

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The History of the AA Family - Updated

Starting in 2010, we have been publishing histories of the Amboseli elephant families. The first family we wrote about, unsurprisingly, was the AAs. Fourteen years later, much has happened to that family and we felt that an updated history would be of interest to our readers.

Angelina in 2011 with her newborn calf and her assistant, Ava, Amelia's daughter. The calf, a female, was eventually named Amora by a donor.

The previous history ended with the drought of 2009 and the beginning of recovery in 2010. The elephants began reproductive activity and 22 months later there were many births.

The AAs eagerly joined in the baby boom. Four of the females were part of the earliest breeders. Angelina was the second female in the whole population to give birth as part of this baby boom. She had a daughter in October; in November, Amelia’s daughter, Anghared, had a female calf and Agatha’s daughter, Alexandra, gave birth to a son. In December, Agatha also had a son. Five more calves arrived in 2012 including one for Amelia, a daughter born in August. 

Very sadly, the old matriarch, Alison, died of natural causes in November 2015. With Alison’s death, the next oldest female became matriarch and that was Amelia. She was born in 1968 and became matriarch at 47 years old. 

The next two years proved to be good for the AAs and the rest of Amboseli’s elephants. There was almost no mortality among the calves born in the baby boom. The females who gave birth at the end of 2011 and all through 2012 were ready to give birth again. Angelina had a new calf in November 2015; Anghared gave birth to a male in March 2016; and Amelia had a new calf in December 2016, a daughter. 

All was going well but then Amboseli suffered another drought in 2017 and it hit some of the calves and adult females hard. Twelve females died towards the end of that year. Among those females was the AA matriarch, Amelia, who died in October. Once again, the leadership changed. Alison’s 38-year-old daughter Astrid took over.

To read the full history Click Here.

Steve Wise: Legal Champion for Animals 

Attorney Steve Wise, a great friend of elephants and all animals, passed away in February. He will be greatly missed. 

Founder of the Non-Human Rights Project and author of “Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals” (2000),  Steve argued in court that animals-- from dogs to elephants to whales-- have certain fundamental rights. His work transformed the American court system by advocating for animals’ “legal personhood” in the face of judicial precedents that attributed “rights” only to humans. Steve believed  that “cognitively sophisticated animals” such as cetaceans, apes, and elephants, should have the same fundamental rights usually attributed only to people. Through scholarship, advocacy, and teaching, he advanced a “paradigm-shift” in American jurisprudence. 

Perhaps most famously, Steve creatively used the “habeas corpus”  principle, historically used to protest humans’ illegal confinement, to argue on behalf of animals facing horrible conditions in captivity. In 2018, for example, Steve and colleagues argued that a “legal person” under the law need not always be a “human” person, using “habeas corpus” to argue for the release of Happy, an elephant in the Bronx Zoo, to a sanctuary. Although the case was not successful, it acclimated legal and public opinion to the idea that non-human animals should have legal rights, including freedom from “forced confinement.” 

Steve, who visited us in Amboseli, was a man of compassion and empathy. We are grateful for all he did for elephants and other animals.  

Supporting Kenya's Conservation Youth

In March we successfully hosted our second Conservation Career Development Workshop. This impactful event was made possible by the support of The Hildana Lodge, and we extend our gratitude for their generosity.

Over the span of three days, we had the privilege of working with sixteen talented Kenyan graduates, equipping them with essential skills such as CV writing, networking, confidence-building, and interview mastery. Our lineup of speakers from organizations such as Save the Elephants, Standup Shoutout, CHD Conservation Kenya, A Rocha, WWF Kenya, and Nature Kenya provided invaluable insights into their career journey.

Acknowledging the pivotal role of mental well-being in career development, we also delved into the realms of confidence and mindset with the expertise of Zainab Jagani, a Deep Transformation Coach.

We extend heartfelt thanks to all our inspirational guest speakers for their important contributions and for generously dedicating their time to nurture Kenya's next generation of conservation professionals. Your participation is fundamental in shaping a brighter future for conservation.

These workshops don't conclude after just three days; rather, they mark the beginning of a sustained journey of mentorship and support for each participant as they navigate their conservation careers. Following our last workshop in November, we are pleased to report a promising outcome: ten out of the sixteen participants secured either job placements or internship opportunities in conservation. This success underscores our dedication to fostering tangible and lasting impacts in the lives of aspiring conservation professionals in Kenya. 

Thank You to Our Donors

We greatly appreciate our top donors who contributed during the first quarter of 2024. Your support means so much to us. Without it we would not be able to fight for Amboseli's magnificent big males and continue to watch the complex lives of the families.

Harvey Anderson

Ethan Ashby

Jane Beckwith

John Boyce/ROB Foundation

Connor Clairmont and Prabha Sarangi

Diane Cutler

Garland Family Foundation

Melinda French Gates

(in honor of Gloria Steinem)

Deanna Gursky

Donna Harpster

John Heminway

Cora Kamerman

The Hildana Lodge

Lola Langner

Lehr Family Foundation

David Middleton

Richard Petritti

Rogers Family Foundation

Deryl Santosuosso  

Velmans Charitable Foundation

Fred Vogt

Estate of Delta Willis

Michele Yanko

Gregory Zahn

(in honor of Nelson Perez Meza)

Ways to Support ATE

Join Elatia

Golda, the matriarch of the GB family, poses under Kilimanjaro. The GB family is one of six families you can follow through our Elatia program. When you join you will receive regular updates, which include photos and videos and news of what is going on in the family. To learn more about Elatia go to this link or contact us directly on: 

Name an Elephant Calf

This six-year-old male calf was named by a donor when he was 2 1/2 and the donor and her family have been able to follow his life ever since. You too can name a calf and follow its life. The name you give "your calf" forms a part of the Amboseli dataset for all time. For more information write to us at:

Give a Gift that Lasts Forever

Two young independent males playing/sparring. Only in their 20s now, they have many years ahead of them if we can keep them safe. You can help us by designating ATE as a beneficiary of your will, individual retirement account, or life insurance policy. To learn more about planned giving, contact Betsy Swart:

Tel: +1-508-783-8308


Wickstrom is one of the big, Amboseli males we are worried about. He would be a prime target for the sport hunters. One of the ways you can assure his future is to support ATE by making your online purchases through iGive. If you sign up the Amboseli Trust for Elephants as your recipient organization, we will get a small percentage of the sale.

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