Kleo was one of the Amboseli (Kenya) elephants observed by a pioneering researcher Cynthia Moss from the 1970’s. She was a part of so-called KB family, that had quite an unusual history. First spotted in 1977, it became apparent due to the herd’s unsighted presence before, that they immigrated from another region in Africa. The family had a few large and old females, which made it very hard to decipher who their leader was. Cynthia had finally narrowed it down to two oldest females who were distinctive: Kleo who had asymmetrical tusks with one tusk higher than the other; and the second female with a left ear that flopped.
As it turned out later, Kleo was indeed the family’s leader. The family remained childless untill the 1980s when they’ve experienced a slightly delayed baby boom in Amboseli, following favourable weather conditions. Kleo gave birth to a son that year, Kyle, who was the sole male in the family; not a very satisfactory situation for him. Young males like to spar and test their strength against other young males. Kleo had successfully brought up a few more children, contributing to flourishing of the KB family, as well as the rest of the herd. Kyle, Kleo’s first born son, eventually struck out on his own at a younger age than average. He left his family by the time he was 12 and was seen frequently hanging out with other young males having great sparring matches.
In May 1994, Kleo’s daughter Kyrena had her first calf, a female, making Kleo a happy grandmother. All went well for the KBs for the next few years, but then tragedy struck once again. First one of the strongest females in the group, Kameo, and her youngest calf died in October 2000, most likely from spearing. Much more devastating, the matriarch Kleo died in April 2001 of an illness. She left a two-year-old calf, Karie, her seven-year-old son Kijana and her adult daughter Kyrena, who all miraculously survived. Kleo’s death was the beginning of the breaking up of the family though. There always tended to be temporary splits in KBs, but now the split between the remaining large adult females, Kora and Kizzy became more pronounced.
Text and photo credit: Cynthia Moss & Amboseli Trust for Elephants