From the day she was spotted, Orabel has been a bit of a conundrum for observing researcher Cynthia Moss as she was very independent and spent time with various families rather than conforming to one.

Amboseli, home of Orabel, underwent the worst drought in living memory in 2009. Nearly 400 elephants died including 250 calves. In the so-called OA family there were 12 deaths. Most of these

were calves under two years old, but much more devastating three of the big females died: Orlanda, Odette and Olive.

Losing a matriarch is very hard for an elephant family. Orlanda had been their leader for 35 years. She was their anchor and their leader. Normally the family members would turn to the next oldest female, in this case Odette, but she soon died herself, and the third oldest female, Orabel was at the time moving in her own separate subgroup.

Rains finally came in December of 2009 and more rain fell in early 2010. Vegetation grew and the elephants began to recover. It was fascinating to see how the families would respond. Elephants live in a fission-fusion society, which means their social structure is very fluid. They come together, split apart, come together again. Almost every family had broken down into small sub-units trying to find enough to eat. Elephant always surprise us. F Families that were thought to have split for good got back together and began to move again as one family. Olympia and Orabel’s portions of the OA family coalesced. When Orabel was present she acted as matriarch. When the family split down temporarily Olympia led her section.

Orabel, born in 1968, is the current leader of that family. She has shown just what being a leader is all about. It is not simply about commanding, but also setting an example for the younger generation and intervening when necessary and proving worthy of your role when the others look to you.

Text & photo credit: Cynthia Moss & Amboseli Trust for Elephants