Roxy was born into so-called RA family in March 2003. They were observed and documented by a pioneering scientist Cynthia Moss from Amboseli Trust for Elephant, who was naming each family after a letter of alphabet (after running out of letters, she introduced AA, AB etc.). Roxy was born to a healthy strong female Rebecca during reasonably rainy and peaceful years, which aided her healthy growth.
The good times didn’t last for long, however. In 2009 Amboseli experienced the worst drought in living memory. By the end of that year 83% of the wildebeests, 71% of the zebras, and 61% of the buffaloes had died. Close to 400 elephants perished from both the drought and an upsurge in poaching. The problem was that there was almost no vegetation left to eat. Amboseli always had fresh water because of the underground rivers coming from Kilimanjaro. These rivers create permanent swamps in the Park, so the animals did not die of thirst but rather from hunger. In addition, in the case of the elephants, as they weakened they appear to succumb to disease as well.
The calves were the first to go. There was nothing for them to eat and their mothers’ could not produce enough milk for them, especially as the calves got older. In 2008, 151 calves were born, which was a new record. However, the next year these calves were just at the age when they needed to supplement milk with vegetation and there simply wasn’t anything they could eat. As a result 97 of them died during 2009. The calves born during 2009 also suffered but they did a bit better because they didn’t have to eat as much vegetation. Of the 85 calves born during the drought 38 died. The RA family did better then most; they only lost six calves over the drought period and, luckily, little Roxy survived.
However, the RAs suffered the greatest loss possible. Their matriarch Remedios died, seriously disrupting her family. The drought coincided with a period of increased poaching around Amboseli, and the researchers could not be sure whether Remedios died as a result of the drought, or at the hands of poachers. In any case, the RA family had lost their leader at one of the most difficult times possible.The biggest, experienced females by this time helped provide some stability, and one of them – Roxy’s mother Renata has taken over the role of a matriarch.
The drought broke in December and fairly good rain fell in 2010. African savannahs are remarkable in being able to recover quickly. Within a couple of months the woodlands and plains were transformed from what looked like bare soil to lush green swards. Slowly the elephants began to recover, and so did Roxy.
Text and photo by Cynthia Moss & Amboseli Trust for Elephants