Libby was observed by Cynthia Moss, an Amboseli Park (Kenya) researcher and scientist studying elephant behaviour. As the adult females were photographed and the composition of the groups recorded, the groupings began to emerge as families. Each of these families was then assigned a letter of the alphabet. Thus the first family photographed became the ‘A’ family, the next the ‘B’ family and so on.
Libby initially belonged to so-called L family – first recorded on March 23, 1975. During 1976 Libby’s family was seen 22 times. By the end of that year she had registered many families, so many that Cynthia actually had to start through the alphabet a second time! The A family became AA and the new As became the AB family. Thus the L family became the LAs when it was necessary to assign another family the letter L. The new family became the LBs. The individual members in the designated families were also named, each getting a name beginning with their family initial.
However, by March 1979, Libby along with her friend, and suspected sibling, Louise were spending so little time with Lillian, another cow in the herd, that Cynthia decided they were a new family and gave them the designation LC. Fission is rare in elephant families. At that time there was only one other case in Amboseli and that was a split of the largest family in Amboseli numbering 29. There have only been a few other splits since then.
Libby had her first calf, a son, in May 1985 when she was 13 years old. The little LC family was growing slowly but surely. In 1989, Libby gave birth to her second calf, a daughter this time. In keeping with the policy of naming calves when they reach four years old, Libby’s 1985 male was named Laurent. By the end of the 80s the family had grown to six.
Some of the names may seem a bit strange, but that is because Cynthia ran out of the more common Western first names and so she started using themes. For example, for the 1993 calves she used East African hills and mountains. Thus, Libby’s ’93 calf was named after a mountain in the Rift Valley called Longonot; and Louise’s ’93 was named for Lengai, an active volcano in Tanzania. Cynthia then chose names of pop singers for calves born in 1996 and Libby’s daughter was named Lopez after Jennifer Lopez. Cynthia also started an Amboseli elephant naming program for donors and this definitely helped with new names.
In 2001 Libby has taken over as matriarch. At the age of 39 she is very experienced and she successfully leads her family.
Libby at 34 years old (compare this to her earlier photo); here she is suckling her son Likzore; five years later she became the matriarch.
Text & photo credit: Cynthia Moss