Singita was born into so-called SA family in May, 1999. 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.).
Shirley, Singita’s mother, became a grandmother the same year as well when her older child, Sophia, had a baby boy. The 2000’s were a relatively peaceful and rainy years, which helped Singita’s healthy growth.
In 2009 however the Amboseli region was struck by 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. More than 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 has 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 have succumbed to disease as well. To add to the troubles, there was an upsurge of poaching for ivory at the same time, possibly catalysed by the number of carcasses, and the desperate economic losses people in the ecosystem were suffering.
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 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. Singita was already experienced and strong and managed to survive. Of the adult females over 50 years old only two survived in Amboseli. Over half of the matriarchs died, including Shirley, Singita’s mother. The research teams were never sure whether Shirley died as a result of the drought or at the hands of poachers.
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. They put on weight and there was a spring in their step. Singita, despite losing her mother, gained strength and weight.
Singita with her mother Shirley. Text and photo by Cynthia Moss