Elephant Story: Camilla

Monday December 17th, 2018

Camilla was born into the so-called CB family in 1967. The Kenyan herd was observed and documented by a pioneering scientist Cynthia Moss from Amboseli Trust for Elephants, who was naming each family after a letter of the alphabet (after running out of letters, she introduced AA, AB etc.). 

Cynthia first met the CB family on October 20, 1973. They were in a large aggregation of over 100 animals, so it took her many more sightings over the following years to begin to sort out who made up the family.

Camilla’s first years were taken over by considerable poaching and spearing in the Amboseli area, Kenya. While most of the poaching was carried out by non-Maasai interested in the ivory; the spearing was done by Maasai in frustration over their land being taken away from them and also because of competition with their cattle for grazing. In addition there was still sport hunting allowed in the areas outside Amboseli.  Many of Amboseli’s magnificent big males and some of the large females were killed. Among those who disappeared were a few CBs, including their wise leader. Because of the dangers around, the big family broke into a few smaller subgroups. 

1984 brought severe drought into the area. At the same time the Maasai had promoted a new warrior set and the combination of the drought and scores of young men out to prove their bravery was devastating for the elephants. Camilla not only survived, but surprisingly gave birth to her first calf in October 1984 right at the peak of the drought, but with the onset of the rains she was able to produce enough milk and Conor, her baby, survived. 

For the next six years, life was fairly peaceful for the CBs, and in 1990 Camilla had a second son.  By now there was an interesting split in the family. Camilla and another female Cerise and their calves formed a small sub-family and moved on their own most of the time. Usually these splits occur when a family becomes too large to be socially and ecologically viable. One of the things about elephants that is so fascinating is that they don’t fit into simple behavioural boxes. They do things for complex reasons relating to history, kinship and individual relationships. 

Very sadly the next loss was a serious one for the smaller subfamily. Camilla was speared and died in 1994 shortly after giving birth to a new calf. That death was devastating for the new family of which she was a leader – and ended it as the remaining elephants joined other groups.

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

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