Where have all the big boys gone?

“It is absurd for a man to kill an elephant. It is not brutal, it is not heroic, and certainly it is not easy; it is just one of those preposterous things that men do like putting a dam across a great river, one tenth of whose volume could engulf the whole of mankind without disturbing the domestic life of a single catfish.”

– Beryl Markham, West With The Night

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The sight of an old bull elephant is something few of us have the privilege to experience.  His features are broad and craggy, the outlines of his ears as frayed as the edges of a battle flag.  Not as beautiful as the handsome younger fellows who strut around, but magnificent and grand nonetheless.

DSC_0143On my second day out in Samburu, we encountered a bull who had not been seen for at least two years.  He had short, a-symmetric tusks and a great wide head with tattered ears. After some asking around, he turned out to be Napoleon – one of the few over forty in this population, and known for many years. One rainy day we came upon the sight of Napoleon in solemn company with not one, not two, but three other equally distinguished elders.  They were Obama, Edison, and Kenyatta. I noticed they all had rather small or broken tusks. In the mix were two younger bulls.  All were peacefully munching, and eventually moved off, trailing one another into the misty downpour. Why were they gathered together in this spot and why did they leave together? Mysterious. Continue reading

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Mating pandemonium

Leakey mounts

Leakey, one of the largest old bulls to appear in the Samburu population, mates with Nicky of The Artists.

Male elephants continue to grow throughout their lives, getting bulkier and broader. Older males enjoy a greater competitive advantage and higher reproductive success. Many have a characteristic time of year when they are seeking mates, and as they get older they increasingly advertise their state with strong-smelling chemical signals in their urine and temporal secretions in a condition termed ‘musth’. Younger bulls, who don’t appear to be signaling consistently or at all, may also try their chances when a receptive female is available.  But they are prone to being chased off by the bigger, more dominant males.

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