Not Such a Dumbo; or How One 60-Year-Old Elephant Has Nurtured Her Herd through Droughts and Famines,births and Deaths

Article excerpt


BENEATH the dramatic African skies of the Ambesoli National Park, a man brings his Land Rover to a halt on the dry, dusty earth and begins to talk gently to the creature standing before him.

As he speaks, the elephant moves nearer, gives a low rumble and discreetly flaps her ears.

'It's very subtle,' says awardwinning wildlife photographer Martyn Colbeck. 'And she doesn't do it every time, but I think she recognises my sound and my smell because this is the greeting elephants usually give to other family members. It feels pretty special to be included in that.'

Colbeck has been visiting Echo, 60-year-old matriarch, in the wilds of her Kenyan home for 17 years. Over that time he has watched her guide her extended family through personal crises as well as droughts and famines, building an extraordinary bond with this most mighty of beasts.

His photographs form a beautiful, haunting and intimate chronicle of one animal's life in the wild.

Colbeck first met Echo in 1989 after going to Kenya to film Sir David Attenborough's documentary Trials Of Life. He has returned many times and has made three more films about her adventures.

She was initially selected for

study by Cynthia Moss, founder of the African Elephant Conservation Trust, whose members have been studying elephants at Ambesoli for 30 years and who can recognise every one of the 1,300-strong herds, identifying them by the nicks and tears in their ears.

When the Trust first began to observe Echo, she was in her 20s.

Having survived the death of several older family members at the hands of ivory poachers, she had become the matriarch of the herd at a relatively young age - a task to which she rose with remarkable grace.

Since then, she has tackled a series of crises with an equanimity and wisdom that Colbeck has come to know well. …