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Keeping Up with the TCs
The TC family starred in Cynthia’s book Elephant Memories, and their triumphs and trials through thirteen years have introduced countless people to the wonder of elephant family life.
Since I began working in Amboseli over a year ago, I’ve hardly had a chance to get to know them. Although the four T families (TA, TB, TC and TD) used to be consistent residents in the centre of the Park, after the deaths of matriarchs Teresia and Tania, the families partially fragmented their association, and the TCs and TDs eventually moved their range almost entirely. These days, they are hardly ever seen in the Park, but instead spend much of their time in Kimana Sanctuary, to the East.
Last June I made my first trip to Kimana with Norah and Katito. It’s a small area, which is now almost totally surrounded by agriculture, but heavily wooded with Acacia xanthophloea, which the elephants love. We know several families and some large males use it as a safe zone. I was excited to finally see the TCs, who were with part of the TDs; elephants I’d read about more than a decade previously.
However my excitement quickly gave way to a sense of dismay. The T families are known to “collect” newly independent males, and several of the young males hanging out with the family were nursing spear wounds. Tecoma, Slit Ear’s granddaughter has a broken leg which has healed badly, so that she dragged it behind her. (Subsequently I’ve seen tracks in the Park that I suspect mean the TCs have passed by, as Tecoma’s dragging leg leaves a very distinct mark.) The other family members looked thin, and while they were fairly relaxed around the car, they soon moved into thick bush where we couldn’t follow. We were unable to complete a census to confirm who was still there; we knew Tara had died recently and her young son, only two years old, had been seen wandering alone.
All in all it was discouraging, and I left feeling the family was in bad shape. While the Amboseli elephants overall have been doing well, it made me sad that such a successful family had apparently fallen on hard times.
This week Norah and I were working with two of my study families who were part of a large aggregation out on the East side of the Park. We’d been working hard with the group for more than three hours, and the elephants were headed into a zone renowned for vehicle-hungry mud holes, so we were thinking of heading back, when all of a sudden, Norah spotted the TCs. We totally forgot any tiredness as we realised several new roly-poly calves were running around with them.
The TCs were totally relaxed with the Land Rover, despite spending so little time with us these days. The older calves were even playing with the car – play trumpeting and mock charging, before pirouetting away into a “floppy run”. The big females let us drive around the family as we counted and checked off the family members, and everyone looked so fat and contented.
All in all we documented four new calves, ranging from about one week to one month old; males for Tinsel and Twain, and females for Tshala and Talia. It’s wonderful to see the next chapter in the TC history begin to unfold.