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Photo gallery for The History of the T Families
I first met the “T” families on September 9, 1973. I found them in one of the woodland areas of Amboseli called Ol Tukai Orok, which means “place of the dark palms” in Maa, the language of the local Maasai people. At that time I was studying the elephants only on a part-time basis. Two years later I was to set up a permanent camp in these very woodlands. On this day I was trying to photograph as many elephants as possible to build up a recognition file. I had not seen these elephants before, but they seemed very relaxed and tolerant of my vehicle, which meant that I could attempt to record the family structure and take some photos.
I set about counting the group and got 13 after several attempts and double checks. It is more difficult to count elephants than one would imagine—it is easy to miss the ones that are hidden behind the bulk of the nearer ones. There appeared to be four medium-to-large adult females, three young adult females and six calves. Of the older females two were particularly striking: a large female with up-curved tusks and a slit in her right ear; and an old, very dignified female with long straight tusks.
Two weeks later when I was back down in Amboseli with my colleague, Harvey Croze, we found these same females and this time they were with some new females including a big female with a tear out of the top of her right ear. Right away we started referring to her as Torn Ear. It took several more trips to Amboseli before we were tentatively able to sort out the families with the torn-eared female, slit-eared upcurved female, and old straight-tusked female. Repeated sightings of the same individuals led us to conclude that Torn Ear, estimated to be about 40 years old, was the matriarch of a small family which consisted of four animals, herself and three offspring, including a tuskless 11-year-old female whom we called Tuskless. Even though we had not reached the letter T yet in the alphabetical designations we were giving the families, we made this the “T” family because of the names already given. Then, because we were not sure how many families were involved or if it was one big family, we gave all the other females who associated closely with Torn Ear T names as well. A handsome female of about 30 years old, who appeared to have three sons, was called Tania. We named the slit ear, who we estimated at 35 year old, Slit Ear even though it was not a T name but it seemed so obvious, and we named the old female, who we guessed was about 50, Teresia.
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