Leading From Behind

By Wandering Maasai | 26 March 2015

By Gina Poole

Elephants here move over vast areas, and that’s one reason why all of the conservancies are important. Conservancies like Naboisho provide vital linkages for the migration of elephants, wildebeests and other species that travel across the landscape.

The elephants of Naboisho
The families we chose to film tend to spend a lot of time in Naboisho, but one elephant eluded us, and we were eager to find her. Bob’s sister, elephant expert, Joyce Poole named her “Big Mama” for her impressive size.She is an old matriarch, approximately 65 years, and related to a family we’ve been filming. Selengei, another old matriarch who is seen often with Big Mama, was one of the first elephants we encountered early on. The unique rip in Big Mama’s right ear made her easy to identify but finding such an iconic elephant was proving harder than we expected. Joyce told us that Big Mama was very calm around vehicles; even coming so close that she nearly touched her car. We wanted to film her to illustrate the importance of long-lived matriarchs and how their knowledge of where to find food, water and security is essential for the success of their families.

Big Mama

One elephant eluded us, and we were eager to find her…
One afternoon we got information from rangers that a large herd of elephants had been seen in the adjacent conservancy, Ol Kinyei, near the eastern border of Naboisho. We quickly redirected and drove over to see if we could locate them. With a ranger showing us the way, we came upon a big group of elephants peacefully browsing on acacias. As we came closer we noticed a particularly large female standing in the shade of a tall acacia. She flapped her ears and our jaws dropped, instantly recognizing Big Mama, her signature V notch apparent. Her size was tremendous and with her sway back, and tattered ears she looked like an elephant that had seen much of life.

There were several bulls nearby, not members of her family but bulls who live independently, sometimes visiting other families, especially if females are in estrus. Off in the distance a large figure caught our eye. It was a huge bull, most likely in musth, alone and coming our way. Within minutes the bull had quietly arrived and positioned himself amongst the family, displacing the other bulls who timidly walked away from him. He was a big old bull and looked like he’d been through the trenches with his serrated, jagged ears. As the sun dipped below the horizon, he shook his enormous head and walked slowly toward the departing family.
[gdlr_quote align=”center” ]Off in the distance a large figure caught our eye. It was a huge bull, most likely in musth, alone and coming our way.” – Gina Poole[/gdlr_quote]

MeetingBig Mama
It had been a week since we’d seen Big Mama when we got a call from a ranger who told us a large herd was spotted. Again, we changed course and without delay went to find the elephants. This time we were fortunate to find Big Mama and her entourage on the edge of the conservancy heading into Naboisho. Selengei was there as well, and their success as mothers was evident in the size of the extended family and the teenage bulls that stayed with them even though they were old enough to leave and be independent. Joyce told me that sometimes bulls remain longer with their maternal families because when you have a mother like Selengei or Big Mama; well, life is quite good so why strike out on your own.

Young calf rests after a cool mud bath

Naboisho: a vital linkfor the migration of elephants
Then something remarkable happened that we’d seen only at dusk. The herd gathered together on the edge of the open plain, then in a coordinated move spread out into a procession and started to quickly cross over to the other side and into the cover of whistling thorns. The move was intentional and through my lens I could see Big Mama. Swathed in a cloak of ocher she gracefully walked across the open plain leading her family from behind. Selengei was at the head of the line with small calves trundling along amidst the others of varying size and age.

The fact Big Mama was bringing up the rear was fascinating. Joyce told me that in Amboseli National Park, where she did her early research, matriarchs were seen to lead from behind with the next eldest female in the front. What a strategy to ensure that none of the family is left, that all of the members make it safely to their destination. Once they arrived into the cover of trees and vegetation the herd made its way to a water pan where the older elephants sprayed themselves with a protective cover of mud while the young calves rolled and played in the slippery clay.

Big Mama applying a coat of mud

A fight like no other!
Just before sunset with an ominous storm advancing quickly upon us, two mature bulls sparred, clanking tusks and practicing for a future battle. Big Mama once again led her family to other feeding grounds as the rain began to pelt us and Bob got the last shots of the day.

Bulls sparring at sunset

Elephants are highly intelligent, and seeing the purposeful coordination of their movements directed by Big Mama, was an extraordinary experience and one that will stay with us for a very long time. Read more about elephants here.

Gina Poole

Naboishostill has some availability from now until the end of March, so if you are flexible enough to travel soon, you can enjoy this unique wildlife filming experience and benefit from our 3rd night free special (for Naboisho Camp only, or in combination with our other Asilia camps).

To find out more please contact your trusted travel agent or enquire here. In the meantime, you can follow Bob and Gina Poole’s experiences at Naboisho on this blog and Naboisho Camp’sFacebook page.

About Gina & Bob Poole
No strangers to Naboisho, Bob has previously documented the life of a cheetah family in the conservancy. At Naboisho they will be following a family of elephants on their journey for a film for National Geographic WILD. If you are joining us in camp soon, you will have the opportunity to meet them and maybe even join a game drive where you find out what it takes to make one of these films.To find out more please contact your trusted travel agent or contact us.

Find out more on their website.

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