Field Notes

January - April 2017

Rainfall patterns continue to change in Tsavo. This year during January and February, it was hot and rained in many areas with green vegetation and full waterholes. While in other areas, there was little rain. March was also hot, relatively dry, and several waterholes contained wet mud. In mid-April, the temperature was much cooler and windy with showers in some areas. Large flocks of storks, egrets, herons, Carmine bee-eaters and Eurasian Rollers were swooping around groups of elephants in green open grassland areas. As the vegetation dried, many elephants moved east and the flocks of birds followed.

Tsavo elephants often climb hills. During both the wet and dry season, they use zigzag paths to climb up and over the hills. This year many families and young bulls were feeding on the hill slopes. In March (photo left), a family was feeding on shrubs almost to the top of a hill. In April (photo right), an adult female was feeding at the crest of the hill with her two young offspring nearby on the other side of the boulders.


Between January and April, many bulls moved back and forth between the southern and northern areas of the bull region: Crux, Wind, Moonlight and Pisces. In February, Solar, photo left (id-year 2010) was with Oort and four unknown young bulls in the northern area. In early-March, he was with Pisces in the southern area, first with a family resting under a Delonix, and then he and Pisces left the family heading east. In mid-March, he was back in the northern area resting in the shade of an Acacia with Moonlight.

In mid-March, Blazer, photo right (id-year 2014) was with Moonlight and Indigo’s family at a waterhole in the northern area. In early-April, he had moved to the southern area. First, he was alone in the shade pulling down a strip of Acacia bark, then a young unknown bull joined him. They spent 30 minutes together in the shade feeding on the bark then headed south.


Many families aggregated in green areas surrounding the hills and open grassland areas: One Tusker with Cypris, Miranda with Osiris, Lya, Savanna, Boscia, Medora, and Ambrosia. Two well-known females broke their tusks since the last sightings. Miranda broke half of her long left tusk (see photo field notes May-August 2016). Flora (id-year 1990) broke half of both her long tusks.

C.T. (photo-left) a tuskless female has a distinct crooked tail. When she was identified in 1989, she had two male offspring. Since then she has had one female and two male calves. C.T.’s family is part of the Hill clan but spends half the time near Voi Riverine. In early-April, she was with her young male calf and an unknown female with a newborn. She often associates with Gardenia, One Tusker, Cypris and Joanna’s family.

Walnut (photo-right) is a new identified female with a single right tusk. She has many holes and notches in both ears and very long tail hairs. In April, she was with her young male calf drinking from a supplemental waterhole. A short time later, a 15-year old female ran from Voi Riverine trumpeting as she joined Walnut and her calf at the waterhole. Young elephants must learn to use their trunk to drink water. Although Walnut’s calf used his trunk to drink several times, he seemed to prefer bending down to use his mouth to drink. This small family of three drank, splashed then headed south to the riverine.

May - August 2017

During May, the rains were plentiful in some areas, with green vegetation and full waterholes. June and July were cool, windy and dry months and by mid-June many waterholes contained only mud. In mid-June a flock of more than 50 Vultures, most of them first-year chicks with fluffy feathers were near a lion that had just killed a buffalo. In July, a large group of Giraffe was on the north bank of the Galana River, and down river, a family of elephants was crossing the river heading north. In August the temperature began to rise and there were showers for two-three consecutive days, sunny and dry for a few days then showers again for a couple of days; not enough to fill waterholes but in some areas the grass turned green again.

The results from the February 2017 Tsavo Ecosystem total elephant aerial count were recently published.

The survey covered 49,611 sq. km. Tsavo East and West National Parks, Chyulu, Kitui, livestock ranches, communal land and Mkomazi in Tanzania. 12,866 elephants were counted. Almost half (6,072) of all the elephants were counted within the study area of Tsavo East.


In the bull area, bull groups were small with 2-4 bulls and most of them were young (15 years old). Several young bulls were with a family, Third, Swift and Wind. In mid-June Quark 20 years old (id-2010) was alone feeding at the base of a hill. The next day he was 8km north heading south alone then joined a family at a waterhole. In mid-July, he was in the same area feeding next to a bull the same age.

Pemba (photo-left) moved into the bull area in 2015. He is often alone. In early-May, he was headed toward a waterhole, with two young bulls (12 and 15 years old) following him. Young bulls often associate with older bulls that have knowledge about an area. In late-May, he was alone and had moved 5km northwest to a thick bush area. The next day he was alone again and had moved south 10km to an open grass area. Sunray (photo-right), identified twelve years ago, is typically with other bulls his own age or older and on occasion he is alone. In mid-July, he was with Jarvis, Crux and Skylight feeding in an open grass area. He left the group and headed toward an Acacia to rest.


Between May and August, many small family units were climbing the hills and feeding on green vegetation between the rocks. In Tsavo, families often consist of one adult female and her one or two dependent calves. Savanna, one of the known hill climbing small families from the Hill Clan was feeding on the east and west base of a hill on several occasions. Her female calf born in 2014 is healthy and now has two-tusk buds.

Several known families of the Hill Clan move back and forth between the hills and Voi Riverine; Heloise, Lya, Poppy, Vanilla and Ambrosia. In mid-May, Ambrosia (photo-left) was with her female calf, north of a hill heading toward a waterhole. In early-July, she was near Voi Riverine with her calf and a young 10-year old female. 16-days later, she had moved back to the hill area to a pool from a water pipeline leak. She and her calf were waiting for a dominant female and her family to move away. Crescent (photo-right) part of the Hill Clan is one of the original identified females from the mid-1990’s. She was with her male 3-year old calf and a 40-year-old unknown tuskless female in a group of six, at a waterhole near the Voi Riverine. After the family drank and splashed, they headed north, single file along an elephant trail, to a large Acacia to rest in the shade.