Elephant bulls are one of the most iconic symbols of the natural world, so it is ironic that it is an older female, smaller in size but not in stature, who leads the herd.
Herd matriarchs face huge challenges on a daily basis and their decisions forge the destiny, success or failure of the herd. It requires bravery, sound instincts and a lifetime’s experience.
As matriarchs and breeding herds are often nervous and highly protective of their young, they are the most dangerous to approach. In most wild areas in Africa where large elephant herds still roam, they are given a wide berth as their unpredictability makes approaching them a dangerous risk. Yet in Amboseli, a Kenyan national park nestled at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, matriarchs and their herds have a distinctly more relaxed disposition, having spent years of relatively peaceful co-existence with humans.
Occasionally, you encounter a female who is not only the queen of her kind, but also adorned with magnificent tusks more commonly sported by her mature male counterparts. I had watched this truly magnificent female foraging with her herd for a long time so she would get used to me. With her rapier-like ivory extending almost to the ground there are few like her, and I knew how special it was to have a chance to photograph her.
When she was some 40-50 meters away, I took a very low position in the shadow of our vehicle to allow for a dramatic photographic angle, then waited for her approach. She knew I was there but led her herd right past me just 2 meters away, keeping herself between me and those who trusted her for protection.
Crouched on the ground, looking straight up at her, I tripped the camera’s shutter almost apologetically. She acknowledged this with a baleful glare down at me but did not alter her posture or her path.
I was shaking with excitement, not just at being so close to her but also poignant reflection on how trusting these animals can become if we treat them with respect.
Matriarch is as much about the majesty of a magnificent female leader as it is about the giant stature of a creature who is all too familiar with the afflictions that humans have brought to bear on her kind, yet still willing to engage in the hope for change.
Exhibition: 173cm x 120.6cm (68” x 47.5”)
Large: 146 cm x 103 cm (57.5″ x 40.5″)
Classic: 118cm x 82cm (46.5” x 32.4”)