Echo: An Elephant to Remember

(Rochester, New York) -- Not everyone is a born leader. To inspire others to follow you, one must have the wisdom, experience, heart, and determination to provide for them, to keep them safe, and to teach them the things they need to know to make their way in the world.  Echo grew to possess all of these strengths and more in her remarkable life as matriarch of a family of elephants in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park.  As the most studied elephant in the world, she also taught us. Through tragedies and triumphs, her story provided incredible insights into the intense loyalties and deep caring that are so fundamental to all elephants. She captured the hearts of millions and was the subject of several books and documentaries, including two Nature films

Echo died of natural causes at the age of 65 in May of 2009. The family she left behind grieves her loss while struggling against the worst drought ever recorded in Amboseli.  The challenges that face them are beyond anything they have experienced before.  Yet they have all that Echo taught them to help them survive.  Even as they learn to live without her, she will be their guide.  It is her final gift to them.  What remains to be seen is what they will do with that gift.  In this final chapter of Echo’s story, Nature looks back at her remarkable journey, and takes a look ahead at the future awaiting her family in Echo: An Elephant to Remember, airing Wednesday June 5, 2013 at 9:30 PM on WXXI-TV. 

This poignant portrait pieces together watershed moments in Echo’s life and examines the plight of her fragmented family in the wake of her death. With rich archival footage and candid observations from those who knew Echo well, the story of the "E" family of elephants comes alive.  Featured interviews include elephant expert Cynthia Moss, who studied Echo and her family for nearly 40 years, and award-winning filmmaker Martyn Colbeck, who was there with Moss to film good times and bad, creating a record of Echo’s life we all can share.

For decades, Colbeck has been filming while Moss and her colleagues have studied and watched Echo and her family. Gradually, Moss and Colbeck gained the trust of Echo’s family and were able to share at close range some of the most intimate moments of the elephants’ lives.  Together, they reflect on Echo’s life and the impact of her death on her family.  Some of their recollections include Echo’s dedication in caring for her newborn son, Ely, who overcame his crippling condition thanks to her patience and perseverance.  They also recall Echo’s heartbreaking decision to abandon her mortally-wounded daughter, Erin, in order to save Erin’s young calf, Email.  They laugh over memories of Echo’s mischievous baby daughter, Ebony, and marvel at one of Echo’s defining moments as a leader, when she rallied her sisters to rescue Ebony when she was kidnapped by a rival clan.

Now, without Echo’s guidance, her family is left to cope with the devastating effects of Amboseli’s drought.  The elephants must find their way on their own as food and water disappear, grazing animals weaken and die in large numbers, and the drought continues for three scorching years.  Elephant mothers cannot feed their calves and can barely keep themselves alive.  Older, experienced females in other elephant families die, and valuable family wisdom is lost with them.  But not one of Echo’s valuable adults dies in the drought.  All that Echo taught them is with them still, in death as in life.  It is a remarkable achievement, the final test of her role as their matriarch, and her greatest legacy.

Credit: Courtesy of Mike Birkhead Associates
Nature: Echo, an elephant matriarch and subject of many films

 


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