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African elephant researcher Cynthia Moss shares her insights on elephant behavior and conservation

July 7, 2010 |  3:15 pm

Cynthia Moss

On a 1967 trip to Africa that included a visit to Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania, Cynthia Moss, then a reporter for Newsweek, met British zoologist Iain Douglas-Hamilton. It turned out to be a fateful meeting, as Moss became Douglas-Hamilton's research assistant.

About five years after her initial meeting with Douglas-Hamilton, Moss founded the Amboseli Elephant Research Project at Amboseli National Park in Kenya -- and she's been there ever since. She's a fascinating source of information about African elephant behavior, and she spoke to The Times about her work on a recent trip to Los Angeles.

"We've learned that elephants live in very complex societies that are multi-tiered, starting with the family unit that might consist of anything from two to 50 animals, and consists of related females … and their calves. ... Certain families have special relationships with certain other families; we call that the bond group," Moss explains. "And then there are the clans, which consist of about 10 families. And then there are the subpopulations, which might be 30 families or so, and then the whole population. In Amboseli, we have 57 families."

Topics addressed in her Q&A also included the behavior of male elephants in musth, "a complete Jekyll and Hyde transformation" from their non-musth behavior, she says; the emerging ivory trade in China; and the interesting fact that Amboseli's elephants react very differently to members of the Masai and Akamba tribes.

Learn more about Moss' work with African elephants in reporter Thomas H. Maugh II's recent interview with her for The Times.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Moss in the Amboseli park on June 26. Credit: Harvey Croze / For the Amboseli Trust

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