Thank goodness for mothers
Aida and her youngest daughter, Aida V, in 2010 © Andrea Turkalo

Elephant Listening Project

In Praise of Mothers

Aida kept her family together for years – reassuring and helping her daughters when they gave birth to their first offspring – dealing with a rebellious son as he transitioned into that world of young-adult males. In an environment where families more often divide into smaller parts, Aida kept hers together.

Through those years Aida's children and grandchildren learned her tricks for surviving in a jungle – and now she is gone.

Aida, of course, was a forest elephant, but her story could fit mothers and families of another species as well – ours. There is a stability and a calm that mothers provide their families, and strength too. Some of us can imagine (probably surprisingly well) how comforting and important it was to Aida II to have her mother's calm presence nearby when her first baby was born.

Andrea knows this family well because they are frequent visitors to the bai. Since 1991 when she first identified Aida, Andrea has seen Aida and her family more than 700 times. Aida's daughter, Aida II, was only 7 years old when she first sauntered into the bai with her mother and Andrea has chronicled her life through her childhood, her teens, and the birth of three calves!

Although the family was together as usual in November 2012, Aida was conspicuous by her absence in early March when her daughter brought the family into Dzanga Bai for a couple of weeks. Aida, at more than 50 years of age, may have died naturally (her deeply-sunken cheeks in the picture suggests loss of teeth), or she was killed for her small but still valuable tusks. 

We all must lose our mothers eventually, diminishing the richness of our lives. I wish we could have known the emotions of Aida II on that March day without her long-time companion. But Aida left a strong and cohesive family that Aida II, pictured below, now leads through the challenges of Africa's rainforest.

Peter H. Wrege,
Director, Elephant Listening Project.

Aida with Aida IV 2003 © Andrea Turkalo

Close-Knit Family 

Almost a group hug, Aida's family gathers close, touching, softly rumbling. Andrea names these elephants in birth order, with the matriarch, Aida I (or just 'Aida') followed by Aida II (her firstborn) and here, Aida IV her third youngster.
Alvin (aka Aida III) at 16 © Andrea Turkalo

Meet Alvin

Alvin is Aida's second calf, born when Aida was about 30 years old. When males in their teens become independent and reduce their interaction with the family, they are hard to identify  – they don't yet have many distinguishing characters. But Andrea was able to keep track of Alvin, so he got a name-change to reflect his sex and his independence.
The Elephant Listening Project is dedicated to the study and conservation of elephants, with a focus on the forest elephants of Central Africa. Visit the project's website at

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