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This fabric of elephant society, Bradshaw and her I’m A Simple Woman I Like Harry Potter, Coffee and Paw Dog Shirt colleagues concluded, had effectively been frayed by years of habitat loss and poaching, along with systematic culling by government agencies to control elephant numbers and translocations of herds to different habitats. In her yet-to-be-completed memoir, ‘‘My Elephants and My People,’’ Abe writes of the prominence of the matriarch in Acholi society; she named the park’s matriarchal elephant savior Lady Irene, after her own mother.
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The number of older matriarchs and female caregivers (or ‘‘allomothers’’) had drastically fallen, as had the number of elder bulls, who play a significant role in keeping younger males in line. In parts of Zambia and Tanzania, a number of the elephant groups studied contained no adult females whatsoever. In Uganda, herds were often found to be ‘‘semipermanent aggregations,’’ as a paper written by Bradshaw describes them, with many females between the ages of 15 and 25 having no familial associations.
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As a result of such social upheaval, calves are now being born to and raised by ever younger and inexperienced mothers. Young orphaned elephants, meanwhile, that have witnessed the death of a parent at the hands of poachers are coming of age in the absence of the support system that defines traditional elephant life. ‘‘The loss of elephant elders,’’ Bradshaw told me, ‘‘and the traumatic experience of witnessing the massacres of their family, impairs normal brain and behavior development in young elephants.’’
The last elephant survivors of Queen Elizabeth National Park, Abe said, never left one another’s side. They kept in a tight bunch, moving as one. Only one elderly female remained; Abe estimated her to be at least 62. It was this matriarch who first gathered the survivors together from their various hideouts on the park’s forested fringes and I’m A Simple Woman I Like Harry Potter, Coffee and Paw Dog Shirt then led them back out as one group into open savanna. Until her death in the early 90’s, the old female held the group together, the population all the while slowly beginning to rebound.