Echo: An Elephant to Remember
Cynthia Moss, Echo, and the Amboseli Elephants


Every great family is headed by a commanding leader, and Echo’s clan was no exception. Echo, an African elephant, was a true matriarch, a wise and experienced mother who guided and protected her family for many years.

Recognizable by her crossed tusks, Echo lived with her brood in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, a wildlife reserve of just 150 square miles. Her clan was composed of some 15 elephants, all either her own offspring, other elephants’ young calves, or adult females. (Adult males are loners until it’s time to mate.)

At first glance, Echo’s family seems to live quiet lives of grazing. In fact, their days are filled with mating battles, difficult births, health problems, kidnappings, emotional reunions, mischievous children and, occasionally, death at the hand of a hunter. Much of the drama caught in Echo: An Elephant to Remember comes thanks to famed researcher Cynthia Moss’s intimate knowledge of Echo and her ways.

Moss has been studying 50 elephant families in Amboseli in an effort to learn everything there is to know about these animals. Moss aims to document their birth and death rates, to discover how they communicate, to learn how they think. To that end, she and her colleagues spend hours under the punishing sun of the African savanna, observing the animals and collecting data on their activities.

Moss’s research is rewarding, but often difficult. Her study area is the range over which the elephants roam — an immense 400 square miles. Since Moss’s team does not tag the elephants with radio collars that signal their locations, each day Moss and her colleagues must hop in a Land Rover to search for them.

Moss and filmmaker Martyn Colbeck followed Echo and her family over the course of several years, spending about two months of each year in the field. The two set out from their tent camp at dawn each day to look for the family and film their activities.

During one field session, Moss and Colbeck decided they couldn’t risk losing Echo: she was about to give birth, something that happens only about once every four years in an elephant’s life and has rarely been recorded on film. Determined not to miss the big event, Moss and Colbeck tracked Echo and her family night and day for almost three weeks.

“We followed them for 13 to 14 hours each night,” says Moss, “and then we would radio my assistants to come and keep track of them for the rest of the day. It was really exhausting and very, very nerve-wracking. I figured if we lost them for one day, that would be the day she gave birth.” On day 18 of the round-the-clock watch, Echo finally gave birth to Ebony, a male, in an event featured on NATURE.

The Amboseli elephants make ideal study subjects, says Moss, because this population is for the most part untroubled by humans. Moss explains that she is able to document intimate events like the birth because her presence doesn’t alarm the elephants: they seem to know her voice, and they sense that she won’t hurt them.

Sometimes the adults approach her Land Rover and look in the windows, while the more adventurous juveniles explore the truck with their trunks. The elephants are comfortable enough with Moss and her colleagues that they even gather around her tent camp on occasion, the adults resting while the youngsters play under the trees next to the tents.

Given Moss’s long and intimate association with these engaging animals, it’s easy to understand her emotional attachment to her study subjects. Moss says that it is sometimes difficult not to get involved when an elephant is sick or in trouble, such as when Echo’s son Ely was born with crippled feet and couldn’t walk for a few days. “With Ely, it was so hard not to intervene,” she recalls. “I didn’t know whether or not to bring in a vet.”

“But it would have been a terrible mistake,” Moss concludes, “because he would have been separated from his mother and probably wouldn’t have been able to go back.” Ely eventually healed completely on his own. Moss continues to maintain a policy in which she keeps her distance, offering help only when an elephant has been harmed by humans.

  • glenda franklin

    Dear Ms, Moss My mother and I have been reading and watching your work for many years.We are heart broken about Echo passing. We both love elephants and have for years . My mother bought your book about Echo for me not knowing I had been folowing her to .I am 52 and i told my husband my dream was to go to your camp and see your familys. Keep up your wonderful work. Love Glenda Franklin

  • glenda franklin

    This is just a PS I have had horses all my life . I think that is what drew me to them. Glenda

  • Ken & Eileen Falcioni

    We just finished watching your special.

    Ken has watched Echo for years and was pleased to know that Echo died of natural causes (not poachers)
    Thank you Cynthia and your crew for all the years of love and dedication to Echo. We cried along with you.

  • Nick Bertrand


  • Rocki Briggs

    Hi Miss Cynthial; I caught your show last evening, as I’ve tried and not been successful on keeping up with the ongoing story, it was nice to have the opportunity to catch it all. I was glad to hear Echo passed peacefully and not by poachers. And the leadership a couple of her daughters have shown since is extraordinary. Yet, I would’ve liked to hear what the final outcome(maybe I missed it) on the on daughter that can’t seem to leave where she passed and may be putting her youngsters at risk in doing so. Can you please tell me how that worked out, if it has? I absolutely love all animals(except bugs) and would love to know if there is any way a person like myself could be of any assistance from afar, I live with chronic pain which keeps me from becoming a hands on helper and I’m working on over-coming this for my dream would be to become totally involved in helping and rescuing animals in need. As it is I have 4 pit-bull dogs and 2 ferretts. Yet, my reasoning for loving elephants is quite simple, not only are they beautiful but I love the way they show their emotions when it comes to their families.
    I would hope to eventually be a hands on type person to assist animals as you have and would also like to know how you got involved in this journey if you wouldn’t mind sharing. Hopefully this would not only inspire me to become more involved, but may also give me more ideas on how I can assist now. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Until then, I wish you and the elephant families the best. THank you for Echo’s story.

  • Åsa Billefält

    Amazing and beautiful animals! I have seen a programme about Echo and her family on Viasat Nature and I was, as always, touched by the elephants. Cynthia Moss is doing a great work. I have read one of her books and I hope all animals, not just the elephants, and all human beings can live side by side in the future. Someday I will go to Kenya and I hope I will see elephants IRL.

  • Vasantha Sembukuttige

    Dear Mrs Cynthia,

    I am a Srilankan living in NY, I am in Colombo on duty and I heard about you from one of my friend who is also great pal of wild life. I have been visiting and watching elephants for past 20 years and great lover of that wonderful creature . I would like to learn more about this great god creature of elephants and I am looking forward to get in touch with you. Please allow me to do so.
    I will read more about you and come back to you in near future.
    All the best .

  • Pat Whittier

    I have watched, again, Echo and your story. Always it overwhelms me. Have loved elephants all my life and regret I will leave this world without seeing them in their natural home.
    Your work is admirable and totally captivating.
    Thank you

Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2014 THIRTEEN Productions LLC. All rights reserved.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.