Mike Birkhead Associates - People

Echo and the Elephants of Amboseli

A series of 13 x 30 minute programmes.

UK Premiere October 19th 8pm on Animal Planet

Mike Birkhead

This is the incredible story of a mother’s journey to keep her family alive. Echo is a wise elephant matriarch in her sixties. She lives in Southern Kenya alongside fifteen hundred other wild African elephants. As oldest female and head of the family, Echo must guide four generations of her relatives through the cruel famine that follows the failure of the latest rains: she must protect them from attack by lions, and keeps them away from growing conflict with angry Maasai farmers. Observing her as they have for the past four decades are American scientist Cynthia Moss and her team from the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Echo leads her family out of harm’s way, steers clear of battling tuskers, prevents clashes with neighbours over water, crops or grazing, and avoids natural calamities like deadly mudtraps. As the months pass, she must prevent her family splitting under pressure, and finally bring new babies into the world with the best chance of survival...

Individual Episodes

Episode 1.

Echo lives in Southern Kenya alongside fifteen hundred other wild African elephants. Below Kilimanjaro, no rain has fallen.

There’s no grass to eat, so Echo must find food for her hungry family. She must avoid predators, fierce Maasai warriors, and disasters such as the treacherous mud that has trapped Qualida, another elephant matriarch.

Echo died

After two days and nights, Qualida is in danger of dying. A team from the Amboseli Trust for Elephants sets off to help the rescue. Conflict simmers as herds of Maasai cows and families of wild elephants jostle for water. After a day among the fever trees, Echo guides her relatives, including the babies and pregnant females, back to the safety of her secret spot.


Episode 2.

Norah and Soila race to Amboseli’s outlands to help rescue Qualida, an elephant matriarch trapped in mud. In her secret spot, Echo wakes to face a rebellion: half her family leave to eat at the palms.

baby ele

After four hours trekking through dry bushland, the incoming waves of thirsty elephants from the surrounding hills are nearing water. But trouble with the Maasai begins to boil over. An elephant kills one of their precious cows. Aggrieved, the herders want revenge. Rangers, trucks, tractors and ropes join to save Qualida. Now she must find her missing family and starving calf again. Echo and her family must reunite.


Episode 3.

In Amboseli, Soila and Katito take to the air to find Qualida, the elephant rescued from the mudtrap. They spot her, but can’t make out her calf. 

Cynthias helpers

On its own, it will stand little chance of surviving. In matriarch Alison’s family, Alicia is struggling to feed her newborn calf. He is weakening, and can barely keep up with the others, who are heading for the swamp to search for food. Little Sinya falls into a well.

Calf in well

The young calf is injured and needs expert care in faraway Nairobi. Around Echo’s family, lions are threatening the young, but when they lay an ambush after dark, the feisty great-grandmother goes on the attack.

Elephant hug

Episode 4.

In Amboseli, the harsh drought is tightening its grip. Echo and all the elephant families go to sleep and wake up hungry. Rain is falling, but in dangerous areas, drawing elephants into increasing conflict with farmers.

Cynthia feeding calf

Despite the temptation to leave for fresh grass, the experienced matriarch is doggedly keeping her family to a small safe triangle. As Maasai reach for their spears, numbers of injuries are mounting. The women of the Amboseli Trust search for a wounded male. Even the youngest calves are targets. Luckily Sinya, the calf that fell in the well is recovering at the orphanage in Nairobi.


Episode 5.

On the plains of Amboseli, the rains are over two months late. Echo brings the family to the palms to eat the last leaves. The wise matriarch resists the temptation to take them to inhabited areas where fresh crops are springing up and conflict waits.


But young bulls on their own are running into trouble: Pran is shot in the leg, and Isaiah is speared, as crop raiders destroy people’s livelihoods. Sgt. Kasaine of the Kenya Wildlife Service has to put down a hungry elephant. Scoop Ear had trampled a farmer to death. A crisis meeting is called. Echo is keeping her family alive, but as the drought peaks, will she be strong enough not to lead them into disaster?

Episode 6.

In the relentless drought, the youngest calves are starving. Hunger is driving elephants to forage on surrounding farms. The women of the Trust for Elephants help deter nighttime crop raiders. Echo’s wise head keeps her family to the swamp. She protects Edwina and Elettra – both pregnant.

Herd on the horizon

Rains arrive, but after five days, the much-needed downpours dwindle to sparse showers. Echo must bring the family through the long ordeal without loss. Out of the West, a giant emerges. Six-ton Vronsky is looking to mate. Then a challenger appears, Gomer, another massive bull. A month after the showers, vegetation springs up again. Echo’s family reap their reward: a harvest of fresh grass.

Episode 7.

Dead ele

Everyone is on the move in Amboseli. The rains bring new life. Lush new grass is saving the 58 elephant families from hunger. An extraordinary annual reunion brings hundreds of elephants together in scenes of celebration, play and romance. From a plane, Katito spots a dead elephant. Soila and Norah go into the swamp on foot and recognise matriarch Geraldine. They recover her bones to discover how she died. Big bull Vronsky is on the hunt for a mate and ready to fight. He begins an epic battle with a rival, Gomer – starting by fighting for nine hours without a break.

Rainbow with elephant

Episode 8.

In Amboseli, nine months of unrelenting drought have given way to longed-for rains. The elephants now have enough to eat. Echo is taking the family on a day out to the Snipe River. 

Isaiah’s spear wound needs urgent treatment. The women of the Amboseli Trust help out despite the risk of being trampled. Aggressive bulls are on the march. Yesterday, Vronsky fought with Gomer. Now he mates with Ina. But he may soon have another fight on his hands. Gomer is after Vronsky again, and he’s furious. Elephants are ruining new crops. A new idea could put an end to their destruction: it’s based on a simple piece of string.

Elephants with Kili in background

Episode 9.

The new grass is reaching its peak. Soila, Norah and Katito follow the families from a balloon. After months of hunger, Echo’s family are enjoying good times. The matriarch and her family are dustbathing at the safe home where Echo shelters her young. Even when they run to defend themselves, they are only pretending to be attacked!


This is the time when magnificent males such as Keyhole reappear. His arrival excites Echo's whole family. Around him, Amboseli’s finest bulls battle to breed. When elephants fight, death is only a stumble away. Gomer and Vronsky renew their combat. As the light fails, Vronsky and Gomer’s hostility shows no sign of faltering. Young male Ejac spends some days away from the family. Echo and his mother Enid will be glad to see him return.

Episode 10.

Echo's family have their first new baby of the year, Evaline. The baby looks unusually exhausted. Elettra, the first-time mother won’t let her sleep.


Vronsky and Gomer’s epic battle continues. They match each other in age, size and aggression. After three days, the longest battle of the bulls Amboseli’s ever seen enters the record books. Vronsky will be able to mate with Dorie. Lions take a young elephant separated from his mother. The calf’s screams and corpse attract other families. Ulla’s family seem particularly concerned. It doesn’t matter that it’s not a calf from her own family. Ulla’s family will stay by the dead youngster for two hours. Even with all the family’s support, life at Amboseli is precarious.

Episode 11.

It’s the baby boom. In Echo's family, her niece Elettra is a mother for the first time. She has a lot to learn. Three-day-old baby Evaline finds the going tough, as her mother fails to watch over her, and the others send the adventurous youngster packing.

Leg wound

Isaiah’s leg wound becomes re-infected. He needs the vet again. The young bull tries to hide in Barbara’s family, but she won’t have it. Norah and Katito help the vet to treat him. Matriarch Orlanda’s baby is due. She begins a long and painful labour. Amber has a healthy baby. Echo’s family are able to chill out at a pool. Evaline’s a natural swimmer, and her grandmother Ella helps out when she’s stuck.

Episode 12.

For Echo and her family in their secret home behind the old lodge fence, the weeks after the rains are good times. They have time to take a mudbath together.

Walking into the distance

Baby Evaline is a handful. New mother Elettra still hasn’t learnt to stay close to her. Orlanda’s family search the spot where their matriarch suffered in her labour. Echo’s unpopular granddaughter Edwina breaks away and gives birth. Lions teach Edwina how hard it is to bring up a calf without the protection of the family. After three weeks, Edwina faces a decision – will she be welcome if she returns to Echo with her new baby, Elif? Once only seven strong, the great matriarch’s family would be up to thirty-five members.


Episode 13.

Echo's life from baby to matriarch. The young Echo travels with her family, keeping close to her mother, from whom she absorbs lessons passed down through generations. In her teens she practises courtship and mating. Despite her best efforts, her first baby dies in a drought. In her mid-twenties, her life changes forever as she becomes the family’s leader. The same year, American scientist, Cynthia Moss arrives in Amboseli where she spends so much time, she becomes part of Echo’s family. For 400 years Maasai have lived here too. Echo's eldest daughter Erin is killed by a Maasai spear. What will happen to her orphaned son, young Email? Echo's battle to keep her family alive continues.

Echos family

Series Producer: Mike Birkhead
Photography: Martyn Colbeck and Mike Cuthbert
Music: David Micham Script: Jeremy Evans
Executive Producer: Mark Wild


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