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Echo – an Unforgettable Elephant.

for PBS and BBC.

To be shown on BBC2  Natural World on August 5th, 2010

All the other programmes we have made on Echo since 1990 will be shown on BBC4 the same week.

When the most famous elephant in the world dies, the timing could not be worse. The cruellest drought in living memory is devastating Echo’s home under the shadow of Kilimanjaro. The wise old matriarch has guided her family for half a century. Will her 38–strong band of relatives and descendants overcome the loss of their leader, hunger, and poachers to survive?

Watch the opening sequence below:

Exclusive footage - a near miss with Mountain Bull when we took Cynthia Moss to meet her old friend Iain Douglas Hamilton who first introduced her to elephants more than 40 years ago.


When the most famous elephant in the world dies, the timing could not be worse. The cruellest drought in living memory is devastating Echo’s home in the shadow of Kilimanjaro. The wise old matriarch has guided her family for half a century. Will her 38–strong band of relatives and descendants overcome the loss of their leader, hunger, and poachers to survive?

Echo dead

Echo has been a much-loved character on our screens since David Attenborough first went to film her in Kenya 20 years ago. Researcher Cynthia Moss had already begun to follow elephants on the plains of Amboseli. She and her Maasai colleagues at the Amboseli Trust for Elephants saw repeated evidence of Echo’s leadership and intelligence. Through 37 years of daily observations they came to know her intimately.

Echos followers

Award-winning cameraman Martyn Colbeck began a similar continuing long-term relationship with Echo’s family, one that enabled him to capture unique scenes over the years.  Accepted by Echo, he was soon able to film the arrival of her son Ely, born unable to stand. It gave a glimpse of Echo’s caring nature. Other elephants might have abandoned the baby – but not Echo. Her next calf, Ebony, was always getting into scrapes. Once she was actually stolen by another family.  Echo gathered her own family’s big females. In an amazing display of planning and teamwork they plough into the kidnappers to rescue her daughter.

Echos family

Amboseli is a special place. Underground rivers reach out into the plain. But three years of lack of rain take their toll. Grazing animals are hardest hit. Twenty matriarchs will die. In two previous droughts, Echo had shown her daughters where to find food. Now Echo’s 38-strong family split into two and disappear from under the concerned gaze of the women of the research project.

In the driest single year ever, Maasai herders clash with the elephants over water for cattle and goats. Previously, Echo’s eldest daughter Erin was speared. Echo’s actions affect her 18-month-old grandson Email’s survival and 34-year-old Erin’s suffering. Again, she does not desert her daughter. Her intense loyalty and deep care shows why elephants are special. Echo finally takes the calf away. He will become the youngest male orphan to survive.

Baby elephant

Already on the edge of starvation, Echo’s family face a new threat. This year at least 15 Amboseli elephants are poached for ivory. Each murder makes Cynthia worry for Echo’s family. But eventually even the worst recorded drought breaks. The separated members of the family return. Young calves have died, but 34 out of 38 of her family are still alive. Not one of the family’s valuable adults is lost. The great matriarch lives on in the wisdom she passes on to her sons and daughters – an enduring gift, which they in turn will hand on to generations to come.  Nonetheless, those who loved her still miss her – from David Attenborough and viewers, to the women of the Trust, and especially Cynthia, with whom she had a special bond.


Quotes from ECHO – an Unforgettable Elephant

David Attenborough (Presenter, Piece to Camera):

Twenty years ago I met and was filmed with a remarkable elephant called Echo. Since then many other films have been made about her and, not unexpectedly, she has found her way into the hearts of millions of viewers. A lot of what we know about elephant characters has been learnt from Echo, about their survival strategies, and leadership and loyalty, as well as many other characteristics which scientists are more reluctant to attribute to animals; like love, and foresight, and wisdom. A group of remarkably dedicated women studied Echo for over 40 years, following her every day until she died at the age of 65, of old age. They, and millions of viewers will miss her, and indeed, so do I.

Katito Sayialel (Maasai Elephant Researcher, Amboseli Trust for Elephants):

I touch her. I touch her, the temperature was going down, and then she was snoring. And then I can tell those are signs of…she’s dying. I touch her; she was going, slowly by slowly. I touch her and she was looking at me and blinking her eyes like this, just blinking. And then she, she just looked at me, the last minute she blinked her eyes like this and looked at me…and then she died... It’s good one of us was there.


Martyn Colbeck (Cameraman, in vision):

Echo during this period was remarkable, because her daughter Erin during this period was unable to move very far at all, and we know that Echo didn’t go more than about a kilometre and a half, two kilometres away from her the whole time. So she basically did a circle around Erin. And one of the most touching moments I remember was Echo came back and rejoined Erin and they had this wonderful greeting ceremony. The two of them lifted their heads and clanked their tusks together. It’s a very strong greeting between very closely-related individuals. And that was an amazing moment to see…but she wouldn’t leave Erin, she wouldn’t leave her.
It’s hard to know what these elephants are thinking; it’s trying to work out exactly what is going on; and we can only use our human experiences to try and work that out, but the fact that she didn’t leave more than about two kilometres and came back regularly to check her just shows an extraordinary mother-daughter bond.

Martyn cameraman

Cynthia Moss (World-Leading Elephant Expert, Amboseli Trust for Elephants):

Well, I’ve seen the carcass many, many times, but it still makes me sad, especially seeing the key things that made her Echo. What I loved about her was the way she walked. She had this wonderful, swinging walk… and to think we are never going to see that again, that’s what hurts... She was a special elephant, there’s no doubt about it. She was just a lovely being. She gave us a lot of joy and she filled us with wonder.

Ele eye




The Amboseli Elephant Research Project is the longest study of wild elephants in the world. They work to understand the lives and ensure the future of 1,500 elephants in the Amboseli ecosystem fed by the waters of Kilimanjaro. To join the elephant network, sign up, read Cynthia Moss’s blog or participate in forums, see:

Listen to Echo. The team at ElephantVoices have put together some pictures and calls she made, explaining what the sounds mean.

For more about elephants elsewhere in Africa, see the site Iain of Douglas-Hamilton’s charity at

For BBC Science & Nature news and programme information, see:

Credits - Presented by Sir David Attenborough.

Director and Producer Mike Birkhead.          Editor Matt Meech.

Photography Martyn Colbeck and Mike Cuthbert.

Sound David Eden/David Yapp.

Narration script Jeremy Evans

Music David Mitcham.

Post Production StormHD.

Production Manager Carolyn Naylor.

Execs for BBC/PBS Fred Kaufman/Tim Martin and Steve Greenwood.

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