Celebrating Elephants: Oakland Zoo and Amboseli

Amy Gotliffe, VP Conservation, Oakland Zoo
September 22, 2020

Amboseli was the Beginning:

Amboseli Trust for Elephants was Oakland Zoo’s very first Conservation Partner. When Dr. Joel Parrott met Cynthia Moss in 1988, and learned of the immense effort it took to conserve African elephants, he realized both the opportunity and responsibility of being at the helm of a zoo with integrity. Not only could we raise funds for this critical work, but we could educate and activate our public around this incredible species. Meeting Cynthia is how our true mission began.

Through years of following the critical work of Amboseli, their vision that elephants and people can live together is what keeps us inspired. The creativity and compassion they deploy to address ever-evolving issues is what earns our endless respect. Funding a university education for local students, compensating for livestock loss and sending girls to secondary school exemplify new pathways to creating co-existence. Of course, their legendary dedication to understanding the complex world of these intelligent beings, and their willingness to share their knowledge and basecamp with writers, film makers, students, travelers and the world, never ceases to amaze.

"I am inspired by their commitment to coexistence which has grown out of the historical relations that the local Maasai have with wildlife. The Project works very closely with the local communities to understand their needs and issues and to help them understand the needs and issues facing the animals." -Colleen Kinzley, VP of Animal Care, Research and Conservation at Oakland Zoo

And oh, what we have done together. Amboseli Trust for Elephants and Oakland Zoo have worked with others to activate our communities to put an end to ivory ban loopholes and have banned the bull hook.

We have led hundreds of travelers across Kenya to see the elephants of Amboseli roaming free, and to gather around the campfire at the Amboseli Camp and hear tales of elephant families and their challenges and successes firsthand.

"I am inspired by the dedication and teamwork of the research team. Observing the ID-ing, tracking and studying of so many generations of matriarchs was incredible." -Lovesong Cahill, Oakland Zoo Eco-Trip Leader

Together, we have inspired thousands of guests at our Celebrating Elephants festival, raising awareness and funds to support the work, and encouraging young animal lovers to go for their dreams of being a conservationist themselves.

Elephants are still in trouble in Africa. They are still facing poaching, they are still in need of co-existence strategies, and they are still in need of inspiration, art, films, and stories around the campfire.  As long as this is so, Oakland Zoo will remain dedicated.

"The groundbreaking work of Cynthia Moss remains our first and most important field conservation project that the Oakland Zoo has supported in the world. Her research in Amboseli defined the multi-generational relationships of elephants. It also was the first understanding of musth in the African elephant. Perhaps most important, the sheer presence of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants staff in Amboseli National Park, keeping close watch on the entire elephant population, has been a critical role in conservation of the elephants to prevent poaching of elephants in the park. For me personally, Amboseli elephants opened my understanding of who the African elephant is. It is an emotional understanding, that can only be obtained by observing elephants as they are, with their families, free and wild." -Dr. Joel Parrott, President & CEO

Thank you, Amboseli, for inspiring our mission, for your years of service to elephants, and for reminding us of all that is possible every time we gaze upon our majestic African elephants at Oakland Zoo.  


"It is wonderful to experience herds of elephants that have remained relatively un-impacted by humans compared to most other elephant populations. The family groups still comprise of old matriarchs that have been leading their families for decades. We have this project to thank for that." -Colleen Kinzley

Amy Gotliffe and Cynthia Moss at Oakland Zoo, 2016