For most guides I know, elephants are either their favourite animal or an animal they enjoy spending their time with.
We heard an elephant in distress in the grove of trees behind camp for two days. One night a baby was born, and her mama was really screaming her lungs out for a few hours before sunrise.
So as should be, we went exploring at first light, and to our joy and surprise there was a little still, very dusky pink little animal that had been in its mother’s womb for 22 months. Finally out, trying to find its footing, tripping every few steps, trying to keep up with its mum and aunties, and rushing to move away from all the humans. Cows usually give birth to one calf every two to four years. At birth, elephants already weigh some 200 pounds and stand about three feet tall. Calves can’t see very well at first, but they can recognise their mothers by touch, scent, and sound.
Clearly mum was not very pleased with us finding her and the newborn. This moment was fleeting, but special; it is quite rare to witness an elephant calf being born. Therefore, even though we did not quite see the birth, it was a blessing to see a new baby just born.
At first, baby elephants do not really know what to do with their trunks. They swing them around and sometimes even step on them. They will suck their trunk just as a human baby might suck its thumb.
By about 6 to 8 months, calves begin learning to use their trunks to eat and drink. By the time they are a year old, they can control their trunks pretty well and, like adult elephants, use their trunks for grasping, eating, drinking, bathing. Female elephants stay with the herd for life, while males leave to begin a solitary life at about 12 to 14 years of age.
African elephants are a keystone species, meaning they play a critical role in their ecosystem. Also known as “ecosystem engineers,” elephants shape their habitat in many ways. Their dung is full of seeds, helping plants spread across the environment—and it makes pretty good habitat for dung beetles too!
In the savanna, they uproot trees and eat saplings, which helps keep the landscape open for zebras and other plains animals to thrive. During the dry season, they use their tusks to dig up dry riverbeds and create watering holes many animals can drink from.
In 2016, the Great Elephant Census revealed that savanna elephant numbers were declining at a rate of 8 percent—or 27,000 elephants a year. Compounding the problem is how long it takes for elephants to reproduce. With reproduction rates hovering around 5-6% there are simply not enough calves being born to make up for the losses from poaching. This is why I say it’s a blessing every time, to see a new baby born. Here’s to many more.