See how a baby elephant entertains us in the wild
“What can I say other than, this baby elephant has captured the hearts of many around the globe as the clip hit millions of views in no time at all. And personally I am guilty of being unable to stop watching it”.
[youtube id=”kIy5aiRdtrc” align=”center” maxwidth=”360″]
As Marc Lindsay-Rae head of the specialist safari division at Africa Direct says, “A video which melts the heart”. We chat to Marc more about the clip and elephants in general…
TB: As a specialist safari guide, what would your commentary be on the scene indicated here?
MLR: This specific herd indicated in the clip appears to be a breeding herd, based on the amount of adults and youngsters on either side of the road. It is not surprising that the baby elephant left the herd with the abundance of swifts flying around feeding on small insects.
An elephant calf is curious in nature and action like this on the road will grip their attention. You can see the calf is clearly agitated with the birds by the way it holds its head up high and the tail is held out at a straight angle. It’s as if the calf is saying, “This if my little piece of bush, and you are not welcome here! If you don’t move off, I’m going to force you.”
It is not often you see this type of interaction between elephant and birds. I have only ever seen this once before in my whole guiding career. He suddenly leaves as you will probably find, mom, has either called the calf to come because they moving on to a different feeding area or, the calf has succumbed to defeat and has decided to move on. What an amazing, cute, heart-warming, special unique sighting. We are very lucky to be able to see interaction of this nature.
TB: What is the gestation period of an elephant and the relationship with its mom?
MLR: Elephants are born after a 22 month gestation period at any time of the year. Calves are weak for several days after birth and can remain shaky for weeks. The bond between mothers and their offspring is very close and can stand for 50 years. The calf always stays very close to its mother but as time goes on and the calf develops, the bond gradually changes to a leader-follower relationship in which the burden of staying close shifts to the calf.
Even up to the age of 8 or so, a calf spends over half its time less than 5m away from its mother.Young elephants are started on the process of weaning in their first year of life and may continue to be weaned until their tenth year or until another sibling is born. This prolonged dependency period is vital to the elephant. As a minimum, a baby elephant is entirely dependent (emotionally and physically) on their mother for three to five years.
TB: Can you tell us more about an elephant calf’s development, in this clip it seems the trunk is a little clumsy.
MLR: At first, baby elephants don’t really know what to do with their trunks. They swing them to and fro and sometimes even step on them. They will suck their trunk just as a baby would suck its thumb. By about 6 to 8 months, they begin learning to use their trunk to eat and drink. By the time they are 1.5 years old, they can control their trunks pretty well.
The major activity infant elephants are involved in is feeding, resting and travelling. This actually accounts for well over 80% of general observations in time sampling. As the calves get older (12-60+ months), they spend less time resting and travelling and much more time feeding. An elephant calf is fully weaned at around 5 to 6 years of age.
By nature, a baby elephant is curious (like seen in the video) and will take time to go and investigate. Due to a calf’s fairly underdeveloped brain, it is very much like a blank canvas which must be moulded over the upcoming years. This opens worlds of possibility for complex learning, social development, and the formation of culture.
TB: Can you please describe the social structure of elephants?
MLR: The social structure of elephants is complex, varying by gender, and population dynamics. Adult elephants form matriarchal (female-led) societies. Adult males are usually solitary. Female social structures almost have like an innermost circle comprising a family unit of related adult cows (females).
These family units range in size from three to 25 individuals including the eldest, most dominant female called the matriarch, her adult daughters, and their calves, and a number of juveniles. From this steady core, the groupings widen to include less familiar individuals.
Adult male elephants are solitary in nature but may associate with other bulls (adult males) in small, unstable groups. Males generally will leave the family unit (natal unit) between 12 and 15 years of age.
TB: Lastly can you give us a heads up on safety precautions when near to elephants?
MLR: The KNP elephants, although magnificent creatures, are not always known for their charm or manners! They can become quite aggressive relatively easy if they feel frightened or threatened in any way, especially if their young are close by.
My best advice for driving in areas with elephants is respecting them! People don’t realise that elephants are potentially very dangerous animals. Give them plenty room and if they start to walk towards you, move away. You may see professional guides getting really close but they are aware of the dangers and know how to avoid accidents. If you find yourself in a situation which is potentially dangerous, get out of the area as soon as you can. Simple things like, don’t provoke them, don’t make loud noises and don’t get in-between a mother and a calf. Common sense really.