It all took place late one morning while returning to camp after doing bush work. As we approached camp we noticed that there had been a sizeable elephant herd move through the area, the extent of the broken branches and sheer number of tracks being somewhat of a give away. So seeing two stragglers came as no surprise and they seemed to be peacefully feeding either side of the road, nothing unusual about that, but as we got closer we were in for a little surprise. There behind one of the females balanced a newborn calf, that must have literally been born a few hours earlier. It was still wet and looked as if it had just made it onto its feet. It was something amazing to watch as it tried to gather itself and gain its senses as well as orientate itself to its new surroundings. Mom was not at all perturbed with our presence, guess the energy required during birth had taken it all out of her and she felt that she need not waste unnecessary energy on us mere observers. True to form I did not have my camera with me, as I never take it out on bush work, another of life’s little lessons! After watching in amazement for some time the guys finally wanted to get back for breakfast, I took this opportunity to fetch my camera and return to the scene.
Arriving back mom and baby had not moved much, actually very little. I parked the car and settled in to observe the first few hours of a baby elephant’s life. What struck me first was how hairy the new little one is, it appeared to be covered in a very soft fluff. Secondly, how quickly it started to gain control of all its appendages and how naturally things occurred to it. Case in point, it first started moving around its trunk and kind of stretched it out, followed by folding it back into an S shape, once it mastered that, it tilted its head back exposing the mouth. Watching it perform next to its mother, I was wondering what on earth it was trying to accomplish, until it tried moving in under mom, then it all fell into place. It was practicing to clear its trunk and expose the mouth so that it may feed. It appeared frustrated, as if it knew why and how, but it didn’t know where to feed. At first it practiced on fresh air then moved around and under mom trying on a number of body parts but not finding the correct position. This was not made any easier by the fact that it was still trying to gain its footing and mom was its, PLP, (public leaning post). Every so often mom would shift and baby would end up on its bum, this is when it occurred to me that during the entire time that I had spent with them I had not heard a noise out of either of them, there was complete silence.
Something else that was fascinating was the mother’s behavior. During all of this she stood in an open area beneath a large Mopani tree, where she had flattened the grass and exposed the soil beneath. Here she would urinate, but instead of it being the normal yellow it was blood red, this would fall to the sand where she would mix it in with her foot before picking it up with her trunk and throwing it over her body. I’m still trying to follow up on this behavior and why it occurs or what significance it has, as she spent a great deal of time engaged in it.