In the golden silence of early evening, the shimmering leaves appear to be holding their breath. Africa’s giants ghost into view, puffing up small whirls of dust that appear to hang motionless. Their matriarch, her large and noble head held high, swings her trunk back and forth. She is at one with the peace that only early evening can bring. Despite her heavy bulk of 10 000 lbs (10 tonnes), she has the lightness and grace of a dancer. She is an ambassador for her kind, ‘Loxodonta africana.’
Her fluid movements ooze with confidence as she leads her herd into the darkening shadows of nightfall. They follow her through the swirling dust along the well worn game trail. Their survival depends on her guidance and they trust her implicitly as she has led them for the past 30 years. They are a cohesive group of females and their delightful offspring. She, the matriarch and her daughters have assisted with many births, forming an impenetrable wall of muscle and tusks around the cow in labour. The birth of a calf causes much excitement in the herd as they encompass the new born with joy: a cacophony of trumpeting screams and rumbles shred the air. All the females welcome and encourage the newborn to get onto it’s feet as this short video clip shows. An elephant’s emotional attachment to their family members rivals our own.
The mother is responsible for providing the +-250 lb newborn with milk. Like all mothers, her newborn is a precious seed and it will never grow unless nourished and nurtured. In the elephant world, the new born will be raised within this warm and caring environment, learning life skills from all the females in the Matriarchal herd. Young aunties or elder siblings will take on baby sitting duties and this all important for their development, preparing them for the responsibilities of ‘Motherhood.’
These young elephant calves learn how to become independent by watching and mimicking the others. A calf will begin to experiment with it’s trunk around 4 months of age, but it will take a lot of practice to become proficient at taming more than 40 000 muscles that gives an elephant’s trunk such dexterity.
Elephants will spend from 12 – 18 hours a day fulfilling their enormous appetite. An adult can consume between 200 – 600 lbs of food. As herbivores, their ‘smorgasbord’ will consist of grasses, tree foliage, bark and twigs washed down with up to 50 gallons of water per day. Their choices of menu change with the varying seasons. Nature knows best. According to this report, elephants concentrate on the bark, stem and roots rather than foliage or fruit and plants. In this way it reduces the elephants overlap of food selection with other animals.
The information passed down over generations is imperative to their survival. Discipline is necessary for unruly youngsters who will receive a cuffing from one of the elders’ trunks to keep them in line. To survive, they need to be team players. They have learnt all the right skills and they use them effectively. The matriarch has taught them that clear roles within the herd: communications, co-operation, respect for one another, decision making and the art of skillful reconciliation ensures cohesive bonding between the elephants. When in crisis, they will trust and follow the matriarch who has earned their respect, and she will not rule by force or fear. Her impeccable memory serves them well.
Through the darkness, two adult cows stand like sentries: their large ears gently fanning the warm and heavy air. With a low frequency purr that you can feel rather hear, the herd rouse themselves, their need for food fueling them on. As the golden light stitches the horizon together with the coming of dawn, lazy light sneaks through the leaves freckling the ground. This charming family of elephants have lived to face another day. These ambassadors of the wild have shared with us their intelligence, love and compassion. They are a source of great peace and wisdom that us humans should take note of. Over centuries they have been treated with a total disrespect from humans and things need to change. Us, as ‘rational thinking animals’ have the ability to alter our destructive ways. The thought of a world without these sentient beings is unthinkable. We have already caused such disharmony in their lives, but there is still time to change. The challenge is now to reshape outdated perceptions about these animals.
China, PLEASE ‘KILL THE IVORY TRADE’ not the ‘ELEPHANTS.’