Elephants are always a hit during our Thornybush game drives but even more so when there are a couple of youngsters in the fray. It’s hilarious to watch the antics of these mini-pachyderms as they go about exploring their world, but what’s the reason for these comical antics?
Like all youngsters, baby elephants are full of the joys of life. They’re extremely curious and may even approach game viewing vehicles and invite us to join them in a game with a show of mock bravado and little hoots in lieu of trumpeting.
Naturally, mom is having nothing of this. She’ll usually set her errant youngster right with gentle nudges in the right direction. A mother elephant can dish out the discipline too. It’s not uncommon for little ones to receive a sharp slap with her trunk if they don’t get the message the first time.
She knows youngsters are better off playing with their own kind, which they do with great abandon. The little ones of the herd can be seen mock-fighting, hightailing it around in hot pursuit of each other or indulging in wide-eyed explorations of the world.
They may seem seconds from disaster most of the time, but elephant calves are always under the watchful eye of one or another responsible adult. Elephant herds consist mainly of females, usually relatives, who have a vested interest in their welfare. As such, the entire herd keeps tabs on the younger set, protecting them and teaching them the ways of their wild world.
If a young elephant lets out an alarm call, backup is usually there within seconds – the whole herd responds to a baby in distress. They will rush over and soothe the little one with nuzzling and stroking to reassure and comfort them. There are many documented cases of elephant herds banding together to help youngsters who’ve become stuck in mud or fallen into a watercourse.
Until the age of three, baby elephants rely heavily on the family unit for everything. They suckle from their mothers for up to five years, at a rate of over 11 litres of milk per day.
During this time, you’ll also see them stick their trunks into the mouths of older elephants, this is a curious response to find out what they’re chewing and helps to prepare them for the taste of solid food.
They also have the odd habit of eating dung, but this is their only way to top up on the good bacteria necessary for digestion. You might also see baby elephants sucking their own trunks in between feeds. This is most likely for comfort as the suckling response helps them to relax.
Baby elephants are among the heaviest new-borns on Earth. They arrive after a 22-month gestation period and can weigh over 100kg at birth.
Their trunks are small in proportion to their bodies and they’re covered in a layer of fuzz that eventually disappears. They have tusks at birth which are only around 5cm long. Like milk teeth, these fall out and their permanent ivories start growing at about 1 year old.
Elephants give birth year-round, although if you take a South African safari during the springtime, you’ll get to see youngsters of every species skipping through the bush. Get in touch today to book your safari with Thornybush and experience Africa at its most entertaining.