Two year old female calf

Wed, 2007-09-05 15:00 by ssayialel · Forum/category:
2 years old calf feeding in the swamp 2 years old calf feeding in the swamp

As one drives through the terrain of Amboseli Ecosystem and especially inside the Park, the situation doesn’t look good because of the ongoing drought. Elephant sighting is becoming less and less. Most family groups come into the park around mid-day and some are spotted at night coming to drink and then head back to forage outside the park.

Today, the 5th September 2007, I was crisscrossing the park searching for elephants. I found a fragment of the FB family – Fawn, Flossy and their calves – in the Western side of the park between Ilmerishari Hills and Maji-Ya-Pelican, now known as Jacana swamp. I was able to do a census and all members were present. As I was driving towards Maji-Ya-Pelican I saw at a distance a buffalo herd on the edge of the swamp near Lake Kioko, which is now full with water, then I saw a baby elephant feeding alone. I drove back along Sinet Causeway and before I reached Lake Kioko, I found part of the IAIC-Three-Holes and Ipomoea with their two calves. I noticed that 3-Holes’s 2005 female was missing. The mother kept on stopping, looking back and contact calling, she had full breast which is an indication that if the calf had died, then it could have been maybe two or three days ago. I continued driving towards where the lone calf was and found it was a 2005 female calf feeding on the edge of swamp. It was looking very skinny with back and hip bones protruding. I have seen the calf before and am pretty sure it’s the one, but now it was not in good health. I saw no reason to alert the park warden to call the veterinary and capture unit from Nairobi. I decided to give it some time and see if it will reunite with the mother later today.

We have seen several incidences during the dry season, where calves separate from their mothers to feed in the swamp and hoping for the rains to come before the hyenas attack them. I stayed with the calf for one hour and the whole time she was feeding, pulling grass using the trunk which seemed not enough, then kneeling down and to use its mouth instead. It is not one of the best scenarios to watch and especially when one imagines what could happen during the night if spotted by Hyenas, plus the swamp being very cold during the night. I feel like I have a patient to visit every day and am crossing fingers that nothing happens. I pray for the rains to come soon.

Fri, 2007-09-07 – At around 10:00am I drove to the place that I last left the two year old female calf and as I approached Lake Kioko I saw a group of hyenas. I thought the calf had been killed, but after looking around I saw no sign of a dead animal. It was such a relief. I continued searching along the swamp and saw some vultures on the ground and some flying and I thought it was the calf, but it was a dead baby zebra surrounded by jackals and vultures. I drove back to Sinet Causeway and found a family group in the swamp and on the edge, there it was, the baby elephant feeding. It was approximately 40 meters apart from the group. Luckily I managed to identify the group and it was the IAIC family, so I was absolutely sure that its mother is Three-Holes. One of the major problems is, the calf is too weak to follow its mother deep into the swamp and so when the family crosses to the other side of the swamp, the calf will definitely get left behind. I’ll keep on checking up on her every day just incase she is left behind again.

Sat, 2007-09-15 – We received a report that a calf had collapsed around the same place where Three Holes’s calf had been staying for the past weeks. On arriving at the scene we found it was the same calf, which had slow and difficult breathing. Cynthia and Martyn stayed with her until 11:30 and during that time she occasionally moved her legs but she didn’t try to get up. There was no sign that she was going to recover and nothing Cynthia could do except keep her company in case Hyenas tried to attack her while she was still alive. A slow and peaceful death was the only thing Cynthia could give the dying calf. Cynthia later came back at 3:15 and stayed with her until dark. During that afternoon the calf’s family came to about 300 meters of where the calf was lying, but then they changed direction, crossed the swamp and headed west. With no sounds coming from the calf, they probably did not have the signals necessary for them to come closer. Cynthia believes that mother elephants know when there is no hope for their calves. Three Holes did stick with or near the calf for many days and during this time the calf was weak and spending most of her time lying on the ground.

The following morning, 16 September, Cynthia and Martyn drove out to the calf and were very surprised to see that she was still alive but just barely. They were relieved to see that she had not been touched. Therefore, she had a peaceful and quiet night. Sometimes that is all we can hope for a dying elephant.

On 17th morning Martyn visited her and reported that she had died and again nothing had touched her, so she did die in peace and without pain.

Very sad story

Tue, 2012-07-31 19:08 by Elephant2011

This was a very sad story, but atleast the calf had a peaceful end. Im glad she's in a safe place now.

Need experts opinions please

Sat, 2007-09-08 12:00 by Jan

This is a sad story. With the calf appearing weak, wouldn't it indicate that she hasn't been suckling enough to regain her strength? If so, what is you opinion as to why the mother isn't nursing her more often? Would her milk be drying up? Soila mentioned the breasts looked full, so one wouldn't think that would be the case. Also, knowing that the calf is having a problem, wouldn't the mother be staying with the calf to allow her to suckle and protect her from lion and hyena? It would appear that if the calf doesn't start suckling frequently enough, she will just get weaker and weaker and won't be able to make it.

Would love to hear your theories as to what might be happening in this case.

Sad story, but "natural" it seems

Tue, 2007-09-11 11:22 by Keith

The lives of wild elephants -- which we are so lucky to witness so intimately in Amboseli, unlike anywhere else -- can be both joyful and sad. And as we watch from the sidelines, we learn more and more. It is inevitably the case that we will see elephant calves in nutritional stress in dry seasons, and our (unique) long term records show that survival in the first and second years is very sensitive to variations in food supply. It appears that first- or second-year calves -- who may feed independently but still need mother's milk for much of their nutrition -- have the greatest likelihood of dying towards the end of dry seasons, and especially in dry years. (We know that such calves need mothers' milk because almost no calves under 2 years old have survived if their mothers have died.) Amboseli elephants are lucky to have the swamps to feed in, but analysis of the coarse sedges shows them to be very low in protein, though reasonable in energy content. I expect that the calves do try to suck and the mothers may allow them to do so, but while female elephants may look like they have milk in their breasts, it is probably of low quality, too low to be of much use in helping their young calves survive. The calves are probably trying to make up the shortage by foraging on their own, but not able to find much out there either. I can't answer for why the mother allows the calf to get so far away that it might be taken by a predator, apart from speculating that she may be focussing on getting enough food for her own survival, and may already realize that the calf's chances are low (but this is just me guessing).

Calves do die in dry years, sometimes even adults in very severe droughts, and we also have some evidence that calf mortality increases as the population density grows, as competition for food between elephants increases. This is how populations (of all animals) are regulated in nature -- if elephants never died, the earth would be covered in great grey beasts. When something unnatural is causing death or suffering, it seems right to intervene, but when nature takes its course... well it may be sad on the individual level, but it's "how things work" and we learn from it.

Will continue to hope

Wed, 2007-09-12 10:00 by Jan

Thanks Keith for the very detailed information.

We can only hope that this little female finds the strength within herself to be a fighter and will overcome her sad situation.

Hope and inspiration

Wed, 2007-09-12 13:04 by Keith

Agreed Jan, it will be inspiring if she manages to find a way through. Fingers crossed for her and all the others, in this tough time at the end of the dry season. Tough because of the food crunch and because relations with people are always strained when everyone is under stress. I look forward to Soila's next posting.

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