My apologies for not blogging for a couple of months, work has been non-stop and access to the internet is always an obstacle to a lot of us living in remote areas with few amenities. Contrary to conventional wisdom we are not all connected.
The big news is that on May 1st we witnessed the first elephant birth at the Dzanga Clearing in nineteen years. I had always suspected that birthing was a private affair and after what we witnessed in the clearing I now understand clearly why that is probably the case. The mother, Maureena, is well known to us and had been in the clearing for a couple of days preceding the birth. She is part of a big family group that was fragmented in 2001 when I think the matriarch of the group and her adult daughter were killed. They were regular visitors to the clearing and then they abruptly disappeared. Other members of the group which included juvenile and subadult females and males kept in contact and alerted me to the situation. The family remained as intact as it could and now several of the females have attained maturity and have their own calves.
On the day of the birth Maureena was seen opposite from where we do our observations, in a pool of water used by the elephants in the clearing. I didn’t see the actual birth but one of the tourists, a young Frenchman, said to me “That female just had a baby.” I immediately dismissed what he had said when I say Maureena standing over this tiny calve wrapped in a bundle of white skin which she was trying to pull away from the baby. I captured this behavior on video tape as Maureena pulled away the skin freeing the newborn. Maureena ate all of the tissue. The calf was lying there in the pool desperately trying to stand up without too much success. Then havoc happened with many of the surrounding elephants approaching the calf to touch and smell it and in some instances trying to help it to its feet. Poor Maureena had difficulty keeping contact with the calf with a continual approach of other females and young crowding and confusing the situation. One of the younger bulls who was obviously confused tried repeatedly to mate with Maureena and at one point mounted her and then fell falling on the newborn. No damage was done and I think that might have been due to the calf being in a very muddy area which cushioned the fall. The chaos continued and it piqued the interest of all the elephants in the clearing.
Then to my right I noticed the entrance of Maureen, another member of Maureena’s group. She entered the clearing from the south with her two young calves and headed directly to Maureena and the newborn. She helped protect the calf from the crowds and we could see the newborn under Maureen’s legs while the young bull pestered Maureena. Maureen was able to move the calf from the central saline to the edge of the bai since the calf was able to stand and move, this being about thirty minutes after the birth. It was then the end of our observations and we left concerned about the calf’s safety but content that Maureen was present with the newborn and seemed to be in control of all the interested elephants.
Before we witnessed this birth at Dzanga we had been seeing many very new calves of one to three days old, something I had never seen before. A copule of the females we had seen in the clearing without newborns had given birth and then one or two days later they would appear with the newborn. This happened at least five times during the period of early April and into May. It’s always a wonderful sight to see a female one knows with a new calf and when the calf is only a day old it is extraordinary especially when we didn’t even suspect she was pregnant.
I’ve included some photos of the newest additions to the Dzanga population. All of these calves are less than a week old. The center photo is of Medina II and that calf was a day old when the photo was taken.