How to Raise an Elephant

The eye never forgets what the heart has seen. African Proverb

I saw a tiny form tucked in amongst the elephants. The herd had travelled several kilometers across the Amboseli plain and paused for a mud bath where we were strategically parked midway on their route to water.

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The matriarch turned towards us, like a crossing guard to ensure safe passage for the little one when the elephants continued on and crossed the road. The baby appeared and disappeared between the legs and trunks of its guardians as they walked away.

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Baby elephants are endearing, small and precious. Newborns are doted on by their family. Adults have a keen sense of proprioception; they protect their calves by hiding them behind a wall of trunks, sturdy legs and massive flanks.

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Elephants are constantly on the move, therefore a newborn must walk with the herd as they search for food. I was impressed as I watched the tiny calf determinedly keep up with its family. An elephant herd averages at least 25 kms. a day. That’s quite a trek for a newborn. The whole herd is attuned to the baby’s needs and will set its pace accordingly allowing for naps and rest periods along the way. (See blog post The Pace of an Elephant).

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When the family feels safe the ring of protection widens and youngsters explore and play freely. This is also essential for a calf’s development.

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There’s good news on the Amboseli plains in southern Kenya — there’s been a baby boom! Two years of good rains followed a severe drought in the region in 2017. It takes 22 months for an elephant to grow in utero. High birth rates in the fall of 2020 are proof of increased elephant fertility when there is good availability of grass and protection from poachers.

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Baby elephants weigh 200–300 lbs. at birth and stand about 3’ tall. Yes, that’s a big baby but it’s all relative when your mother is the largest mammal on earth. Like human infants, elephant calves are completely dependent on their mothers for survival. They nurse for 5–10 years before they are completely weaned. Elephants are a lot like us in their social structure too — a secure attachment with the mother and safe environment helps build resilience for life’s challenges.

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Lessons learned from the elephants are transferable effective parenting skills:

· Give your children lots of love and affection

· Protect them from danger

· Be patient, let the kids explore and play

· Live in community, it takes a village to raise a child

· Children learn best through kindness, compassion, and example

· Teach children to be the leaders of tomorrow by being a good model today

Watch this extraordinary video of an elephant birth last December on the Maasai Mara. Imagine if every newborn child and mother were celebrated with such enthusiasm, love and support.

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Kathy Karn

Visual story teller committed to conservation and education through photography and heartfelt stories. Save the planet save ourselves. www.kathykarn.com