As we move through July and deeper into the dry season, herds on Mashatu continue to reduce in size. Elephants provide one another with more space to ensure opportunity to find nutritious food sources in the dry season, where green forage can be limited. With this years’ drought-like condition, the open, drier areas surrounding Mashatu Main Camp are composed primarily of immediate family groups – mother cows with nursing calves, and their siblings of under 12 years. Other family groups travel along in the general vicinity of each other, as together they form bond groups in the greater herd. The groups begin to convene as they near larger water sources like the Limpopo River. But these mass groupings are not always daily events for all families.
Recent sightings during Ivory Drives* and game drives have observed most families this season travelling with calves under a year old, many of which are newborn. The challenges of searching for food and water can be quite draining on a herd, especially when there are young among them. This week more herds have been seen taking late morning and afternoon naps. During these times the youngest nursing calves lie at their mother’s feet, while their older female siblings provide a standing fortress surrounding them. Their big sisters may also doze off while standing, with their long trunks touching the ground to provide a sense of balance as they nap. The mother may continue to forage or may take a quick “cat nap” as well.
This week, a couple staying at Mashatu Main Camp had the great fortune of seeing a calf being born. They were able to find her again two days later during an Ivory Drive. As with people, it can be troubling for the older sibling in a family to adjust to the new arrival and, in this case, the newborn’s older brother had been the baby and was still nursing until the arrival of his little sister. As we watched during the Ivory Drive, we were able to observe his attempts to continue nursing and his mother’s discouraging response, which resulted in a frustrated vocal outburst from the young elephant. However, not soon after, he was seen successfully foraging on lovely Mopane leaves, still showing a spot of green on the otherwise brown landscape. At only three days old, the little one is confident enough to scamper from her mothers’ side at the beckoning rumble of another grown female cow. With a little encouragement from her mother, she crossed the open space where she was greeted by this cow, her young calf and another cow with a calf. The little ones ran to one another, touching each other with their trunks and foreheads and showing certain signs of delight.
We wish these little elephants and their families well as the dry season continues, and hope that you too will be able to join us soon here at Mashatu, Land of the Giants.
Jena Casey MS.
Mashatu Elephant Research Project
*We are pleased to announce the return of our well-received Ivory Drives – game drives with a special focus on elephant conservation research, that provide guests with an opportunity to tour parts of Northern Tuli Game Reserve while spending time in close proximity to wild elephants in their natural habitat. The lead elephant ecology researcher on site guides the tour, offering information on recent elephant activity, sociability, ecology and research techniques; as well as local history in the context of elephant conservation dynamics related to southern Africa and the greater continent.