Elephants teaching their babies in Selous



Selous Impala Newsletter November 2015
by Andrew Singinika, a Guide at Impala camp.


A week ago, we had a fascinating afternoon boat trip that gave us an unexpected surprise.

 Near to our camp, there is a sand cliff which has been occupied by White fronted Bee-eaters in company with Kingfishers for many years.


  Our guests were enjoying seeing them busily moving around with lots of chattering noise, nesting in the bank, when a sizeable herd of Elephants appeared with the intention of crossing the river.

For quite some time I, as a guide at Impala camp, have been seeing elephants crossing the river but this experience was a special one.


 We waited and watched and we were lucky enough to see the whole crossing during which I noticed that there were three tiny little babies and it was fascinating to see the mothers teaching these little fellows.

A baby elephant is born is with no tusks and even the trunk is useless because the baby can do nothing with it. Because of that the mother has a big task to train the baby to perfection and sometimes that involves crossing the river.  A full grown elephant can hold 18 -22 litres at a time, but a baby can sustain just a little…

 While we observed, two females, I suppose the parents, lined up and put the babies at the ege of the water and one siphoned up some water and put it into her baby’s trunk whilst holding the tip of the trunk to feel  the weight and build up the muscles.

 She did that repeatedly and then moved on to the second lesson, during which she had the babies standing in weeds at the edge of the water, just holding her gaze. So I perceived the baby was learning via observation, while the mother uprooted the weeds and shook the sand off them by throwing them on the ground. This was repeated by the baby who was also pulling them  from the roots and shaking off the sand; later both were picking them up and eating them.


And as I was watching that, suddenly another elephant pulled on a palm tree to get at the fruit. She ripped it apart and debarked it and gave a piece to her baby while screaming loudly.
To me it was just a scream, but the baby understood perfectly what the mother was saying: “THIS IS HOW  YOU KNOCK DOWN THE TREES WHEN YOU EAGERLY NEED SOMETHING FROM UP THERE.”


 Finally the mother started a gentle push of a tree in front of her again, while her son watched. She got it half to the ground and stopped there so the baby could finish up.

While he was pushing she pretended not watch, but when she saw the baby was distracted she also pushed the tree and when the job got done the baby was in high spirits believing he was the one that managed to push over the tree himself, and began to throw mud around showing off and proud of his achievement.


In the end, all children learn from their mothers’ example and elephants are no different with their young, teaching them the ‘tricks of the trade’ so to speak. And even helping them to believe in themselves. 






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