This story is a sad one and, unfortunately, doesn’t have a happy ending – or at least not the one we would have liked. But while nature might seem cruel, it is important to remember that the death of one life sustains another.
A few weeks ago, a newborn baby elephant was found on the reserve by one of our guides. The baby was on the ground, struggling to get up. Two elephants, the mother and likely another closely-related female, stood by. They were clearly distressed and wouldn’t leave the baby’s side. Hyenas were already on the scene, but the rest of the herd was keeping guard.
When the hyenas made advances towards the baby, the elephants chased and fought them off. They were trumpeting and rumbling as well. But the problem was that the baby elephant couldn’t stand up. Elephants are born ‘precocial’, which means that they are born with their eyes open and ready to stand, and move quickly after birth. But something was wrong with this one.
We watched as the baby tried to get on its feet. It would make it up briefly and then fall back down, over and over again. Despite the best intentions of the mom, who tried to help hold it up, it couldn’t get stable. A baby elephant should be able to stand within an hour or so of being born, and this had long surpassed that. A good outcome was unlikely.
When we returned to the sighting in the afternoon, the inevitable had happened. As I drove into the area, we saw a few hyenas with full bellies and faces covered in blood. We knew the baby was no longer alive. We don’t know if it died on its own or if the hyenas killed it.
As we got closer, the herd of elephants stormed back onto the scene, chasing away the hyenas. Elephants are extremely protective and will stay with one of their own for as long as they can after if it dies. I decided it was best to leave and give these animals their space.
This was the first time that most of the guiding team had seen anything like this. Though we understand this is the ‘circle of life’, it was terribly sad to witness – especially since elephants are highly intelligent and emotionally developed. In the end, we had to accept that this is nature and we are lucky to experience it.
Words by: Field Guide MJ Tickle
Images by: Charlotte Arthun