Note: This post may not be appropriate for young children.

Mumbushi was comforted by all

Mumbushi was comforted by all

Yesterday I read that little orphan elephant, Mumbushi, had passed away at the Nairobi Nursery (David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust). Here is the story from DSWT.

What makes Mumbushi’s death difficult to bear was that at 4 months, he had endured so much hardship. He was rescued at 2 months of age, having lost his mother to poachers. The hunters had left him with a deep machete cut across his forehead, including part of his right eye. Seeing the pictures and video I could hardly believe the vet could save that elephant. But Mumbushi appeared to revive and heal while acclimating to the Nairobi Nursery. It seems in retrospect that during his teething period it is very physically challenging, painful, and is a time when an infant elephant’s immune system is weakened. In addition, it seems like a baby elephant is susceptible to illness or psychological heartache which can rob the creature of wanting to live, at least for the first few years of its life.

My heart goes out to the keepers at the nursery, Dame Sheldrick and family, and Mumbushi’s foster parents. As a number of the older (2 year-old) orphan elephants had begun doting on Mumbushi and watching after him, hopefully they will be OK with his absence.

Having read most of the DSWT keepers’ diaries (online) for 2011, it’s not uncommon for a newer nursery orphan to pass away suddenly. The combination of physical and psychological wellness for a traumatized and malnutritioned infant being in a delicate balance.


Warning: Language in this cartoon may not be appropriate for children.

Elephants never forget

Elephants never forget

Elephants have a particularly strong memory for spatial relationships (such as geography) and emotions. At the Nairobi nursery for orphan elephants (David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust), the babies can get unsettled by changes in routine such as being reassigned to a different sleeping stall or when their milk bottle is not in the expected place. Also the keepers need to keep in mind that after disciplining an elephant, the keeper must also show love to the elephant afterwards to clarify that only the behavior was being punished. Otherwise the elephant could harbor a resentment and repay the ill feeling later on.

Shortly after arrival at the Nairobi nursery, often the orphans are still haunted by nightmares of violence witnessed or emotional loss of their mother and family. The presence and integration with other orphan elephants calm the newer elephants until they heal both physically and psychologically. On the rare occasion when an orphan gets reunited with its biological relatives, it is a celebratory and moving event. More typically, an orphan will get adopted by a herd of ex-orphans who have grown to adolescence or adulthood and moved to the wild parts of Tsavo National Park, independent of the human keepers. Those graduated elephants return to the orphan transition centers for help in case of injury, to show off their babies, and to visit and meet young orphans. The former orphans remember the keepers and their kindness.

Warning: This cartoon may not be appropriate for children.

Romantic overture

Romantic overture

Correction: Female elephants have an estrus cycle every 14-16 weeks.

However, due to the long gestation period (21-22 month) of elephants and also the 4-5 years in which a calf is milk-dependent, a female elephant will typically give birth every 4-5 years (or less frequently).

Male elephants (bulls) will check for their biological receptivity by sniffing the female genitalia and also sniffing the females’ urine for hormonal signals. Males will fight one another for dominant status and the right to reproduce with a fertile female. The male fight in this case is not intended to kill or inflict significant damage to one another but to test strength and one will submit to loss. The bull does not stay with the mother after conception.

After nearly 2 years of pregnancy (gestation), the cow will give birth. This is a truly joyous occasion in the herd and the elephants celebrate with much trumpeting. Other elephants may help the newborn calf up to start breast-feeding. The calf is dependent on its mother’s milk and must feed every few hours.

The herd is the elephant’s family and the elephant identifies strongly with the herd. In the wild, there are stories of how strongly elephants attach to one another. One elephant mother who lost her stillborn baby was observed to grieve the body for 3 days. At the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust care centers for orphan elephants, older baby elephants will adopt and look after newer orphans who tend to be traumatized and more vulnerable after just arriving at a center. One injured elephant’s best friend (another elephant) was reported to check on his friend night and day while Sheldrick Wildlife Trust keepers watched its recovery from an arrow wound.

The strongest bond is between a mother elephant and calf. She will defend her calf until nearly her end.

D – Death

Note: This entry may not be appropriate for young children. The content is not upsetting but if you’re not ready to introduce the idea of death you may choose another entry.

D is for Death

D is for Death (elephant bones)

D is for Death

D is for Death (touching a skull bone)

Elephants can feel sadness and grieve their dead. When a herd comes across the bones of an elephant, they mourn the dead, especially a relative. They will surround the bones, then smell and touch the bones thoroughly using their trunks. Finally, they will touch the bones carefully with their feet.

In the wild, elephants have few predators. Calves or sick elephants are susceptible to lions due to their size and difficulty with mobility. Elephants went through population decline due to poaching by hunters in the ivory trade. Land development for human populations has encroached on the large expanses of land elephants naturally need. One result has been increased violent conflicts between elephants and humans (in Africa). National parks and zoos take in elephants.

The African elephant is listed as an endangered species (US Endangered Species Act, and International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). However, in the countries of Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia, the African Elephant has been reclassified as a threatened species.

B – Butt

B is for Butt

B is for Butt

Note: This cartoon might not be appropriate for young children.