The Mystery Orphan, Part 3 – Unexpected aid

By Ashoka Ranjeewa

– January 28 2011, 6:00PM –

Once again Fat-tail, the teenager, and two juveniles rushed to the newborn who had just collapsed. It was after 6:00 pm and getting dark too. The calf had not had any food for more than 3 hours. During this same period Fat-tail and Right-hole’s own calves nursed more than 10 times. Despite their apparent concern and protectiveness, we had never seen an adult nurse any calves other than their own during the five years of the study. Possibly this was because the physical demand of nursing two calves was just too high. On very rare occasions, we had seen a female nurse two calves simultaneously, but it was very likely to be two of her own calves.

After a few minutes the newborn managed to stand and move about10m, trying to nurse continuously from her caretaker. Evidently, the calf was very weak. But before long the baby again fell to the ground. As before, the teenager and two younger juveniles gathered around her. They touched her with their trunks and tried to raise her on her feet, but it didn’t work. The baby was feebly reaching out, trying to nurse.

This was all going on 10m away from me and was very difficult to watch. I was very sorry and upset. But what could I do? They were in their natural environment, and it wasn’t our place to intervene. Such trials are a part of life in the wild.

Unexpectedly, I saw Rani walking briskly to the newborn. She came and stood over it. Then to my amazement, the calf finally got to nurse – three times. They were extremely long feeding sessions. Afterwards, the calf recovered and even played with other juveniles.

Though it looked as though the situation was resolved, something bothered me – Rani’s expression was unusual, I can’t explain it. It was almost frightened, very mysterious. She was not relaxed at all while feeding the calf, standing absolutely still. I couldn’t understand whether the calf belonged to Rani or not. But it was too dark and raining. I had to leave the group with several unresolved questions: if the calf belonged to Rani, why she had she waited so long to nurse it? If the calf belonged to another female, who was she and why hadn’t she turned up? And in the end, why did only Rani feed the calf, why not Fat-tail or Right-hole? Did other Asian elephants feed calves who weren’t their own? We had heard of females in captivity nursing their daughters’ calves but we weren’t sure this happened in the wild.

If I could find them again I hoped to be able to answer these questions. It was a Friday, and however much I would have liked to go back the very next day, we avoided being in the park on weekends when it was very crowded with vehicles. I would wait until Monday.

The saga concludes next week with one last twist…

To read Part 4 CLICK HERE.

To read Part 2 CLICK HERE.

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About asianelephant

Promoting understanding of Asian elephant behavior, evidence-based conservation, and the coexistence of people with wildlife and wilderness.
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