The Mystery Orphan Part 4 – The Mother Appears

By Ashoka Ranjeewa

— January 31st, 2011 —

From left to right: the teenaged ‘babysitter’ from the previous week, the newborn (no longer a mystery) and Raka.

Three days later we entered the park determined to find Fat-tail. I was overcome with curiosity to know what had happened, and the team went in prepared to stay the whole day and comb through every inch of the park if necessary.

Fortunately, we managed to find the group toward mid-day. This time, it contained several more of its members – Fat-tail, Right-hole, Rani, Ramani, Rita, and five other adults. I searched for the newborn anxiously.

Raka shows signs of having had a difficult birth, but mother and baby are now reunited.

I heard a vocalization from somewhere up the road, and saw a young female cross. It was the teenager from the previous day! I spotted the newborn, this time with a female named Raka. I could tell right away that the little calf belonged to Raka, who was walking alongside, because she had clearly given birth. This was apparent because Raka had a problem, her birth canal was distended and irritated. She kept throwing mud and water on the outside of it, occasionally stopping to scratch with her hind legs. She did this for three hours, and it seemed very painful for her.

Raka and her newborn.

Raka was one of our earliest subjects – in fact, the second animal we ever identified. Although we had known her for five years, her appearances were initially quite rare. But she was turning up more frequently in the past year or two. Since we don’t know the genetic relatedness among the individuals, we know if she’s actually related to the other Rs. Perhaps they were all descendants of Ragged Ear, perhaps some had joined later. Given this rarity, it was all the more surprising that Rani had nursed her calf – it never appeared that the two of them were particularly close. The newborn appeared quite healthy, and for the time being at least, she was out of danger.

Postscript:

It has now been several months since this event, and both Raka and the newborn seem to be ok. Interestingly, they are not often in company with Fat-tail and the others. Even more intriguing, the teenaged babysitter, who was so preoccupied with the newborn, is no longer with them either – she moves with Fat-tail. How did the baby end up with them in the first place? We can only guess, but it’s possible that Raka had experienced a difficult birth which left her unable to keep up with others. The newborn, perhaps, out of confusion, may have been separated from her weakened mother. This is not uncommon – we even see much larger calves sometimes get left behind, then having to anxiously sniff and roar their way back. It is curious though that anyone else should have assumed temporary responsibility for the baby given Raka’s sparse interaction with them. Now that mother and calf are reunited we will keep watching to see what happens…

To read part 3 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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