by DJ, USW, and SdS (Photos by DJ &UWERP)
The female orphaned elephant calf found in Ethimale, Southern Sri Lanka rescued and brought to Elephant Transit Home (ETH), Udawalawa was later named Ethimali. After several years of rehabilitation, she was released to Uda Walawe National Park in March 2004, when she was about 4 years old, with another 10 rehabilitated juveniles.
Some young females at the ETH show an array of maternal or allomothering characters from an early age, despite being orphans themselves. They seem to select calves out of new arrivals and try to be as attentive to them as possible. She frequently checks whether her orphan is alright and will be the first to respond if the orphan screams or is attacked by another calf. She keeps continuous company for the orphan and with time, it starts to follow her most of the day. When the orphan seeks comfort she allows it to suck on her – in the absence of real milk, even the tip of an ear will do!
Ethimali (wearing a belt around the neck) with Mahee, a wild adult female and her calf in 2004.
Guest post by Hannah Mumby, Myanmar Elephant Project / University of Sheffield
Elephant calves at a logging camp in Myanmar. Image courtesy of Hannah Mumby.
There are a great many reasons to study elephants; they’re endangered, highly social, quite frankly huge and hold a unique and central place in many cultures. They can also be very strong, sometimes dangerous and slow to do what you want. But that’s not enough to stop me from working on them! One of my interests is actually their life cycles. In the past I’ve studied humans and non-human primates and the fact that elephants evolved long lives, almost on a par with our own, but on a separate evolutionary trajectory was fascinating to me. Elephants also usually only have one calf at a time and each calf is dependent on its mother for many years. These characteristics allow us to test a lot of ideas underpinning theories of life history and ageing, including ones that have been primarily designed with humans in mind.
So why is this interesting? Continue reading
By Deepani Jayantha & Sameera Weerathunga
 with her newborn calf in June
In August 2015, one of our frequently sighted females in Uda Walawe named Indika was seen suckling two calves of different ages on either sides of her. The younger male calf Indika was nursing was about three months old and merely skin and bones. He was obviously malnourished and weak. She already had a rounded and bulky belly suggesting another calf was on her way. This unusual behaviour of the elephants intrigued us so we dug deeper into our field notes.
It turned out he was not her calf – he had been born to  in June, 2015 and was the first calf we had witnessed her to have produced during our study. A few days after the birth she lost her interest in the new-born and may have stopped lactating. The calf’s body condition started gradually declining so our team informed the veterinary staff at the Elephant Transit Home. Continue reading
By Michael Pardo, Cornell University
Monday, February 10:
I gazed out on Uda Walawe National Park for the first time in over a year as our jeep trundled through the entrance gate. I welcomed the cool morning air that I knew would swiftly turn hot as the sun climbed higher in the sky. Dark clouds loomed threateningly overhead, but they were all bluff. Uda Walawe is experiencing something of a drought this year—while we were driving to the park I noticed that the roaring river I remembered from last December had been replaced by a wide strip of boulders and trees.
Drought does have its advantages though. The ponds and reservoirs in the park had receded, baring flat, open areas that stood out in stark contrast to the dense shrubs and trees blanketing most of the habitat. I knew that if we were lucky enough to encounter elephants at any of these waterholes, I would have a clear line of sight for behavioral observations. Continue reading
July 28th 2006 – – –
It’s the height of the dry season, and this year the reservoir is full of elephants. Last year, they didn’t come down at all – on my very last day in August, I saw just one group crossing it in a hurry. This year, around every corner there is a large group of elephants. There must have been several hundred animals altogether, including calves.It’s almost like what I’ve read of African elephants – these large aggregations are very distinctly separated. The individuals in them don’t seem to be there by chance. Instead, there are certain elephants who seem to be found ‘together’ a lot of the time, though not always. Were they families? Extended families? Who knew.
Blanche was one of the ‘B’s. The others were Bianca – she seemed to be the oldest, and if so maybe she qualified as a matriarch – Bitsy, Bashi, Baretail, Bali (who had a crooked tail), and Batik along with a gaggle of calves. Blanche was so-named because most of her tail hairs were white. She must have already been pregnant when the study began. We saw Bitsy nearly always with Bianca, but Blanche and Bashi were sometimes off on their own.
We had spent most of the afternoon further afield, surrounded by an enormous group. They grazed close to the water; some individuals came down to drink as many as six times in as many hours. Now the sun is setting and it’s time to leave.
At the very last bend, just on the edge of where the short grass of the reservoir basin ended, there’s a group of up to fifty elephants. We know nearly all the adults. But two are standing off to a side, over what looks like a rock. They’re Blanche and Baretail. Through binoculars we see that this rock appears pale pink…In fact, Blanche has some wet marks behind her hind legs. It’s a newborn!
1752h – Gets up
1753h – Tries to nurse.
1754h – Stands between Blanche (left) and Baretail (right)
1753h – Nursing while he tries to walk
June 11 2009 – Nearly 3 years old
August 22 2010 – Blanche’s calf at just over 4 years old