Spotlight Amboseli: the end of the baby boom

Working together for a future: females in the PC2 family cooperate to help Petula's newborn son to his feet. Families work together to keep calves safeIt’s finally happened; we have had to call time on our baby boom. It has been a truly extraordinary year for the Amboseli elephants.

The boom started on the 12th of October 2012. Qumquat, matriarch of the QBs, gave birth to a female calf. Since then every family has experienced at least one birth and, in total, we have recorded 116 female and 113 male calves.

There are still some pregnant females and more babies to come, but these calves will have been conceived well into 2010, so we no longer consider them “baby boomers”.

These calves have gone a long way to restoring family dynamics that were so heavily disrupted by deaths during the 2009 drought. Females co-operate to protect vulnerable new-borns and more adventurous older calves from the perils of predators, mud holes and simply getting lost. 

First-time mothers receive guidance and support from older family females; some of these females were orphaned in 2009 and so instead of relying on their mothers, they now depend on sisters and other friends during the confusion and exhaustion of giving birth.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this International Fund for Animal Welfare supported study into social disruption is the ways in which within- and between-family alliances shift now that families have small calves to consider.

Of course, spending time with small elephants is just simply wonderful; I defy anyone not to feel pure joy watching calves play.

Qumquat and her newborn daughter in October 2011, a year before she was gunned down by ivory poachers

Sadly, not everyone has the chance to experience that joy, or care. Poachers gunned down Qumquat, our beautiful QB matriarch last month.

Almost exactly a year after we celebrated her birth, we were rescuing Qumquat’s calf with the help of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

Terrified and exhausted, she was found with the bloated and mutilated bodies of her mother and two older sisters. Another small calf, belonging to Qumquat’s older daughter Qantina, was missing, and despite our searching must have perished alone in the bush.

It was a devastating reminder for us of the cruel and bloody reality of the ivory trade.

Turning from the tragedy that befell the QB family has been hard, but the fact remains that there are many other families that need our protection, as we work alongside IFAW, Big Life Foundation and the Kenya Wildlife Service in Amboseli, and with international partners on larger scales.

All the elephant families have small calves, each and every one of which represents another bright point in a future for the Amboseli elephants.

The IFAW families have their own bright points where, in total, 33 baby boom calves have been born to the AA, EA, GB and JA families.

Head of the leader board among these is the GB family, with 14 births. The AAs and EAs each have eight calves and the JAs have had just one: even though Jody, Jetta and Jean are all pregnant, only the matriarch Jolene has given birth so far.

The care and protection that these calves need strengthens the bonds within and between families, driving a lot of behaviour that helps me understand how elephants view their relationships with one another.

They are a key part of our study into social disruption among the elephant families.

More than that, these calves are a pleasure to be around, and a reminder of why elephants are so special.

Whenever I feel discouraged about the challenges we face protecting wildlife generally and elephants in particular, I think about the regeneration that I see in the elephant families and the amount of support and feedback I get from writing this blog and posting on our Facebook page.

Thank you for your support for IFAW, for ATE, and, most importantly for elephants. Together, we still have so much to fight for.

For more information visit www.ifaw.org

--VF

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Experts

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Elephant Expert
IFAW Elephant Expert
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Program Director, Elephants Regional Director, South Africa
Program Director, Elephants, Regional Director, South Africa
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia