The moment we have all been waiting for – Tosha finally gives birth!
For the last three months, all at Knysna Elephant Park have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Tosha’s calf. It is natural for pregnant humans to be a few days or a few weeks overdue, and in elephant terms (where the pregnancy period is more than twice as long), it is quite natural to be a few months overdue (so the vets say). Logical as this may be, the KEP team still fretted, carefully monitoring and watching Tosha every day since her due date, with guides taking shifts in the elephant’s sleeping quarters every night …
At 9pm Saturday night the time eventually came. Austin was doing night duty when the elephants started trumpeting unusually. He immediately knew and frantically radioed the rest of the team. The labour did not last very long – minutes after Tosha dropped her plug (the equivalent of a human’s water breaking), Bibi emerged and landed with a thud (luckily onto a soft bed of sawdust, as 2m is quite a way for a little newboard to fall!)
The team and fellow elephants watched anxiously as Tosha seemed a bit rough with this strange new arrival, but she soon settled and protectively coddled her little one. Bibi shakily got to her feet only to fall down seconds later. After numerous attempts she successfully mananged to walk a few metres, rather unsteadily, but nevertheless improving with every step.
The next challenge for Bibi was to get that mother’s milk (first intake of colostrum) she so desparately craved! With trembling legs that didn’t want to let her stand straight, it was a rather daunting task. Add to that the fact that baby elephant’s are inevitably 2cm shorter than where mom’s teat is, the task seemed almost impossible! Bibi did not give up though and her resilience eventually paid off – the KEP team heaved a huge sigh of relief as she successfully latched and drank.
Bibi means ‘Little Lady’ in Swahili. She stands 90cm tall and weighs a healthy 100kg.
Interesting observations and what next ….
- We saw Harry mating with Tosha. We noted this in her diary (every elephant has a diary in which we note any unusual, out of the ordinary or important information, every day).
- We diarized 16 weeks forward and watched to see if she came back in to oestrus.
- When she did not we assumed the pregnancy had taken and we noted 22 months from the date that Harry mated with Tosha.
- Bibi is slightly small for an infant elephant – the average weight of an infant is 110kg.
- The most critical part of a captive elephant birth is a) the mother not rejecting the birthb) the baby getting in the colostrum.- required from those first few sucks.
- The mother is rather rough with the baby at birth (for the first 5 to 10 minutes) But soon after that things quieten down and she gets used to this new little life.
- Tosha has allowed the handlers close to her to work with her.
- Tosha and Bibi are moved between stalls during the day to ensure that they are both always in a clean stall.
- From here we have to take baby steps with decisions being made day to day.
- We are ready to let her out into the maternity camp, but will only do so when the (predicted) cold weather passes.
- The moment we are happy the weather won’t turn quickly, we will let them into the maternity camp.
- The moment the team has confidence that little Lady is strong enough to be with the other elephants, they can join the herd.
- This will be done systematically, to ensure both Tosha and the herd are relaxed.