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Trumpet the truth: girls rock in the elephant world

Ideas

WILD TIMES

Trumpet the truth: girls rock in the elephant world

There’s nothing bikini about the animals. Everything is full-size, including their formidable mother skills

Features editor
Young elephants are bliss to watch in the wild. The babies are sometimes goofy, sometimes clumsy and always adorable. This infant is probably one to two years old. That said though, estimating an elephant's age is an inexact science.
TRUNK CALL Young elephants are bliss to watch in the wild. The babies are sometimes goofy, sometimes clumsy and always adorable. This infant is probably one to two years old. That said though, estimating an elephant's age is an inexact science.
Image: Nadine Dreyer

I thought the world’s largest land mammal would be a great subject with which to kick off Wild Times, a new fortnightly column combining my passion for wildlife photography and love for the African bush. 

Elephant calves are surprisingly difficult to photograph, making one realise just how protective their mothers are: always shielding their calves or chivvying them along; always making sure they are safe. 

Obviously there’s nothing bikini about elephants. Males can grow up to 7.5m long, 3.3m high at the shoulder and weigh six tons. 

The animals spend most of their time carbo-loading; there are no tyrants enforcing the Paleo diet in their universe.  

Like a contortionist, an elephant's trunk can do it all, whether rolling, bending or twisting.
Like a contortionist, an elephant's trunk can do it all, whether rolling, bending or twisting.
Image: Nadine Dreyer

They’re hefty from the get-go. Even at birth African elephants weigh about 90kg and stand about a metre tall.

There’s no elephant equivalent of lying in cots in nappies for newborn calves. They can stand within 20 minutes of birth and walk within an hour. They quickly learn to keep up with the herd, making it more difficult for predators to hunt them. 

To increase their full-costume physiques, the calves put on just less than 1kg each day by drinking lots of mama’s milk. 

The average milk formula for human babies wouldn’t cut it in the elephant world, as it has to be very specific. An elephant mother’s milk changes four times during the weaning process to meet the baby’s changing needs. Unfortunately there’s no tooth fairy,  but zoologists say mothers will change their diets to include plants with anti-inflammatory properties to help the babies cope with teething. 

Usually one boss lady is in charge of the herd.
Usually one boss lady is in charge of the herd.
Image: Nadine Dreyer

It takes calves a year to learn how to use their trunks. This unique appendage is one of the wonders of nature, with some saying it’s the most useful body part in the animal world.

Trunks are more flexible than a contortionist’s tricks. They are strong enough to pull down heavy branches, but delicate enough to select a single fruit. So sensitive is an elephant’s trunk that they can smell fresh water from almost 20km away.

Trunks are also used to play, hug and comfort members of the herd. 

“Girl power” rocks in the world of these amazing animals. The females and their young live in breeding herds, usually with one older female, the matriarch, in charge. 

Think Margaret Thatcher with a particularly tough hide.  

Follow me on Instagram: @nadinedreyerphotography

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