Park Elephant Calves Update

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Baby with two of his family members

Our elephant keepers are a busy lot, but Animal Care Manager Curtis Lehman graciously took some time to fill me in on the Safari Park’s growing African elephant herd.

The newest cutie, I mean calf, is doing great! He now weighs 340 pounds (154 kilograms), nurses throughout the day, and is mouthing food items in preparation for when those handy teeth come in (usually at about three to four months of age). Baby has not received a name yet, but that’s not a problem with the herd. The little guy has quite the social life, as all the calves like to play with him. And he always has a sibling or two to keep him company as well. Big sister Khosi and half sister Kami both dote on him and like to keep him close; big brother Ingadze doesn’t seem to mind having a baby brother, and Curtis says he never noticed any jealousy on Ingadze’s part when Baby arrived on the scene. Khosi and Ingadze do such a good job of keeping an eye out for Baby that mom Umngani is probably the most rested of any of our elephant moms!

One talent Baby has displayed is vocalizing, screaming quite loudly (it sounds like a lion’s roar!) if he accidently gets too far from Mom or gets pushed around by Swazi. “It’s amazing how loud the calves can roar whenever they’re upset about something,” Curtis says. “You can hear them from the other yard. We get desensitized to the roar, like most of the mom’s do, and we can discriminate between the ‘serious’ calls and the ‘not so serious’ ones. Sundzu can also roar quite loudly, just like his older brother Impunga used to do.”

Speaking of Sundzu, Curtis says he is the most keeper oriented of the calves, although they all seem to enjoy the attention the keepers provide. Keepers work with the calves to teach them basic husbandry commands, such as lifting up a foot when asked or leaning the sides of their bodies in for an inspection. Of all the calves, Macembe, or “Mac,” has been the training star. As the son of the herd leader, Swazi, he is naturally fearless and independent—nothing seems to bother him, and for him, training is just a fun way to get more treats! At the other end of the spectrum is Luti, who is cautious of anything new or unusual.

One quickly gets the feeling that things are never dull at the Safari Park’s elephant habitat!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor and blog moderator for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Bai Yun: 20th Birthday.