Every animal has a family. Just like with humans, they come in different forms, and some are more dysfunctional than others. These families, referred to in most cases as packs or herds, can be incredibly passionate, but they can also be brutal. In some circumstances, a herd will abandon one of its own, essentially leaving it to die in the wild. While humans sometimes come along and save these animals, they don’t always make things better.
There are many reasons why a herd will kick out one of its kind, and it often differs between species. One of the most significant factors is the inability to care for multiple children. Animals such as the giant panda have been known to leave one of their young to fend for itself because it doesn’t have the means to feed all of its young. Instead of giving everyone an equal but unsustainable share of food, they’ll prioritize the oldest sibling to ensure their survival. While this might seem brutal, things are very different in the wild.
Of course, it’s possible that a herd may have to abandon its young, even if it doesn’t want to. Elephants are usually very devoted to their family, but one calf in Africa found itself scared and alone when his herd deserted him. Luckily, he wasn’t stranded for long, as help appeared from the most unexpected place.
Traveling with backup
You’ll often find with animals in the wild that they’re never alone. Many animals, including lions, wolves, and giraffes, like to travel around in a herd. Usually, this is because of their protective instinct. Would you think about approaching a whole herd of wild animals? Probably not. With elephants, though, it’s much more of a social thing. One elephant alone is hard to take down, so they don’t exactly have to worry about being attacked on their own. Adults can reach heights of 10 feet, and weigh over 6 tons, which is pretty intimidating if you’re another animal in the wild. While they may travel in herd, though, they don’t always stick together.
It’s usually the female elephants who stick together, along with their young. The males tend to abandon the herd in search of females once they’re the right age. Due to the motherly influence in the herds, there’s usually a strong feeling of family that is difficult for anyone to sever. You’ll never find a female elephant abandoning her child by choice, although sometimes they’re put in situations where there’s nothing they can do. That’s what happened to one young elephant in South Africa, who was abandoned by the rest of his herd when danger approached him. Terrified and alone, he was left to fend for himself when something unexpected happened.
This unusual situation came about after the herd found themselves by one of the area’s natural pools. Living in the African heat, it’s essential for elephants to stay hydrated, which is why the animal usually populates these places. As well as water, these pools have an abundance of mud, which a lot of the younger elephants enjoy rolling around in. The mud acts as a coolant under the intense sunshine and keeps them from overheating. However, playing around in these pools can have dangerous consequences.
Stuck in the mud
When it came time to leave the vicinity, one young elephant found themselves trapped in the mud. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t escape from his confines. The herd wasn’t about to leave one of its own struggling in the mud, so several of the adults tried to push the calf out from the back. However, despite their strength, their efforts were also in vain. The young elephant remained stuck in the mud, with virtually no progress being made. Was it possible to get him out?
Calling in reinforcements
The herd wasn’t going to give up. They called for reinforcements, and pretty soon the whole herd was standing around the pool doing what they could to help out the struggling infant. Even as a herd, though, they couldn’t pull the calf from the mud. The older elephants were growing frustrated with their inability to free their young, but little did they know that trouble was brewing. The calls they’d made to each other to try and help out the calf had attracted the attention of something else.
Here comes trouble
The elephants didn’t know how to react when a jeep full of men started driving towards them. The car was going around in circles trying to break them up, but the herd was defiant. They didn’t know who these strangers were, but they weren’t afraid to take them on. Had one of their young not been trapped in the mud, they might have all made a break for it. However, even when faced with danger, they weren’t going to leave one of their own behind.
Watching from afar
As the tense showdown between the elephants and the men in the jeep raged on, a couple of tourists watched from afar. They’d encountered the elephants while they’d been relaxing by the pools, but kept their distance. One of them could have easily squashed them, let alone a whole herd, and they didn’t want to disturb the animals. Even when the calf had gotten trapped in the mud, they’d had to keep their distance in case they upset the herd. All they could do was watch as the action unfolded.
As the men in the jeep continued to terrify the animals, the younger ones buckled. Unsure of what was happening and terrified of being hurt, they started to flee. As the other calves began to run away, the adults were stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they couldn’t leave the trapped calf to fend for himself. On the other, the rest of their herd were dispersing, and they needed to all stay together. They had a difficult decision to make.
Reluctantly, the rest of the herd moved away, leaving the trapped calf all alone. Already scared, the young elephant was frantic with worry and tried hard to get away. All the while, the men in the car kept driving closer until they stopped by the side of the pools. The animal had no idea what to do. These strange men who had successfully scared off their entire herd were now coming straight for them. The question is, were their intentions good or bad?
Here to help
Fortunately for the calf, the men meant him no harm. They were rangers with the Elephant Park who had heard the herd’s distress calls. They’d had to scare the other elephants away from the scene. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been able to get close and lend a hand. While their intentions were good, they weren’t sure of the best way to help the calf out of his predicament. One of the men jumped into the mud and tried lifting the animal up, but it was too heavy.
When that failed to work, they tried using a rope to get the animal out. They tied it to the calf’s legs and pulled, but again to no avail. Even as a baby, the elephant was still incredibly heavy. Not sure what else to try, the rangers started patting the mud to see if it would help the calf get more movement. Just when they thought they were out of options, the elephant showed signs of breaking free. Before they knew it, the calf was out of the mud.
The rangers on the scene were used to dealing with animals, but it wasn’t every day they had to embark on a rescue mission. Although the animals are under the care of Addo National Park, they are still wild creatures who can be unpredictable at the best of times. They had to keep themselves protected while still finding a way to free the trapped baby elephant. As if that wasn’t enough, they had no idea where the rest of the herd had gone.
Years of practice
The Addo National Park was founded back in 1931 and has been protecting a whole host of animals ever since. Today, the park stretches over 403,200 acres, and aims to conserve the “big seven”: leopards, buffalo, lions, rhinos, elephants, and even great white sharks and whales, as it’s not only creatures on land that are protected by the national park – a selection of marine animals come under their care, too. As if that wasn’t enough, there is also a colony of African penguins that are also protected by the rangers.
But back to our little friend, the elephant calf. Although he was now free, the rangers couldn’t just let it run off. He had no idea where the rest of his herd was and could end up in more danger if left to his own devices. So, the rangers decided to bring the young elephant with them and look after him until his herd made a reappearance. To ensure that he didn’t go running off, the men tied the calf to a tree with a rope, essentially trapping it again after he had just escaped from the mud.
The elephant was not a fan of being stuck yet again. So used to the freedom of the wild, the calf didn’t know how to cope with restrictions. He lashed out at his confines, trying as hard as he could to escape from the rope. Had he been slightly older, he probably would have been able to pull the tree down with all the effort he put in. However, still being young, the animal’s attempts were unsuccessful. He was trapped, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Eventually, the calf managed to calm himself down, but he was still wary of his human companions. The animal was missing his herd terribly and didn’t know how to cope without them. The rangers wanted to help put him at ease, but their presence alone was already causing the animal a lot of undue stress. If he didn’t reunite with the rest of his family soon, he would likely end up lashing out again. The rangers needed to find a way to get the calf back home, before the damage done to his psyche became permanent.
Elephants can suffer from PTSD
It’s often said that an elephant never forgets, but you might not have known that this saying is grounded in extremely harsh reality. Trauma plays a significant role in elephants’ psychological state, while undergoing a serious calamity such as separation from their herd may actually bring on a form of what we know in humans as post-traumatic stress disorder, which army veterans sometimes suffer. “You have sustained psychological trauma, (but without) any of the traditional healing structures of the elephant family and culture,” said Gay Bradshaw, a trans-species psychologist.
‘A culture under siege’
An expert in the field of elephants, Bradshaw stated the elephant herds are very tight-knit, emotional, and have strong familial ties, making any separation from the group an incredibly traumatic experience. Many characteristics, she added, were no longer exclusively human. “When you look at brains,” she explained, “elephants and humans really share the same processes that govern emotion, cognition, and consciousness. All these attributes that we once used to say are uniquely human are really found in other animals – not just elephants.” It was clear, then, the rangers had to do something.
Calling a truce
To help keep the calf calm and friendly, the rangers provided him with some water. They figured that one of the reasons the animal might be so stressed was because he was thirsty. He had been trapped in the mud for hours and hadn’t had anything to drink since before then. With the heat in Africa so intense, the elephant was probably in desperate need of rehydration. They presented a bowl of water to the calf and hoped for the best. His reaction was immediate.
As soon as the elephant had some water, he cheered up immensely. One of the rangers was able to get close to the calf without scaring it, which was a sign that the animal was finally warming up to them. The more water he drank, the less stressed it became, and the tension between the rangers and the elephant started to fade. Now that the animal wasn’t tiring himself out with worry, the rangers could finally relax enough to think about what to do next.
Taking a splash
Although the calf had just been stuck in the water and abandoned by the rest of the herd, he couldn’t help but follow his natural instincts. Elephants love to splash around in the water every chance they get as a way to wash off all the dirt from the savanna as well as keep their skin nice and soft. A quick swim is also a brilliant way to cool down in the summer sun. We can’t blame them!
A quick wash
While the humans thought about how to get the calf back to his herd, the elephant was entertaining himself with the water left in the bowl. He was making a mess and washing himself too, something that the animal had probably been wanting to do for hours. He was now acting entirely naturally around these strangers, but he couldn’t stop yearning for his family to return. Every time he heard a sound, he looked up in the hope it was his herd. Would they ever be reunited?
A familiar sound
Things were still dire for our calf, however, and just when he and the rangers were starting to lose hope, they heard something distinctive. The elephant reacted instantly and tried again to get free of his confines, aware that what it had just heard was the call of his herd. They were somewhere nearby searching for the calf they’d had to abandon earlier. Although they’d been considering finding a shelter for the night to house the young animal, the rangers no longer needed to worry about keeping him safe. His family was on the way.
Getting a tip-off
The rangers knew that the herd was near, now they just had to find them. Luckily, the tourists who had been watching the elephants earlier knew where to look. They alerted the men and told them that the herd was near the natural pools where they’d last seen the calf. With that knowledge in mind, the rangers were able to free the elephant once again and guide him back to where their paths had first crossed.
As they neared the location specified by the tourists, both the rangers and the calf were ecstatic to see that the herd was indeed there. The young elephant started calling out to its family and rushed towards them. The herd seemed equally pleased to be reunited with their missing child, glad that no harm had come to it after they’d been forced to abandon him in the mud. It was a happy ending for our friend the calf, though it’s worth noting that elephants are far from the only protective species within the animal kingdom…
A lion cub in mortal danger
You might think of elephants are the wise, protective types, but would you consider lions – the apex predators of the animal kingdom – to be capable of feeling exactly the same? Lions, or more accurately lionesses, are just as motherly and will spring into action, even endangering their own lives. Case in point: when a mother lion spotted her offspring had fallen into a deep river gully in the Kenyan Maasai Mara wildlife reserve, she sprang into action.
Help from her girlfriends
The cub seemed to have accidentally fallen off a steep cliff right near his herd, and just barely managed to catch itself on the rock face before plummeting to its doom. It began crying out, and its mother paced the cliff in concern. Before long, though, two additional lionesses joined her, as they all tried to scramble down the cliff to help save the cub. After several attempts, however, the two other lionesses gave up, as it was simply too dangerous. Could anything save the poor lion cub at this point?
The mother’s defensive instincts kick in
Somehow overcoming her fear, the cub’s mother realized this was the last chance to save her young before all was well and truly lost. She would take the plunge, come what may, even if in trying to save her cub, she would risk losing her own life. Down she went, then, slowly ambling down the steep cliff face, using her sharp claws to dig into the earth to somehow stabilize herself and stop from plummeting herself. Would it work?
A last minute save
While his mother was doing her best to mount a rescue effort, the cub – who has been holding on for dear life the entire time – was now growing tired and his hold seemed to be wavering. Would it perish when she was this close? It was as close a call as it could ever be… but just as it was about to fall, its mother got right under it and snatched it up in her enormous jaws!
Reunited at last
The fight for both their lives was not over, though, as they had to make it back up. With the cub held firmly in her mouth, its mom made the slow ascent back up. It was a painstaking climb, but she was finally successful in getting them both back to firm land. Now back on the safety of the grassy plain, the relief on both their feline faces was palpable. In a last show of motherly care, she set her young on the ground and gave it a consoling lick. Thank goodness they both made it out okay!
Help from the family
Sometimes, elephants don’t need the help of humans to rescue their trapped calves. All it takes is putting their trunks together to come up with the right course of action. Such was the case when another elephant calf found itself in a bind, this time being stuck in the mud. Upon realizing the situation, the herd began to panic. These elephants lived in Kruger National Park in South Africa, where on top of mud pits, they had to contend with additional dangers, in the form of poachers. The park rangers heavily protect these elephants, especially after the area suffered a significant rise in ivory poaching since the ‘80s.
Poaching worryingly on the rise
In fact, elephant poaching – not to mention that of other animals like rhinos – has been steadily climbing in South Africa, which is home to an enormous and varied amount of wildlife. The numbers of elephants killed by poachers in the country has ballooned by almost a third, with 68 elephants killed nationwide in 2017 – compared to 46 in 2016. While trade in ivory has been illegal since 1989, the demand for ivory jewelry has not lessened, leading to an increase in poaching all across Africa.
Will elephants disappear?
An international report has shown that for most of the 21st century, poaching in the western and central portions of the continent has been growing to such an extent as to threaten elephants’ survival there. This means that the animals are being killed off quicker than they can reproduce, putting the species’ survival at risk. To prevent this from happening, African governments have established programs to protect their elephants, with translocation projects shifting them to areas where they can thrive, while armed rangers fight the poachers themselves, with a little help…
American veterans join the fight on poaching
Local forces have been getting some help from outside forces in the battle against poaching. In Malawi, for instance, British soldiers are teaching them how to deal with poachers in a program supported by none other than Prince Harry. Additionally, VETPAW (Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife) is an American nonprofit that seeks to position ex-military personnel where they can best help combat this serious issue. It currently has six veterans working in South African parks training rangers and local police. “We lay a bunch of tools on the table,” said its founder. “They can pick which tools to use.”
A motherly bond
Elephant cows – or females – are incredibly maternal creatures. Just like many other mammals, the calves live under the care of their mothers. However, elephant calves are also raised by the rest of the herd for the first twelve years of their lives. Perhaps it’s no wonder they become such an important part of the family to all the members. So when this little calf was struggling to get out of the watering hole, it wasn’t long before the rest of the herd became distressed.
Like mother, like calf
The mother of the calf was pacing up and down the edge of the water. Only, this was just making it harder and harder for the calf to get to safety. After all the elephants had their splash in the water, the side of the pool had become too slippery for the little one. That’s when the mother came up with a plan. If she got into the water and stepped out, perhaps the calf would get the idea of what it were meant to be doing?
Looking for another way
No matter how hard the calf tried, the bank was just too steep and slippery for it to get a good enough grip to get out. They couldn’t give up – their life was now hanging on the line. The mother continued to pace up and down as the calf was searching for another way out of the water. Its mother started to use her trunk to try and hook the calf out of the water, but nothing seemed to work.
The entire event was being watched and filmed by a group of local tourists. They knew the calf needed help out of the water, but what were they supposed to do? If they got too close, they could find themselves face to face with a herd of protective elephants. It was too risky. That’s when the other elephants in the herd noticed what was happening. They knew it would take all their strength to free the baby.
Free at last
The other elephants in the herd all knelt down to help the calf. Perhaps if they used all their strength, they would be able to free the youngster at last? They had to do anything they could. Time was running out. The mother and another elephant linked trunks and made a support for the calf. With one great big haul, they gave it everything they had. At last – their plan had worked, and the calf was free from the water!
An clumsy but grateful exit
As soon as the calf was free from the water, the entire herd began to run. They were all overjoyed to see their family member had made it to safety and wanted to flee before anyone else fell in the water. However, the tourists got one last sight before the herd disappeared into the trees. As they were all running to safety, the little one took a tumble in all the excitement. Thankfully, they jumped straight back up and soon rejoined the rest of the herd. It was an exhausting day for all involved, but at the end of it, the calf in need once again found itself in the safety of its herd, and loving mother.