Welcoming a Baby Elephant!

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By Lily Waller – 8 week intern

My time at KSES was wonderful. It had always been a dream of mine merely to see elephants, and as this opportunity approached where I would get to research them while they roamed free, it seemed too good to be true. I tried to stifle my expectations before my arrival – this was both unsuccessful and wholly unnecessary. My time here was everything I could have dreamed of and more. The morning hikes through the forest, while hard work, are so rewarding. You are sweating out of every pore when climbing a hill, but then you reach the top and you are met with the most glorious view. Rolling hills as far as the eye can see, covered in beautiful forest. You walk past streams covered in dragonflies and butterflies of every colour. Finally, you get to the elephants. Often, it would feel like they snuck up on you because, despite their size, they are adept at moving through the forest quietly. Seeing them in their natural habitat, interacting with one another, is an immense privilege.

An even bigger privilege I had during my time, was being here for the arrival of Sri Prai’s baby boy. Elephants have a 22-month gestation period so I am very lucky to have been interning during the time period where she gave birth. Currently, he is nicknamed Junior, but after three years he will be given the choice between three bamboo shoots with assigned names. Whichever one he goes to, will be his name. I got to see Sri Prai become an excellent mother with Dodo by her side. Males often don’t take part in raising their young, and while Dodo didn’t do much work, he did not leave Sri Prai and they would forage together as a family. The baby spent most of his time between his mother’s legs, but as time progressed, he got more curious. He would go over to Dodo and explore with his trunk, giving the appearance of tickling the uncomfortable big male’s feet.

Despite still breastfeeding, he would also copy his parents and began to learn to forage. Twirling his trunk around small pieces of vegetation and then dropping it again. He also loved to play with his mahouts! Barrelling into them on long and clumsy legs and trying to peer inside their bags. Bao, the mahout of his mother Sri Prai, is developing a lovely bond with young junior and he will often run to Bao for attention and affection. In particular, he loved to play in the water. Whenever the parents would go to drink, Junior would make a messy attempt to copy and then splash around and roll in the water.

It was so interesting to see the way the herd reacted to the new baby. We were hiking one morning and, when we arrived, all seven elephants were in the same spot. Gen Thong stayed the most distant and after playing with Dodo for a little while he wandered off to forage. Surprisingly, Boon Rott was interacting with the baby and touching him with his trunk while playing and foraging with the rest of the herd – he is a solo male so this was rare to see. Too Meh and Mae Doom were the most interested. Particularly Mae Doom has shown the most interest in the new baby and appears to be taking on the role as aunt.

Kerri, Aislinn, Jasmin and Gae also made my experience. They are four extremely caring and kind women. During my time, they made me feel welcome and supported, it can be daunting being away from home in another country and they were the perfect people to help navigate one through this. They are their own herd and are doing an amazing job at running this sanctuary together.

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