After a long distance spot by my tracker Eric, we found ourselves negotiating our way through some fairly thick bush. As we rounded a massive termite mound the bush opened up in front of us. On the far side of the small open area, feeding slowly towards us, was a herd of elephants. The sight of baby elephants always creates excitement and this time was no different, or was it…
Following a large female was a very young calf, still trying to master the extension to his face. As he slowly made his way out from behind a bush we noticed another elephant following him and that is when we looked around and the debate began. The two youngsters were almost exactly the same size and both were sticking close to the same female. When I first suggested twins to Eric, who has worked for Sabi Sabi for 16 years, he shrugged it off as wild speculation and said he had not seen it in all his time at Sabi Sabi. The longer we watched them though, the less chance they gave us to think it was anything else. Their relationship was just too much like that of mother and offspring.
The young elephants watched their mother feeding and tried to use their trunks the way that she did, with little success, lifting twigs wildly and flinging them into the air. As we sat and enjoyed the presence of these gentle, calculated animals the realisation that these were twins became more and more real until all cameras and conversation revolved around the two youngsters. The defining moment, when all doubt was cast out was when they started to suckle, together, on either side of mom, at the same time. What an extremely rare moment to be able to witness and enjoy. Something as instinctual as a mother feeding her offspring can bring you right back down to Earth and get you thinking about how different we really are.
Since the sighting I have done some reading and it suggests that twins are extremely rare, about 1% of all pregnancies result in twins. Elephant calves have a 95% chance of making it through the first year of life but elephant mothers are extremely protective and often get support from the rest of the herd. Survival chances look a lot better if you take into account the fact that elephants are known to allo-suckle, which means that some females will suckle the offspring of others, most likely relatives’ offspring.
I hope to someday see those twins move back through Sabi Sabi and will always look back on the afternoon spent with them and remember it as one of the most incredible elephant experiences of my life.