African elephants are the largest land animals on planet Earth, but despite this fact they face the danger of extinction. They have no natural predators – except man. Still, it’s men who watch over these beasts and try to protect them, and so when one expert noticed a female elephant under his care was acting strangely, he decided to take a closer look. Nothing could prepare him for what he discovered.
Learning to live together
Elephants spend most of their time living in herds where one leader will decide where they will travel and organize the pecking order amongst the others. However, elephants have become an attractive target for many hunters looking for the next best trophy.
This is why many of the animals are protected in conservation parks. It was only when one of the many closely watched elephants began to act strangely that researchers started to worry. What could be wrong?
There are many people that look after and care for the elephants in this world, including Dr. Charles Foley. He is the director at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Tarangire Elephant Project found in Tanzania, and it’s his job to study all the elephants in the area.
Amazingly, Charles has been working alongside these animals for 25 years. However, there was one herd that took his interest, one that had a very special elephant. Little did Charles know just how unique this elephant was about to become.
The beast amongst them all
Eloise, the elephant, was the animal in question that got Charles’ attention. The animal was well into her 50s, and Charles had no idea why he had become so attached. He just loved to study Eloise, and the rest of her herd.
He soon learned all about every one of their habits, including where and when they would sleep, and where they loved to eat. Plus, Charles even learned their migration patterns. It was what happened to Eloise that left Charles so stumped.
Declining in numbers
Amazingly, it’s thought there were anywhere between 3 and 5 million African Elephants living across the continent at the beginning of the 20th century. However, that all changed when people began to hunt the animals. Their numbers soon declined, and it’s thought there are now just around 415,000 left in the wild.
Although many elephants also live in zoos, it’s the world of conservation parks that are so important. They give the elephants a taste of freedom while they are still protected.
The life of luxury
There is a reason the elephants and other animals are so lucky to live in this conservation park; the Tarangire River runs straight through the middle of the park and gives them an almost constant source of water.
The park is also large enough to home a whole host of animals, including lions, zebras, and the mysterious elephant herd. Sadly, the area has been plagued by poachers. These elephants are now protected from anyone trying to steal their ivory tusks.
Showing them how it’s done
Eloise was the strong leading female of the herd Charles had been following. The elephant would often lead around the younger elephants and show them how to survive. Now, Charles was in charge of tracking their movements and keeping them protected from any threats.
The doctor admits that it was Eloise’s kind and docile nature that made him fall in love with her. In fact, he often compared the animal to the friendly neighborhood dog. She was perfect.
Not showing her age
It wasn’t just her leadership skills that impressed Charles. The elephant acted as though she was a youngster even though she was in her 50s, and would appear to the team almost every single day. It was as if she loved the attention.
Eloise was also the one of leading the herd’s migration as they traveled each dry season from June to November in search of food and water. Usually, elephants move around 75 miles from their home, and Charles wanted to make sure the herd remained safe.
Traveling the park
It seems as though Eloise wanted to go one step further as the elephant would often travel up to 100 miles throughout the season. However, the herd would always return to the same spot whenever the rains came back. The leader had learned from experience where the best food was in the park.
The dry season often makes elephants lazy and lethargic. Although Charles was used to a change in their behavior, something seemed off this time.
A change in personality
All of a sudden, it was as if Eloise needed to lie down a lot more than she ever had in the past. It almost seemed as though someone had swapped her personality with another elephant. Charles began to wonder if the heat was affecting her more now she was an older elephant. Something just wasn’t right.
Eloise started to act short-tempered with the youngsters and would swat them away. Plus, she was now at the back of the herd rather than leading from the front.
Nearing the end of life
Thankfully, the wet season soon came around, and Charles knew the herd wouldn’t be traveling very far. He would be able to keep an eye on Eloise. However, she was still acting very distant from the group. Charles and the rest of the team began to worry that Eloise was nearing the end of her life.
It was a harsh fact for everyone to face as many had grown close to the elephant over the years. Unfortunately, it seemed as though there might be nothing left they could do to help.
Everyone acting off
The year continued to pass, and Eloise still had the researchers stumped. The elephant was eating, but they worried her unusual behavior could be a sign that she was sick. If that was the case, there was a chance that Eloise could infect the rest of the herd.
The team began to track Eloise every day to see if they could figure out what was wrong. It was then Charles noticed even more strange behavior. The other elephants were starting to get very protective of Eloise.
Vanishing off the radar
The team continued to track the herd for many weeks until one day they just disappeared. They were no longer at their usual spots, and it was as if they had entirely vanished from the park. Where could they have gone? Charles was determined to find out.
He searched day after day looking for clues, but he couldn’t find his beloved elephant. Charles began to worry that hunters might have got ahold of the herd. Even if the team did find them, it could already be too late.
Continuing to search
Charles was determined never to give up his search for the elephants and continued to look for three months. They had to be somewhere, but the doctor was never able to track them down. That was until he got a call from his co-worker; they had spotted the herd – and Eloise!
Charles immediately jumped in the car and rushed to the spot. Thankfully, they were only a few minutes away. Charles soon pulled up to the herd. However, he never expected to see the sight in front of him.
An answer to it all
They now had an answer as to why Eloise had been acting so strangely all this time. It turned out Eloise has been pregnant. Charles was stunned as it’s unusual for older elephants to fall pregnant. Eloise had been leading her herd around while carrying a baby, and it seemed as though the other elephants had been trying to protect their leader.
However, that wasn’t the strangest part of the story. Charles needed to get a closer look to learn the real secret.
Eloise hadn’t just had one calf – she’d had twins! This as an extremely rare occurrence as only 1 percent of elephant births result in multiples. Unfortunately, one of the claves usually passes away as the pair fight for food from their mother. Things weren’t looking good for Eloise or the twins.
The youngster must have been around three months old, yet they still seemed incredibly thin. Plus, Eloise was an older mother. This only added to the complications.
Getting to know them
Although many of the team had their doubts that all three would survive, Eloise managed to prove them all wrong. The elephant was a strong leader and managed to raise her calves with ease. Charles and the team couldn’t help but grow close to the new additions, and soon named them Emma and Elon Tusk.
They were the perfect fit for the herd. Elon soon became larger than his sister, but Charles wasn’t worried. It is typical for males to be bigger than the females.
Growing up with wisdom
Charles believes it’s Eloise’s wisdom and years of experience that gave the young calves such a fighting chance at life. That wasn’t the only impressive part. Elon and Emma are now the first twins to be born in the park in at least 18 years – they were Charles’ little miracle.
To top it off, Eloise’s age gave her another title. Many believe the elephant was the oldest in the world to give birth as Eloise was 57 when she welcomed the new additions.
A later life pregnancy
Just to get a better sense of how rare it is for a 57-year-old elephant to give birth, here are some numbers. Cows – or female elephants – don’t usually succeed in getting pregnant past the age of 50, and in fact don’t normally live much longer than 60!
This means that at about 57 years of age, Eloise wasn’t only well past the usual childbearing years for her species, she was almost nearing the end of her life.
The longest pregnancy
Eloise’s feat is even more remarkable when we take into account that elephants have the longest gestation period out of all mammals. While human women get to lug around their baby bumps for nine months or so, lady elephants do so for almost two years!
Can you imagine? Eloise, at her age, had to carry not one but two little elephant calves for just shy of two years. Certainly puts the enormity of the occasion into perspective, doesn’t it?
Protecting the mother
Charles’ observation about how the elephants began being very protective of Eloise is typical of the animals. While elephant herds may be rather large – containing up to 60 or 70 elephants – they don’t just get together because there’s strength in numbers – they behave as a cohesive, full-fledged family.
So much so, in fact, that when a cow is giving birth – like Eloise was – the other members of the herd literally surround her in a protective ring until she delivers the baby elephants – or babies, in her case.
Competing for food
Thankfully, Eloise’s two claves continued to feed and grow into healthy young elephants. However, the team had to be careful to watch Elon. Male elephants are known to be more food aggressive and can sometimes bully the girls off the food.
Sometimes, mothers are forced to wait until the boys are asleep before they can feed the girls. Amazingly, it looks as though Elon has been the perfect brother so far as the pair have gained around 150 and 200 pounds each.
Coming together to help
It seems as though Eloise is about to get a lot of help raising her two new additions, too. All the female elephants of a herd tend to come together and help whenever there are babies in the group. Eloise is now in charge of a herd of around 40 elephants.
It’s thought family usually have about 10 elephants while herds can be up to 70 elephants strong meaning there is still plenty of room for this group to grow. Plus, Eloise will be greeted to plenty of helping trunks over the years.
Growing up together
As if having all those older elephants to help bring them up wasn’t enough for young Elon and Emma, it seems as though there are also plenty of youngsters to keep them entertained. The herd currently has three other claves, and the babies all love to roll around in the mud and get dirty as they enjoy learning all about life in the park.
This also gives Elon and Emma a perfect chance to bond as they grow to become the next generation of the herd.
Growing up in safety
Elon and Emma can now rest safely knowing they are growing up in one of the safest national parks in the world. The park cares for around 1,000 elephants who have all been kept safe from poaching ever since the program started over a quarter of a century ago.
As if that wasn’t enough, the twins will also help the park to raise awareness about the importance of protecting elephants and how vital they are for our planet. For now, Charles and the team just get to enjoy seeing them grow up.
Hope for the future
Long odds of survival aside, the people of the Tarangire Elephant Project know that elephants are in trouble in Africa, and any new addition to their numbers is a welcomed one. Charles was relieved to say the elephants under his care are well protected – not only by him but also by park rangers and the locals.
As for the birth’s significance, he said that with Eloise guiding them along, they were optimistic. “Every calf born is a step towards the species’ recovery, and twins are even better,” he said.
Elephants to disappear?
Dr. Foley knows what he’s talking about, and he’s not exaggerating. Elephants all across the continent are in rough shape, but in Tanzania things are particularly bad. Looking at just one park as an example – the Selous Game Reserve – there’s an inescapable reality, and it’s grim.
Nearly 90 percent of the elephant population has been lost over the past 40 years to poachers, despite the country’s best efforts to stop them. A new plan put into place earlier this year, however, may help stem the tide.
A losing war
Turning the tide is no mean feat, considering the the Selous Game Reserve – an UNESCO World Heritage site – is bigger in size than Switzerland. And poachers are having dramatic, heartbreaking success.
Just over a four-year span – from 2009 to 2013 – as many as 25,000 elephants were killed in the reserve. But the Tanzanian government, along with the World Wildlife Fund, have thought up a way of protecting the animals – GPS collars.
Collaring the herds
The collaring project is set to take place over the course of 12 months, during which roughly 60 elephants will be marked. “You can’t just protect by the physical presence of rangers,” an official said.
The tagging actually allows rangers to both track and identify the reserve’s elephants and gives them the ability to respond in real-time when they see they’re in danger. In an area as large as the Selous reserve, it’s downright a necessity.
How it works
The project is very important and could potentially save the reserve’s elephants from outright extinction, but how can you tell them and get them to cooperate? It’s not easy. Collaring each elephant, in fact, takes about 30 minutes.
The process begins by sedating them, so they can’t cause too much of a fuss, at which point the collar is affixed around their necks. Seizing the opportunity, the team will also collect various health data markers – like blood and hair – from each elephant.
One of the safest parks
Eloise’s home, however – Tarangire National Park – is one of the safest parks for elephants in Africa, Charles claimed, explaining that the park’s relatively small size, strong security presence in the from of park rangers, and immense popularity with visiting foreign tourists are factors that certainly help keep it safe for the animals, not just elephants.
But what’s the end result for Eloise and her kind? “Little elephant poaching in the ecosystem,” he said, even when Tarangire’s elephants leave the safety of the park.
No elephants lost
The tremendous amount of work done by the park rangers and Charles and his project cannot be understated. Not only are elephants’ numbers at Tarangire National Park not decreasing, but – according to the 2014 “Great Elephant Census” funded by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen – it was one of the few parks in Africa where the population actually increased.
In fact, Charles said, none of the 1,000 elephants his project monitors had been lost to poaching as far as they could tell, although they don’t monitor the male bulls.
Setting a trend
It seems Eloise has started something of a trend, since mere weeks after she gave birth, an elephant in neighboring Kenya did the exact same thing! The elephant, named Paru, gave birth to little Norah and Katito in May, 2018.
Well, they weren’t so little – calves have a birth weight of around 200 pounds, but you get the idea. Twin births aren’t any more common in Kenya, either – the last recorded one took place in 1980, 38 years prior.
The majesty of birth
With all of these numbers and statistics being thrown around, it’s easy to get bogged down and lose sight of what’s truly important – how miraculous and beautiful it is for a birth – any birth, much less one as special as Eloise’s – to take place in the African savannah.
While it’s not actually a jungle, the animal kingdom’s laws definitely apply – and nothing can be taken for granted. Us humans would do well to remember that, in our cushy, sheltered lives, and feel a little more thankful for our blessings.