A keeper at the Shendiaoshan wild animal reserve in Rong-cheng, China, adopted a newborn elephant after its mother rejected and attempted to kill him.
The new arrival, called Zhuang-zhuang, cried uncontrollably for five hours under a blanket after he was taken away from his mother.
Initially, vets thought it was an accident that the mother stepped on him, but a few hours later, after tending to his injuries and returning him to their enclosure, she attacked him again.
“The calf was very upset and he was crying for five hours before he could be consoled,” one wildlife keeper explained. “He couldn’t bear to be parted from his mother and it was his mother who was trying to kill him.”
Elephants in zoos have been known to intentionally kill their young, but there is only speculation as to why this is.
Many wildlife consultants believe elephants who have spent significant time in captivity have little experience living in traditional family groups, rearing young, or looking after the calves of other females in a herd. In the wild, elephant calves are cared for by others (also known as allo-mothering), who are involved in their education, discipline and protection. They also have another female present when they give birth to act as a midwife.
As a result, each of these exuberantly expressive creatures has experience and knowledge of raising young before becoming mothers themselves. The bond between a mother elephant and her calf has been known to last 50 years or more. There is no greater love in elephant society than the maternal kind. It is one of the most touching aspects of elephant social customs.
Being held in captivity interferes with an animal’s protective instincts towards their young and it is common for elephants to be frightened about giving birth and dealing with a newborn.
“Some people think it could be a conscious decision,” says Ian Redmond, wildlife consultant with the Born Free Foundation and elephant expert. “If their quality of life is poor and they are faced with just a concrete yard, they don’t want their offspring to face the same and kill them. But it’s just a theory.”