It’s a phenomenon you might not have heard about before. It was certainly new to us.
Elephant Voices refers to it as “kidnapping” – defining it as:
Forcibly taking an infant belonging to another family away from its mother. Elephants may use their trunks, tusks and forefeet to Pull, Lift, Tusk and Shepherd the infant away from its mother and family. Kidnapping events are rare and seem to result from a combination of both attraction toward the infant and aggression toward the family. Kidnapping of infants by adolescent females from other families appears to be driven by a strong allomothering instinct. Conversely aggression directed by older females toward infants from other families or clans is likely a way of exerting dominance. Calves are rarely injured. We have observed both types. Kidnappings by adult females are associated with powerful Rumbling, Roaring and Trumpeting and the formation of Coalitions as adult females in the family struggle to Retrieve the infant from the abductors and they work to keep it.
References: Moss 1992, Poole & Granli 2021. (Full reference list)
Tokwe and Lundi surprised us all when they interrupted the newborn baby elephant of the wild albino mother in our reserve. The pair surrounded the calf and separated it from the mother, with Pisa and Fishan helping too.
How it all started…
Our herd of elephants were swimming at the dam one minute, and the next they were running off – possibly after wild elephants. Our carers went after them and managed to hold all but five of the herd – Tokwe, Lundi, Pisa, Mambo and Fishan. These five were missing from the group.
The HERD Operations team and carers went to assist in relocating the missing five. We had been following the wild herd movements regularly, to try to avoid them, but on that day they were in the same area as our own herd. Mambo was found with a splinter group of the wild herd and bought back to HERD by Carer Shepherd while the rest of the team spent the next 2.5 hours relocating the others. Later in the afternoon, we found our remaining elephants together with the albino cow and her new calf.
Tokwe and Lundi walked with the calf and the mother down the road, as our vehicle followed after them. Fishan came out onto the road and spooked the albino female, causing her to cross over into a new block in the reserve. Carers Godknows, Owen, Tichaona and Last managed to catch up with the whole group again and kept a watchful eye on them from a distance. Tokwe tried nursing the albino’s calf on a couple of occasions.
It proved very difficult and dangerous, but the carers eventually managed to draw Tokwe and Lundi away from the albino cow and her baby and to guide our elephants back to their herd.
With the herd back together again, we all returned to the homestead. Well done to our team members who utilised great teamwork and communication to reunite our herd and the wild mother and calf.
Read more about kidnapping in elephants here, with Elephant Voices >
Watch a scene with the wild albino and her newborn: