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An Unexpected Meeting Between Baby Orphan Elephant Phabeni u0026 Setombe and Klaserie

HERD Elephant Orphanage South Africa

by Adine Roode |

By now Phabeni has met and spent time with older elephants, Jabulani, Lundi, Somopane and Sebakwe. The introduction programme is going well and you can see how Phabeni flourishes during the time he spends with the elephants. So much so, that it feels like we can and perhaps should move faster, as it is going extremely well. But, I need to remind myself, that Rome wasn’t built in a day and if things go wrong, you can’t undo it, so best be patient.

Tigere and I decided to introduce two more elephants. Mother and daughter. Setombe and Klaserie.

Over the years, Setombe has been in the hierarchy of the bulls, and is the dominant female. She is the oldest elephant, though not the matriarch. She has always adored her daughter, Klaserie. She is head of discipline in the herd, I often say. Setombe and Klaserie are always curious, but also careful and alert to everything, especially anything new to them.

We let Tokwe, Bubi and the younger females feed closeby in the field outside the homestead, with Fishan, Mambo and Zindoga, while Setombe and Klaserie joined the others in the homestead. Lundi doesn’t need to be invited anymore and rushes over to Phabeni in the mornings.

On this morning, she waited for Phabeni while Stavros and Phabeni walked over from the orphanage. Phabeni walked straight to Lundi and she moved her leg forward so he could suckle. The calf lifted his mouth and trunk upwards, bending his hind legs and lowering his rear to the ground, suckling.

As Setombe entered the homestead and came closer, Lundi moved away and Setombe grabbed bana grass blades. Phabeni stayed with Lundi, trying to suckle, while Jabulani swung his trunk towards Setombe, then to Klaserie, claiming his bana grass territory, or perhaps to also say, I am here with Lundi. 

Sebakwe and Somopane moved in with that distinct bull aura, intensity and focus, not in a rush to join the group or baby. Jabulani seemed disturbed by everyone joining him, as it reduced his share of the bana grass. As Sebakwe entered, Jabulani moved in between Klaserie and Setombe to see what he could feed on.

Phabeni walked up to Setombe and looked for a teat, but the female was not comfortable yet and moved away, a bit uncertain. Phabeni moved in to greet me, before moving back towards Setombe, offering them a moment to smell one another. Then he moved to Klaserie, who was not ready for him to suckle. As she turned slightly, he turned around and decided to take another chance with Setombe, who was ready for him and moved her leg forward, opening her ‘milk gland’ to him. She moved away, not because of Phabeni, but because Somopane moved in between Setombe and Klaserie. 

Klaserie and Setombe were secreting, and showed typical female behaviour, moving backward towards Phabeni, Lundi, the bulls, and the bana grass. Even Jabulani was secreting, but perhaps because of the excitement among the females. Phabeni walked over to Somopane, slipped underneath him, and met up with Lundi to suckle. Some special moments between Phabeni and Lundi were shared and I wondered if he was perhaps irritated by the presence of the other elephants, as his focus was to be with Lundi. 

Finally, things calmed down among all the elephants. Phabeni was with Klaserie and although she tried to do the right thing, she was very uncomfortable and didn’t have a clue about how a baby should suckle from her. Setombe, always the overprotective mother, came to support her. 

I think it was somewhere then that Phabeni and Setombe found each other. Setombe was standing with her leg stretched forward to let the little bull suckle, her head lifted, mouth open as if breathing now through her mouth and not her trunk or holding her breath to not let the moment go by. She was swinging her trunk and flapping her ears. It wasn’t hot. She wasn't doing this to cool down. She stayed put, even as Klaserie tried to reach baby Phabeni, from her other side. Time stood still for Setombe as she let Phabeni suckle. Lundi waited for Phabeni, with her rear towards Setombe.

Klaserie was getting impatient. She was unable to get closer. She put her front heel into the ground, stretching her front leg. She wanted her turn too. But this was her mother's moment.

It was incredible to witness and an event that was so unexpected. Never did we think that Setombe would take to a new orphan in this way. Setombe followed Phabeni everywhere, even reversing to catch up to him. Setombe has never welcomed new babies like this, and has always been purely hyperfocused on her own daughter in terms of bonding and protecting. She might discipline other young elephants, but not take them in as her own. This was a window to a new world for us. One that we were so excited to continue looking through.

Just when you think you know someone, they turn around and surprise you.

Well done, Setombe!

posted by clurr7145s