You’d be hard pressed to come up with anything cuter than a baby elephant, except maybe three baby elephants! There’s been a baby boom at Elephant Nature Park in the past year and we’d been excitedly following news of the births as we were planning our trip. Female elephants are extremely family-oriented and maternal, and a new baby is cause for celebration amongst the herd. It takes a village, and the competition for senior and junior auntie positions can be fierce. There can be jealousies, one-upmanship, and unsuccessful probation periods. But eventually, a hierarchy will be established and all will do their part to nurture and protect the calf as if it were her own.
I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world.
Navann was born on October 28, 2012, and was a surprise baby at Elephant Nature Park. No one had any inkling that his mother, Sri Prae, a twenty-something land mine victim who has been at the park only since 2010, was pregnant when she was rescued. Elephants have a gestation period of twenty-two to twenty-four months, and being the largest land mammal they can hide their baby bump pretty well. After the healthy baby boy was born, it became a long and drawn-out competition to claim a position as a member of Navann’s auntie platoon, which today is led by Mae Kham Paan and Dao Tong. When we met Navann he was just over a year old with a permanent cheeky grin on his face and loads of energy — as you would expect from any toddler. Now this mischievous youngster has a playmate in Dok Mai, a little girl just seven months old who was another unexpected birth at the park by mother Dok Ngern. Also surrounded by aunties, the two family groups have joined forces to become one of the largest herds at ENP. As for the two calves, the duo are inseparable and you can find them running, chasing, and wrestling with each other, as well as practicing to trumpet like their grown-up family members.
The park’s newest arrival is three month old Yin Dee. He was born to teenage mom Mintra, a former street-begging elephant who was hit by a car when she was just four years old, which dislocated both of her hips. Despite her difficult early life Mintra is very sociable, even a bit of a flirt. She has enjoyed and encouraged the attention of both Hope and Jungle Boy, and one of these young elephants is the father. Breeding is never forced or even encouraged at ENP, but if two consenting elephants are in the mood you really can’t get in their way.
Mintra and Yin Dee were kept in a shelter for the first month while several of the female elephants came by on a regular basis to congratulate the new mother and throw in their hat for consideration as a prospective auntie. The honor currently belongs to Malai Tong, another land mine victim and the social butterfly of ENP who was just itching for the Number One spot, along with Mintra’s best friend, Mae Jampaa, a grumpy fifty-something former logging elephant who has reluctantly taken the position. She appears not to be overly interested in Yin Dee but she might just be jealous of the attention he gets from her best friend. At some point it must have dawned on her that the best way to not be cast aside is to be one of the main supports for mother and baby. This tight-knit group is now free to roam outside, although they are still kept separate from the other elephants at ENP until Yin Dee gets a little older and develops his confidence. We were fortunate to see this lovely family on several occasions and it was a beautiful thing to watch these elephants, with all their physical ailments so apparent, happily bonding with each other and with this little elephant. They were a constant reminder of the courage, strength, and emotional complexity that elephants have and an inspiration that even when facing hardship there is joy that can still be found in everyday life through friends and family.