An Unconventional Upbringing


Jenna Parker, International Intern

Date Published

Many of the elephant families we know have been fractured by poaching. When this happens, orphaned individuals sometimes break off from their families and join other families. The reason they do this is as yet unclear. One family that has been fractured is the Planets family. Haumea, or M53.95B (the “B” was added due to a temporary mix-up in identity) is a Planets female whose mother was poached back in November of 2009. She has since led a nomadic existence, wandering from family to family and partially integrating herself. Right now she likes to hang with Cocheta (R27.97) of the American Indians family. Cocheta tolerates her presence very well, although the reason that Haumea seems to prefer her company over others is a mystery.

Haumea currently has a two-year-old female calf, M53.95B12. I am often left wondering how M53.95B12’s social skills are going to be different from other elephants, since her only constant is her mother. Whereas other calves are being brought up in the presence of several siblings, aunts, cousins, and sometimes even Grandma alongside their mother, M53.95B12 just has Mom. I find that she is a rather bold calf, and when Haumea is around she seems to feel like anything goes. The other day we all laughed as she pulled some grass headed for an older calf’s mouth right out of its trunk, proceeding to place it in her own. The other calf didn’t dare protest because Haumea was standing just by. Haumea herself is rather cheeky, periodically displacing Cocheta from bushes and patches of tasty plants. The Planets are a higher-ranking group than the American Indians, but you think she would be a bit more polite when her nomadic intrusions are so well accepted.

M53.95B12 (left) and Haumea (right)

M53.95B12 (left) and Haumea (right)

Whatever the case, M53.95B12 does not lack for playmates. There are three other 2-year-old calves in the American Indians group that she often spends time with, and her mother sometimes hangs out with the Artists, a large family which includes calves of several ages.


M53.95B (right) playing with a calf from the Artists family (left)

More than once we have seen the regal form of Haumea moving across the plains with only M53.95B12 beside her, or sometimes running on ahead, with no other elephants for hundreds of meters around. We may never know why Haumea didn’t follow what remains of her family when they left for a nearby area during the dry season, why she chooses certain families over others to stay with, or what exactly it will mean for her calf. But one thing is for certain: I always enjoy seeing her and M53.95B12.

Haumea and M53.95B12

Haumea and M53.95B12 walking alone across the plain