The calf’s mother, a 36-year-old elephant called Angelina, who lives in the Amboseli National Park gave birth to twins, a male and a female, in 2020. In a statement on Facebook, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, which monitors the elephants in the reserve, said it was the male twin that had died.
Elephant twins are extremely rare and only make up one percent of all births. Mothers rarely have enough milk to feed two calves. When twins are born, both rarely survive.
In response to the Facebook post, which can be seen here, many people said they were heartbroken by the news and expressed condolences for Angelina and the rest of her herd.
Amboseli Trust for Elephants said both twins had been struggling in the past few months as they were not getting enough food. The rains arrived late last year, it said, meaning the dry season has been particularly tough for elephant calves. Male calves are particularly vulnerable to the dry season as they have higher growth rates and need more nutrition.
Kenya is currently facing one of the worst droughts it has seen in decades. According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, rains in February are expected to be about 70 percent lower than average, while the March to May forecast is also poor.
When staff at the Amboseli Trust noticed the calf’s poor condition, they thought “carefully” about what to do, and whether to intervene. Because elephants “fiercely” defend their family, the trust said taking the twin from Angelina would have caused her a “high amount of stress.”
“Putting them through such stress would have risked the life of the remaining calf, as well as the captured twin,” it said. “Elephants grieve for the loss of their loved ones heavily, and putting the entire family through such a traumatic experience would have robbed them of the right to live a wild life.
“We therefore made the decision that the most ethical thing to do would be allow the family the chance to raise the calf and if he did not make it, then for them to have a natural grieving process. In other words, we had to let nature take its course.”
Since the death of her male calf, Angelina has been seen with her surviving female calf, whose condition has greatly improved for not having to share her mothers milk supply.
Another set of elephant twins were recently born in the Samburu National Park in Kenya.
The twins, born in January, were the first to be recorded in the park since 2006 and made global news headlines. So far there has been no update on their condition, however Save the Elephants founder Iain Douglas Hamilton was cautiously optimistic as there was recent heavy rainfall in the area.
African elephants have the longest gestation period of any living mammal, at approximately 22 months. Fertile females give birth roughly every four years.