Regarding Elephants

BY LOIS SHAW, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Sometimes when I am packing my bags for the umpteenth time to head off to the majestic Masai Mara Game Reserve, I get so excited I can hardly stand it, and then I say to myself, What are you, some kind of crazy woman? And the answer is, Yes, I am some kind of crazy woman!

I love the place. It must be just the way it has been since forever past. You can close your eyes and actually hear silence. You can inhale real fresh air. You can look as far as you can look and not see the end of it. And at night the stars are so close they sit on your nose. 

Hannah Teague Photography

We mostly stay at &Beyond’s Kichwa Tembo Tented Lodge, which is my favorite place on the earth. The first morning we get up at some ridiculous predawn hour, caffeinate ourselves and begin the animal hunt. I am a horrible photographer so I don’t bring my camera any more. I am usually with spot-on photographers who are willing to share, so I look.      

I look for mothers and babies: cubs, kittens, kits, calves, eyas, hatchlings and all nameable offspring. Mothers and babies are harbingers of hope. This world will keep on renewing and revitalizing with mothers and babies. 

I am learning about the elephant families. Elephants make great mothers and even greater grandmothers. After a 22 month-long pregnancy and delivery of the world’s largest babies (around 250 pounds), elephant mothers deserve high honors. Baby elephants are born blind and completely dependent on their mother and the rest of the herd. While the baby is growing, they are fortunate enough to have a great support system consisting of multiple full-time caregivers called “allmothers.” Allmothers include aunties, cousins, sisters and grandmothers. While the allmothers take care of the new baby the mother will work to eat as much as she can so she can make the most possible milk for her calf. For elephant families, it truly does “take a village.” 

Hannah Teague Photography

The bond between a baby elephant and its mother is considered the closest of any animal on earth. If it is a female baby she will typically remain together with her mother right into her own adulthood and will likely never once be separated from her until the mother dies in old age. Teenage males rebel if they do not have significant male role models. Elephants are some of the few animals on earth that live in society with grandparents. Elephants mourn and cry when they lose a family member. They are so much like us. 

My reflection this Mother’s Day is that mothering is at its best when it is done in community and extended family. I am sorry that we even need the term nuclear family. I honor the aunties and sisters and cousins and grandmothers: allmothers who are part of the lives of my children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews. Some of them are actually flesh and blood relatives, but many are “love relatives” from different countries and colors from all over the world – people who have chosen to love our family, just because.

So here’s to the “allmothers” on Mother’s Day!

 

FOR THE LOVE OF AFRICA,

LOIS