By EYDER PERALTA – WFAE 90,7
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Amid all the other news we’re covering, we have news of a baby boom of elephants. Amboseli National Park in Kenya has welcomed at least 170 new elephant babies this year. Think of the baby showers. NPR’s Eyder Peralta reports.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: My guide, Paul Parmoya, parks his safari truck right next to a swamp. A snowcapped Mount Kilimanjaro towers in the distance. The wind jangles Paul’s beaded necklace and spins up dust devils. He says every day when it gets hot, the elephants walk to this swamp. Then as the sun sets…
PAUL PARMOYA: These guys, they go out of the swamp, and then they head to the savannah.
PERALTA: We’ve been looking for hours. We’ve seen black-backed jackals, giraffes, dazzles of zebras but no baby elephants. Paul looks through his binoculars.
(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE STARTING)
PERALTA: He steps on the gas, and we leave a trail of red dust behind us.
PARMOYA: Oh, look, there’s elephants over there.
PERALTA: And the walking beneath the giants, nestled among the herd, babies.
Oh, look, there’s two babies – you see them? – three babies.
PARMOYA: There are about five of them.
PERALTA: There are about five babies. From that moment, we run into family after family with babies.
(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD SQUAWKING)
PERALTA: We see a bird bully one of the calves. We see them play while the adults grab tufts of grass with their trunks. And we see a pair of twins fumbling behind their mom. They are unbearably cute. The sight of them also tells you how special all of this is.
WINNIE KIIRU: For the first time in the history of Amboseli – at least the recorded history – we have two pairs of twins.
PERALTA: That is wildlife biologist Winnie Kiiru of the Elephant Protection Initiative. Since 1972, there have been only two other recorded twin births in Amboseli. For elephants, even single offsprings are difficult. There is the 22-month gestation period and females only go into estrus when the conditions are just right – when there is enough water, when there is enough to eat.
So this baby boom is not an accident in an elephant society.
KIIRU: No, it’s not. They’re totally responding to an environment.
PERALTA: For the past two years, the environment here has been shaped by heavy, prolonged rains. Elephant calves suckle for up to six years and it won’t leave their mom until their teens. Because all of this is so hard, says Kiiru, elephants take child rearing seriously.
KIIRU: In the human sense, we could say they love their babies. But in biological terms, we say they are highly invested in their genetic material (laughter).
PERALTA: But the fact that reproducing is so hard is also what makes elephants so vulnerable to extinction. One of the reasons elephants are thriving in this part of Kenya is because the elephants don’t threaten the interests of the Maasai people who live here. Near the park, Tom Ritai is herding his cows. He says since he was a kid, his father taught him about elephants, how to avoid moody bulls and overprotective moms but also how their behavior could predict rainfall.
TOM RITAI: They’re clever, and they can be able to remember even their old days.
PERALTA: But over the past year, industrial farms have started popping up. They’ve fenced off hundreds of acres to keep the elephants and cattle out.
RITAI: The more the farms, the more the elephants, settlement of human being, everything is becoming smaller and smaller.
PERALTA: So he worries about the future, even with this year’s baby boom. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.