The first of the new calves had been born the previous night. It had been a wonderful time, all the women of the herd celebrated, but Kijana now feared she would soon be set to some task or other.
The fear of impending duty grew within her until she could no longer bear it.
"Mother!" she called out. "I'm just off to the water-hole. I won't be long."
Mother turned around, her trunk swaying, ears flapping. "All right, dear."
Kijana had expected an argument. It seemed there were some advantages to being a little older, she thought, and stomped off to the water-hole alone. She was still young enough to feel nervous about leaving the herd behind, but felt emboldened when a pair of impala skittered away from her shadow.
At the water-hole, however, she found she really was in need of a bath, for the it was further away than she had realised, and the day was hot.
On the way back she saw a she-lion stalking a herd of zebra. The herd was large, and Kijana feared that the she-lion might decide that a young, lone elephant was easier prey, so Kijana gave the lion, and the herd, a wide berth.
The journey back took over half as long again as the journey out, so that when she eventually returned to the herd she was quite out of breath and ready to sleep.
"I know, Mum," said Kijana. "I just wanted to have a bath."
Mother's great grey brow wrinkled. "Well, it's too late to help with anything now. You can help tomorrow."
Kijana knew the same trick would not work again, and sighed. "What exactly will I be doing, Mum?"
"Don't look so distressed, Kijana," said Mother. "I only want you to play with the pup while Abla's off foraging."
She who avoids labour works twice as hard.
Elephants are highly social creatures, though it is females who stay together in herds, while the mature bull elephants are mostly solitary. Like human children, elephant calves require constant care for many years as they grow and develop. Unlike most animals, but again like humans and primates, elephant calves are born with few natural instincts, and so need to be taught about the world around them. The whole herd -- often closely related; mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts -- is responsible for looking after the young calves. Such non-maternal care is known as allomothering, during which young females will also learn parenting skills before becoming mothers themselves.
The Fable of the Elephant by Barry J. Northern is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
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