On the morning of the 21st of January 2013 the sand river was still flowing with gusto after a downpour of 233mm of rain, Obed Mkhabele the renowned Inyati waiter noticed an elephant calf washing down the Sand river. He also noticed a large elephant cow swimming after her calf. His excited screams summoned all the staff on duty to the veranda to witness the event.
At first there was an eerie silence among the spectators as we realised that any attempt on our side would be futile as the torrent of water could easily sweep away a human, and that the stressed cow would certainly kill anything close to her calf at this stage. One also tends to underestimate the weight and strength of an elephant calf.The calf and cow were washed over the causeway along with two other elephants we had not noticed before as they had remained submerged until then. The family was bullied into the main stream as the river bottle necks downstream from the causeway. The sullen silence was broken as the cow got her head above water and bellowed a frustrated rumble; our spirits dropped as the giant cow seemed helpless against the current.
The family of ellies disappeared momentarily and we expected to see them downstream, but to our amazement the cows back surfaced closer to shore! She had managed to get downstream of her calf and was propping the calf up with her head. She used her tusk and top of her trunk to lift the calf out of the water, the little calf was frantic but still alive and we could hear it gasping for air when the mother lifted it.
The sub adult bull in the party was able to swim across and stood on the lawn rumbling at his family.
The cow then managed to move upstream as she found some purchase on the southern bank; she now only had one more gully to cross before she got her family to safety. The older calf was able to hold onto its mother’s trunk and the cow showed unbelievable strength to pull the older calf whilst wedging the small calf out of the water.
With the bank in sight the family dropped into pool of what seemed to be slow flowing water, but I would guess due to fatigue the family milled and struggled in the pool for some time. As the cow’s strength withered she was only able to lift the calf enough for it to use it trunk as a snorkel to gasp for air.The cow emitted a last rumble as if to gather all her strength for the last push and with the small calf still balanced on her trunk and forehead and the older calf clasping to her trunk she made a run for the bank. A few pushes and tugs and the exhausted mother was able to push the calf onto the bank and then pull the older calf to safety.
After a few gasps of welcome air the family slipped away into the bush to re unite with the herd.