A new baby for Kha Moon and Kham Suk
We had been hiking for over an hour. I wondered where we were going to end up as we had been going up and up through the forest, doggedly trying to keep up with the mahouts. This was our first day on the elephant conservation project and our first hike to see one of the three elephant herds of the village of Huay Pakoot in Northern Thailand. It was the Kha Moon Kham Suk hike – mother and daughter – and Kha Moon was pregnant, and could give birth any day. Although apparently that had been ‘the word’ around base for at least a couple of months. We could be lucky during our month’s stay and then again Kha Moon could still be pregnant when we left.
After almost an hour and a half, we paused and I heard the mahouts talking with raised voices. I looked up and not far above me one of the elephants was making her way down the steep slope, followed closely by the other. It was quite a breathtaking site. I knew we were hiking to see elephants but to see this huge creature suddenly appear out of the trees and brush is quite a site.
We spent the next two hours or so getting to know the two elephants and collecting data on how they interacted. Kha Moon didn’t really look pregnant. Elephants’ bodies are big anyway and to the inexperienced eye, I couldn’t see much difference between Mum and pregnant daughter. I didn’t hold out much hope that we would get to meet Kha Moon’s baby.
Then early in week two, we heard that Kha Moon may be lactating and there were other signs that she may give birth soon, maybe in a few days or even a week. The following day, on Tuesday, we heard she had given birth in the night and mother and calf were doing fine. Our hike that day was to another herd of elephants within the GVI group. We would do the Kha Moon, Kham Suk hike again on Thursday, so we would meet the new baby then. But on the way back from our scheduled hike, the mahouts led us to an alternate trail and after a few minutes, we came upon Kha Moon, Kham Suk and new baby. The mahouts knew we were all dying to see new baby elephant and as we were very near, they surprised us. We watched all three from a distance, but the new baby, who was about twelve hours old, was very much obscured by Mum and Grandma. They effectively kept him between them all the time, mostly with their trunks. We were able to move a little closer and saw that he was still a little unsteady on his legs.
Over the next couple of weeks, as the baby grew a little and became more steady on his feet, Kha Moon and Kham Suk had more work to do to keep their new charge in check. It was amazing to see how they worked together to make sure he stayed within a safe distance. They were constantly vigilant, watching him the whole time, using their trunks to rein him in and keep him on his feet, and nudging him with their heads if he was headed in the wrong direction. It was remarkable to me as I had observed the two of them just the week before totally ‘doing their own thing’, involved in foraging in the forest, not really taking too much notice of each other at all. And now that they had this little elephant in their midst they were totally dedicated to their new life, working as a team to nurture and care for him.
After almost three weeks ‘our’ new baby continues to thrive and grow more adventuresome. He’s finally figured out ‘where lunch is’, most likely due to careful love and care from Kha Moon’s mahouts, who have helped to enrich her milk with supplements from the forest, and made it easier for him to latch on by bathing Mom underneath with a special ‘tea’. I feel very lucky to have been in this Karen hill tribe village at just this moment in time.
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