The maternal bond is one of the most powerful energies that spin the world around. It is like nothing else in the world, gentle and pure, strong and courageous, supportive and protecting, enduring, and committed.
Yet, the mother-infant bonding is affected by hundreds of factors, physical and emotional. The well-being and security of their child is a priority for most mothers, but in some cases, things just go off course.
This happened with an elephant calf, Zhuang Zhuang, the moment he came into this world in 2013. His mother rejected him after birth, and she nearly stamped him to death almost immediately afterward.
Yet, the staff at the Shendiashan Wild Animal Natural Reserve in China believed it was an accident, and after treating his wounds, he was reintroduced.
Unfortunately, his mother attacked him again. Zhuang Zhuang had to be removed permanently from his mother. At this point, the poor little elephant started crying and cried for 5 hours, despite all the attempts of his keepers to comfort him.
One of the employees said:
“The calf was very upset and he was crying for five hours before he could be consoled. He couldn’t bear to be parted from his mother and it was his mother who was trying to kill him.”
The photo of him crying and tears streaming from his red eyes and down his face just broke my heart! Rejection at birth causes elephants a severe psychological distress. They need to grow up in stable, comfortable conditions and they crave company and intimacy.
Animal emotion is a complicated subject to debate, but while some skeptics remain, most agree that animals do have emotions. The latter opine that animals are capable of a range of emotions, like happiness, sadness, empathy, grief, curiosity, anger, anxiety and fear.
Award-winning environmental writer Carl Safina explains that animals feel and display empathy, and he routinely sees this in elephants:
“Watching animals my whole life I’ve always been struck by how similar to us they are. I’ve always been touched by their bonds and been impressed—occasionally frightened—by their emotions.
Life is very vivid to animals. In many cases, they know who they are. They know who their friends are and who their rivals are. They have ambitions for higher status. They compete. Their lives follow the arc of a career like ours do.
We both try to stay alive, get food and shelter, and raise some young for the next generation. Animals are no different from us in that regard and I think that their presence here on Earth is tremendously enriching.”
Elephants are known for expressing grief after the loss of a loved one, similar to humans. They mourn the dead by touching the bones or circling the body.
Family relationships are very important in elephants, so this case is a rare one. These animals have the longest known gestation period – 22 months. Since calves are born blind, they are dependent on their mothers for care.
Elephants live in a matriarchal society, so other females in the social group also help a calf to its feet after birth.
After some time, our calf snapped out of it as well and is now living a happy life. Zhuang Zhuang has been adopted by the keeper who saved him at the Shendiaoshan wild animal reserve.