“Family is family, and is not determined by marriage certificates, divorce papers, and adoption documents. Families are made in the heart. ”
The moment I saw Josh’s challenge this week, I thought of the many examples of family we encountered on our safaris in Botswana and South Africa. – starting with the world’s largest land animal, the African Elephant. Now let me begin by saying, I have a great family. A wonderful husband, four brothers (and their lovely partners), 13 nieces and nephews, a step-son, a daughter-in-law and the world’s most adorable granddaughter. But honestly, I don’t think we’re very interesting to anyone except each other. The wild animals of Africa, on the other hand, appeal to most everyone.
“You must remember, family doesn’t depend on blood…Family members can be your best friends…best friends, whether related to you or not, can be your family.”
Trenton Lee Stewart
Elephants have been proven to form deep family bonds, living in large matriarchal societies. Calves are raised and protected by all of the members of a herd, which can be as large as 100 members. The matriarchs use their incredible memories to return to watering holes during long dry seasons, and communicate with other herd members using sub-sonic rumbles which can travel over 50 miles and are inaudible to humans. We saw several examples of how carefully they protect their young – in fact, soon after our visit a walking safari participant was killed when he accidentally came between a mother and her calf.
“Strangers are just family you have yet to come to know.”
Elephants were not the only species we observed caring for their families; zebras too are protective of their young. They live in small family groups that typically include a filly, several stallions, and their foals. Often the family groups will merge with other families to form a herd, which helps protect them from the lions and hyenas who hunt them. Herds can grow into the thousands, but the families will stay together no matter how large the herd around them grows.
“We must take care of our families wherever we find them.”
Speaking of lions, we know that they live in prides, family units of one to three males, up to a dozen lionesses and their cubs. All of the lionesses are related, staying within the pride as they age, while the young males eventually leave to start their own prides. Scientists report that only 32,000 individual lions remain from the hundreds of thousands estimated to have roamed Africa less than 50 years ago. Their demise is due primarily to loss of habitat because of ever-expanding human population. Elephants, while susceptible to the same loss of habitat, are endangered much more by poachers, who slaughter them to fulfill the demand for their ivory. Their numbers have dwindled from the millions to some 300,000 – with an estimated 30,000+/year falling victim to poaching.
“Familes are webs. Impossible to understand one part without having a sense of the whole.”
Another favorite on the lions’ list of prey is the African or Cape Buffalo. Buffalo calves form a strong bond with their mothers, and are completely dependent on them for a year after birth. Typically females will stay with the family as part of the herd, which forms a circle around any calves to protect them when danger threatens. At the sound of a calf’s cry, the herd will turn on any predator as a mob, most often succeeding at driving off the aggressor. Males either form their own herd or live a solitary, and therefore vulnerable life. The buffalo is one of Africa’s most dangerous animals and incredibly is known to hold a grudge for years against attackers. They are responsible for killing more humans in Africa than any other predator.
“As goes the family, so goes the world.”
Voddie T. Voucham, Jr.
Mother giraffes give birth to their calves standing up, which often times is quite a rude awakening. Falling as far as five feet, they are able to stand within 30 minutes of birth and run within 10 hours. Once they’re a few weeks old, they will join a group of other young giraffes known as a creche. Mothers take turns guarding the nursery while other mothers go off to feed. Females remain with the herd until they are ready to become mothers, and then they will raise their own families near their birth herd. Males leave at about 15 months to start their own all-male group. Mothers are fiercely protective of the calves and will deliver aggressive kicks at any predator who threatens their young.
“The way you help heal the world is you start with your own family.”
Finally, a familiar favorite, the monkey. Vervet monkeys are quite common in Southern and Eastern Africa, where they live primarily in the trees. They assemble in troops of up to 50 animals, including adult females and their young. Males live separately and tend to wander between troops to socialize and mate. Infant vervets are a source of great affection for all of the members of the troop, with young females helping to care for them. Bonds are formed for life within the troop.