Jumbo joy, sadness at game park

Shaun Gillham

EXACTLY a week old today and already weighing in at more than 82kg, Fiela is the new bundle of joy at the Knysna Elephant Park. But Fiela’s birth on the Garden Route, which is famous for the fabled Knysna elephants, has been greeted with both joy and twinges of sadness.

Not only has her mother, Thandi, rejected her, but Fiela was also named in honour of the “elephant mother”, a woman with cancer who has visited the park for the past 14 years and has a special affinity and attachment to the elephants there.

Hannelie Potgieter witnessed the birth of baby Fiela and celebrated her own birthday the next day. Her cancer is believed to be at an advanced stage.

Fiela’s birth was also marred by another sadness. The mother of Thandi, who is named Nandi, was pregnant at the same time as her daughter but gave birth to a still-born calf on Saturday.

Knysna Elephant Park human resources manager Charmaine Rumbelow said yesterday the park was thrilled at the successful birth of Fiela.

“She was 82kg when she was born at 10.40am and is a healthy, happy calf. Her mother, Thandi, has unfortunately rejected her, so we have had to step in and assist with feeding her.”

Rumbelow said the calf had adapted well to the human interaction.

The herd of African elephants, which are the southernmost animals of their kind in the world, was now 10-strong and consisted predominantly of females, she said.

“It has been an exciting time. It was amazing to come into the park and see that there was a new calf – very exciting.

“However, it was also sad.

“When Nandi’s calf was stillborn, all the female elephants gathered round the body of the calf and pushed and prodded it.

“The female elephants also then mourned with and for the mother. The mother stayed with her stillborn calf for the whole night,” Rumbelow said.

She said the elephants at the park were constantly monitored, which included when the animals mated. “So we know Fiela’s father is a bull called Harry, who is one of the original elephants in the park,” she said.

Rumbelow said that it sometimes took a female up to 48 hours to accept a calf it had rejected but that it appeared as if Thandi, relatively young at 10 years, would not be accepting her calf.

Rumbelow said Fiela was named in honour of a regular visitor to the park.

“Hannelie, who is from somewhere up- country, has been a visitor to this park for the past 14 years. She loves elephants and is dedicated to them and has a special affinity with them. She has been diagnosed with cancer,” she said.

“She was present at the birth of Fiela, which was very special for her and then she celebrated her own birthday the next day. So this was a very special occasion for all.”

During Potgieter’s visits to the park, the herd’s matriarch, a cow named Sally, had always rubbed her trunk on the area of Potgieter’s body affected by the cancer, Rumbelow said.

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