Chapter one - The herd

Chapter one - The herd

Shanti the elephant

Shanti the two-month-old elephant calf is taking a bath.

Well, sort of. 

Her Mum, aunts, cousins and older sisters are all taking their baths, submerged half in the river and spraying water across their backs with their trunks. Shanti, however, hasn’t quite mastered that trick yet.

In fact she hasn’t mastered much, and instead she runs in and out of the water, through the older elephants’ legs, blowing her trunk like a trumpet and flapping her ears. It’s one of her favourite things to do, although it usually ends up with her tripping over her trunk, feet, a tree root - or even nothing at all. Mum, the matriarch of the herd, tries to hose her down as best she can. But the constant tripping seems to leave her permanently muddy no matter what. 

Luckily for Shanti, a muddy elephant is a happy elephant. If the herd’s favourite activity is wallowing in the cool river water, their second is throwing mud all over their backs as soon as they get out. Such heavy, thick skin can get itchy, especially in the hot sunshine. A good mud pack works wonders, particularly in those hard-to-scratch areas. 

Scratching is an important pastime. The best trees with the roughest bark for rubbing against are highly sought after prizes, and any family member taking up more than their fair share of a prime scratching post is in for a telling off from one of the older elephants. Shanti has started to practice on the smaller trees, copying her family as best she can - although this also seems to end with her tripping over …somehow.

When not wallowing, dowsing themselves in mud, or scratching, the herd’s next favourite thing to do is eat. And boy can they eat. As the herd moves through the humid jungle, looking for the best leaves and fruit, they eat whole areas clean leaving great, bare clearings - before moving on again. 

Shanti hasn’t had the chance to get involved in these great food-fests yet. She still relies completely on milk. Dodging Mum’s giant legs, swinging trunk and swishing tail, she prods demandingly at her belly until all other activities stop and she can glug away. Yummy! 

Sometimes, if Mum’s busy or a bit grumpy, Shanti demands milk from one of her aunts instead. The smallest and most precious of the herd, the elephant family all treat her like their own daughter. Which is just fine by Shanti. 

Together they pass the days, finding the best eating spots, wandering the jungle. Following Mum as she leads them on their old paths. The paths they’ve walked for years. Shanti falls behind until she’s nudged along. She’s always distracted by colourful birds, swinging, howling gibbons or the glimpse of orange and black stripes in the undergrowth…The whole jungle is alive with life, the air full of song and chirruping, clicking, hooting and shouts. There’s plenty of surprises hidden in the vast trees and bush - a gecko leaping from above, a vine-like snake hissing from her feet, but with Mum and the others Shanti doesn’t feel afraid.

The herd all look after each other and together the herd are invincible. 

Watch out for chapter two coming soon!

Select a blog

ZSL London Zoo

A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!

Conservation

We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.

Science

From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.

Education

A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.

Working for Wildlife

Ever wondered what a typical day as a zookeeper looks like, or what it's like to be a videographer at ZSL? Now you can find out!

Artefact of the month

Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.

Wild About Magazine

Read extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.

ZSL Shop

Get updates on our latest ranges, be the first to hear about special offers, and find the perfect gift for animal lovers!

Chagos Expedition

The Chagos archipelago is a rare haven for marine biodiversity. Hear from the team about our projects to protect the environments in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

Nelson's Island Expedition

ZSL Institute of Zoology researchers are embarking on an exciting fieldwork expedition to Nelson’s Island in the Chagos Archipelago. Throughout the month, the team will share their research and experiences on an uninhabited tropical island!

Asia Conservation Programme

ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.

Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation

An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.