Memories of Matriarchs This Mother’s Day

Published: 5 May 2022

The popular (yet untrue) saying “an elephant never forgets” is perhaps one of the main reasons these majestic mammals are considered the true matriarchs of the African bush. Known collectively as a ‘memory of elephants,’ young calves recognize that their mothers know best (even when they’re teens).

In the elephant hierarchy, the oldest female plays a vital role in controlling the group’s social network. She ensures the survival of the family - something most moms certainly do within their own family, often being the ‘glue’ holding everyone together. So while you may not score brownie points comparing your matriarch to an elephant’s size, it is possible to draw parallels when considering everything else.

Anywhere in Africa’s Inspirational Moms

We’re celebrating the hard-working ‘moms’ at Elephant Havens this Mother’s Day. For every booking made with us, a portion gets donated to this wildlife foundation that works tirelessly to protect and preserve the African elephant populations and assist the local community in Botswana.

This isn’t easy work, as many orphans arrive malnourished and still very young. An elephant relies on its mum for an average of 16 years after birth - yet another similarity to us humans. During this time an elephant mom will teach her young how to survive the bush, defend themselves against predators, and find water sources (and remember them for years to come).

From Feeder to Teacher to Leader

Not only is an elephant her offspring’s greatest teacher, but she is also the best feeder, with her milk changing four times to suit the different weaning stages of her young. To put this into context, a baby elephant adds roughly two pounds of body weight each day after birth. That requires a lot of milk - and so when a baby arrives at Elephant Havens, their full-time handlers have to feed the young calf every 3 hours around the clock - and unlike the human world, this intensive feeding scheme doesn’t improve after the first six weeks!

These full-time handlers follow a personalized feeding schedule for each new orphan, ensuring that they receive the correct amount of nutrients based on their weaning stage. This is intensive yet equally rewarding work, as Elephant Havens has an excellent track record in rearing young elephants before releasing them back into the wild once they’re ready.

Meet MmaMotse

To get them ‘street-savvy’ - or should we say ‘bush-savvy’ - the beloved MmaMotse steps in to play the role of matriarch at Elephant Havens. Her name translates to “Haven”, but it could also mean Mama, Matriarch, Orange Thief, Explorer, and Nap Guardian. MmaMotse was Elephant Havens’ very first rescue baby. At just over three years old, she loves her position as matriarch of the herd. She welcomes every new baby as they arrive and makes them feel safe. 

According to Debra Stevens, Elephant Havens Co-Founder, “MmaMotse is the sweetest and calmest little elephant ever. The consummate explorer, this girl knows every nook and cranny of our orphanage. She shows the other babies all the fun spots on our land and is always finding new ones. Termite mounds, mud wallows, napping and sand bathing spots—you name it, and she has found it. Especially if oranges or sweets are nearby. After her last orange heist in broad daylight, we learned to keep the storage room locked at all times!”

Keeping ‘Mom’ About Her Adventures

When Scott and Debra visited in December, MmaMotse gave them a little scare. She had climbed up a rain-soaked termite mound next to their tent, which is on a raised platform. Scott was working in the tent when he suddenly heard some screaming. Mmamotse had slipped on the termite mound and slid under the tent platform. As if a small earthquake had hit, the tent platform shook, rose, and fell as she crawled out, unhurt but a little embarrassed.

She and Tsholofelo continue to be the best of friends. They are completely inseparable, except when she takes a break from him to stand guard over baby Sandy so he can have his afternoon nap. Tsholofelo doesn’t believe in naps, but mama MmaMotse knows our littlest elephant needs his rest so he can grow big and strong.”

Mothers Of and For The Future

Every time an orphan elephant is rescued, MmaMotse’s herd grows, but so too does the team at Elephant Havens. There are now four elephants on 2-liter bottles every 3 hours, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It seems that even in these strange times, “elephant caregiver” is a growth profession. The people of Botswana realize that caring for these orphaned elephants until they are ready to be rehabilitated back into the wild provides jobs and opportunities for their citizenry, making more and more ‘moms’ interested in helping with rescues.

Say Thank You, Mom

On Mother’s Day, we’d like to celebrate all of these new full-time moms at Elephant Havens, so while a baby shower may be long overdue, you can donate to Elephant Havens or foster a baby elephant (with all dedication donations being tax-deductibles too). To make this Mother’s Day even more special, Elephant Havens is running a $50,000 matching challenge that’s ending June 1st, making your Mother’s Day donation worth twice as much as you think.

Here’s to the magical matriarchs of Africa!