Rhino keeper Leah Drury is back with the fourth instalment of her Western Derby Eland trip! Working with local rangers and researchers in West Africa’s Senegal, Leah is based in Niokolo Koba national park, the only place in the world where this critically endangered animal can be found in the wild.
The research is progressing well so far. To date, we have identified eight new calves at Bandia reserve over three different enclosures. Three of the eight calves we are pretty sure are female.
Finding out the gender of calves out in Senegal is a lot more challenging than it is at Knowsley Safari! Within the first 24 hours of birth, eland calves are still only the size of a Labrador, so at Knowsley we can take advantage of the mother leaving her calf during the day to graze, and use this one off opportunity to check it out, tag it and determine it’s gender. After this short period, they are too quick and strong for us to handle, so we have to be fast! Here, in Senegal, we’d be in big trouble if we tried to get close to the calf, least of all lucky enough to find where the mother had hidden it in the dense, expansive reserve! So we patiently wait until it urinates or lifts its tail so we can take a photo and record its gender.
It also takes a lot of patience, as well as being in the right place at the right time, to find out who the mother of the calves is too.
Luckily, two things that babies of all species do reliably on a daily basis is feed and go to the toilet, meaning it was just a matter of time before we collected all the information we needed.
We haven’t found the main herd for the past day or so, they have hidden themselves too well in the 1,500 hectare sized main reserve and we still need to find out who the mother of the last remaining female calf is before we can leave to the next reserve to continue our research at Fathala.
After an hour of looking for the herd, we finally find them. It is just after 1pm and the herd are resting in the shade of some Acacia trees. The five calves in this group are fast asleep altogether (known as a crèche) in the middle of the herd, and seem to be watched over by one of the older calves from the previous year. Midday is so hot out here, and the herd habitually rest until about 3pm when the temperature begins to cool. At quarter to three the herd start to move off, the adults searching for succulent acacia leaves to eat from the trees, and the calves get up and follow. We track the female calf for two and three-quarter hours before she decides that she is hungry enough to seek out her mother for some milk.
That evening as we leave the reserve we feel a great sense of achievement. We can now fully complete this year’s Western Derby Eland studbook for Bandia reserve! Time for some celebratory fish and rice!