What is a family? According to the dictionary, family for humans, is a group of people who are affiliated by blood, affinity or co-residence.
Some years ago, as I walked to the subway, a guy began walking beside me. He plied me with the usual questions then asked if I had a family. Of course, I said. I forget now what else I said only his response, which was something to the effect that my parents weren’t my family, they were my relatives. A husband and children were family. I remember feeling taken aback, jolted. If what he said were true, I thought, it meant that all along, I was wrong. I didn’t have a family. It was unsettling, to say the least.
In considering the concept of family, I also thought of same-sex families, blended families, single parent families, families headed by young adults, and families with adopted children.
After seeing wild animals up close last year and watching the way elephants and lions protect and nurture their young, I knew for this challenge that I had to include a few animal families as well.
Elephant herds provide an interesting study of animal families. Read more about them here –
Elephants have a matriarchal head. The family will consist of an older matriarch, her daughters (usually about 3 or 4 of them) and their calves. A typical elephant family usually comprises 6 to 12 individual elephants, but can expand to a larger group of 20. These females will assist each other with the birth and care of their young. This ‘babysitting’ is a very important part of the young elephant’s development as it prepares her for when she is a first-time mother. The matriarch is replaced by one of her daughters (usually the oldest) when she dies.
The family will eventually split, depending on the size of the herd. The decision to split also depends on the amount of food available in the area, as it may not be sufficient to sustain them all. This means that, in a large area, there will be several inter-related families. These families remain united to a certain extent and meet at watering holes and favourite feeding spots with much joy and celebration at seeing one another. Sometimes, herds combine to form larger clans. These clans are identified by observing the mannerisms of the members of each herd as they interact with those of another.
When travelling vast areas in search for food, the herd is led by the matriarch. The others follow her footsteps in single file. In this formation, they search for food and water. Calves hold on to the tails of their mothers with their trunks. The other females of the herd ensure that the calves are protected from outside dangers at all times by surrounding them as much as possible.
The fact that elephant herds are matriarch-led is most evident in the manner in which elephants mate. Bulls stick to a bachelor (all-male) pod in which they live and travel. When one of the bulls desires to mate, he will search out a herd of elephant cows. He will select a desirable cow and pursue her until she is ready to mount. She has the final say regarding whether or not she accepts the bull’s advances. Once he has mated with her, he returns to his bachelor herd, having nothing to do with the rearing or caring of the young.
Likewise, when the male calves in the herd mature into adolescence, they will also break away from the herd, gradually at first, and form bachelor pods with their peers. Adolescent females stick to their main herd until adulthood and, sometimes, even until death, depending of the resources available and the size of the herd.
Like humans, elephants are capable of forming very special bonds with their friends and family members. These relationships start at the core of the herd, i.e. mother and calf. But, they radiate out, and there have been astounding reports of lifelong bonds between elephants that have transcended time and even distance apart.
Elephants value their family structure, perhaps more so than many other animals. They are naturally outgoing, sociable animals and, as such, enjoy the interaction with fellow family- and herd members. Although structured, the herd is fluid enough to compensate for unforeseen circumstances (such as the death of one of the mothers, where other mothers allow the orphaned calf to suckle). Such ties are rare, and the empathetic and insightful nature of these magnificent animals continues to lure researchers deeper and deeper into the elephant psyche.
12 comments on “Weekly Photo Challenge: Family”
That’s good photojournalism. The term “family” has changed so much. I defined some time ago as those you feel at home with my even that’s not enough all the time. That’s really a term to ponder on and we could perhaps learn something about it from the animal kingdom.
PBS made a documentary about a matriarch elephant Echo and her family. Absolutely gorgeous. This family of elephants have been followed by researchers for about 20 years now.
One part of the documentary shows Echo supporting her new born calf who can’t seem to get onto his legs. The other female elephants get very anxious (Echo’s daughters), they need to move on, and want to leave the calf to die. But Echo persists and after an unusually long amount of time the calf gets onto his legs and is able to walk. The links are…
I love the photos of the African families with their children.
The filmmaker was Martyn Colbeck. There is one by David Attenborough about Echo & family but I really like Colbeck’s work.
Oh, and YAY! I’m getting emails for your posts now. Thanks.
I’m sorry but that guy was full of shit… He was trying to pick you up and gave you a lame line about what family meant to him…. Family covers a huge territory as you rightly suggested below… 😉
Elephants are among my favorite animals on the plant, Marcia! Thanks for sharing this information. And I LOVE the the joy in the faces of the Zulu mother and child. Great photo . . . I have many friends whom I consider family because I know they have my back and vice versa. For me, family starts at home and radiates outward to include friends, neighbors and community members. From another perspective, we are all family as we are all interconnected, despite our differences.
That’s so true, Nancy. We are all family. Just think how different the world would be if we acted like that.
I’m in awe of elephants. They’re so smart, so nurturing, so human.
Oh, I told him that and whenever I saw him again, I ignored him. Family does cover a huge territory and I’m thrilled to be part of so many different families.
Thanks, Narelle. I’ll have to look them up. I’m just blown away by their intelligence.
Thanks for the links, Narelle. I love watching elephants, especially how they care for their young. It’s heartwarming.
Thanks, Totsy. Animals have a lot to teach us, that’s definitely true.
Even wild animals, like lions, have a nurturing side and are fiercely protective of their young
That’s a wonderful collection I loved the photos! I would like to say here that for me family is everyone I love and feel at home with! Every one I want in my life forever! Be it my parents, my siblings, my friends or anybody else!
Thanks, Naxysch! Glad you like it. Like you, I want the people I love in my life forever.
Comments are closed.