The story of an elephant’s desperate battle to save her baby

 Elephants normally enjoy bathing and swimming

We thought you might like to hear a special story about a remarkable elephant mother.

This story is taken from a book called ‘Elephant Company’, written by renowned wildlife author Vicki Croke,  which tells the story of an Englishman, Billy Williams, who lived and worked in the Burmese jungle for nearly 25 years.  Billy had taken a job in the teak business in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1920 and rapidly built up a strong affinity with the logging elephants and their mahouts.  His respect and love of these elephants grew as he learnt to admire their courage, trust and tenacity.

During the Second World War, when the Japanese invaded Burma, “Elephant Bill”, as he had become know, managed to evacuate 45 elephants, together with their mahouts, wives and children, through the jungle and across the mountains into the safety of India.

Vicki Croke’s book is full of remarkable stories that demonstrate the intelligence, empathy and loyalty of elephants.  One such story tells of a female elephant called Ma Shwe, who, with her three-month old calf, became trapped in a flooded river with the water rising fast against steep, rocky banks. The calf, who was out of his depth, was screaming in terror and Ma Shwe fought desperately to protect him from the swirling water by pulling him against her body with her trunk. Suddenly there was a torrent that swept the calf away; Ma Shwe immediately plunged into the swirling waters, finally managing to catch the calf and pin him to the rocky bank using her head and trunk.

The mahouts and Elephant Bill could only watch and pray. With a gigantic effort Ma Shwe then picked the calf up in her trunk, reared up until she was half standing on her hind legs and somehow managed to place him on a narrow shelf of rock five feet above the flood level. She then fell back into the river and was swept away towards a fearful gorge. But she knew there was one spot, on the opposite bank to her calf, where she could escape.

It is a heart-stopping account and, in his diary, Elephant Bill writes of the wonderful sound of Ma Shwe’s defiant roar as she got herself out of the river at that one possible place and was racing upstream along the opposite bank to get sight of her calf. When she saw he was still there and was safe, the roar turned to a relieved loud rumble of pleasure. He described it as ‘…the grandest sound of a mother’s love I can remember’.  Soon they were reunited, and the mahouts named the calf Ma Yay Lee (Laughing Water).

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