In the lead up to Father’s Day (June 18), HERD (Hoedspruit Elephant Rehabilitation and Development) Trust is pondering the question: “What does it mean to be a father?”
HERD is asking this because being a father in the elephant world is entirely different to that of humans. For elephant bulls, it simply means to have sired a child.
“It's a matter of biology, a short and fleeting moment in time that has a far greater meaning for the female, the mother-to-be,” HERD said in a statement.
However, the elephants at HERD are very different from wild herds. They are mostly orphans, united in a blended family, with older bulls living alongside females, their offspring, and new orphans accepted into the herd. The older bulls, like Sebakwe, Somopane, Fishan and Jabulani, take on new roles in this way.
“They are rewriting the story of elephants, you could say. Their path has led them from being displaced at a young age, to forming a herd again and, as such, they perhaps have a deeper understanding of the need to accept others, to welcome those in need,” HERD continued.
Fishan has demonstrated his ‘fatherhood’ by basically adopting Timisa. Timisa was rescued as an orphan in 2015 at about one and half years of age. She was old and healthy enough to be immediately introduced to the Jabulani herd.
There was plenty of trumpeting and excitement and she was quickly embraced by Tokwe and Fishan. Fishan would have been around 26 years old when his bond with Timisa started, relatively young considering African elephants in the wild live to be around 60-70 years of age.
At 34 years of age now, he has a gigantic stature, at over four tonnes in weight, towering over many of the other herd members, and an ‘old soul’ nature. “There has always been a maturity in Fishan that surpasses his years.”
He may not be the dominant bull, at third position in the hierarchy among the bulls. He may not be the strongest physically. But he makes up for this in his character and behaviour, his confidence at standing his ground, standing up for himself and for others he cares about.
Fishan was castrated due to an infection at an early age, before he was rescued from Zimbabwe and brought into HERD’s care. He also cannot sire offspring.
“But what is it really that makes a father? We believe, in human terms, it's about showing up for your family. Being there to help, guide and protect. To offer company on the journey through life. Fishan spends much of his time with the younger elephants in the herd. He shares his paddock in the homestead with the young ones and Tokwe, but can also often be seen choosing to be beside the young females in the bush when feeding or walking. He likes their company, and they like his,” HERD added.
He is also a very different character to Sebakwe or Jabulani, even before his accident in 2018 when he fractured his leg.
“His presence in the herd is beautiful to watch, as he moves alongside the much smaller elephants at his feet or while Timisa shimmies under his bulky trunk. Khanyisa also finds comfort from being close to Fishan and can often be found trailing after or around him on their walks in the wilderness,” HERD concluded.
People can support Fishan by adopting him for themselves or a loved one to make a positive difference in the life of the elephant and his carers.
Take a look at Fishan loving life at HERD below: