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Rarity: Kenyan elephant gives birth to twins

By Caroline Chebet | Jan 20th 2022 | 3 min read

Bora the elephant from Winds Family with her twin calves born on January 16, 2022. [Courtesy]

An elephant that birthed twins at Samburu National Reserve might have just defied the odds to water down a Kalenjin proverb that suggests that elephants do not birth twins.

The saying that goes, Woo beliot amoyie saram (an elephant is big but does not give birth to twins) might now be rendered obsolete with Bora, the new mother to multiple births being one of the latest in this trend.

"The saying has now been proven wrong and will not be applicable. The saying was coined by elders because such a phenomenon had never been witnessed. The recent birth has proven this wrong," Lembus Council of Elders chairman, Joseph Leboo said. 

The news on the birth of twin elephants at the reserve has elicited interest on social media platforms following a congratulatory tweet by Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala.

On Thursday, Balala took to social media to congratulate the reserve on their new additions who were born on January 16.` 

Elephant's twin calves

“Congratulations! to Samburu National Reserve on the birth of an elephant's twin calves,” Balala tweeted.

According to Samburu County Senior warden Eric Aduda, the birth of the twin calves comes 16 years after a twin stillbirth case was recorded.

“The last time we witnessed multiple births was in 2006. The incident was however a stillbirth. We are elated on the current multiple birth. The mother and the calves are in good health and doing well,” Aduda said.

Bora, the mother of the twins, a male and a female, is from the Winds family.

It is approximated that Samburu has around 300 elephants, with Samburu East hosting the largest population along Mathew Ranges. Other populations are found in Kirisia forest in Samburu Central and in Ndoto and South Horr forests.  

The marvel of multiple births in elephants is not common but has been recorded before. In 2020, Amboseli National Park recorded a baby boom of over 200 calves, with a set of twins from two elephant mothers.

Elephants hold the record for having the longest pregnancy among all mammals. Unlike Asian elephants whose pregnancy is between 18 and 22 months, African elephants' gestation period is  about 22 months.

According to Save the Elephants, the African elephant lives to 60 to 70 years. Male elephants often live longer, up to 90 years old, and end up dying of starvation because by this time all their teeth would have worn out.

They live in family groups called herds made up of an older female (the matriarch) who leads a herd and uses her old age and experience to protect the herd.

“Females stay with the same herd all their lives, while the males only remain with the herd until they are 12-13 years old. They then join a group of other males called a bachelor herd or live alone,” explains Save the Elephants.

According to research, an elephant calf weighs up to 110kg for a period of 660 days.

Unlike other mammals, who only have only one corpus luteum — a temporary gland that controls hormone levels during pregnancy, elephants have as many as 11. 

“Over the course of each pregnancy, each gland slowly decreases its progesterone production. Having many glands likely helps keep the levels above a threshold for the entire 22-month gestation,” research published at Proceedings of the Royal Society B noted.

Living in herds, according to species expert Paul Gacheru, is an evolutionary trait among the elephants to increase their security and boost survival.

“Their organised herd provides more security in the wild and while elephants have the longest gestation period, it is part of the trait to allow the young ones to fully develop and survive in the environment they are born in,” Gacheru said.

By 2016, it was estimated that the continental population of both African forest elephants and African savannah elephants stood at 415,000.

Currently, the elephant population in Kenya stands at 36,280 according to the country’s first-ever wildlife census conducted last year, up from 16,000 in 1989.

Poaching trends on elephants according to statistics from Kenya Wildlife Service, have been on the decline since 2012.

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