In January, we reported the tragic news of the death of Frankie - the second matriarch of the Thula Thula herd. In the months that followed, there has been lots of speculation on who would take over as matriarch, given Frankie's untimely death. Without a matriarch to lead by example, share her wisdom and discipline the herd, there were a few months of chaos among Thula Thula's elephants, as the herd split up and the young ones were not behaving well.
To replace Frankie, there were 2 possible candidates - (1) Nandi, eldest daughter of Nana (the original matriarch) (2) Marula - eldest daughter of Frankie.
I am really happy to share, that in the midst of the chaos, Marula, has stepped up to the role of matriarch. "She always had the temperament to lead. One time when her son Vusi got caught in a snare, she had the presence of mind to gently push Vusi towards the rangers, because she knew that Vusi would need human intervention to get out of the trouble. Marula also has has a temper - just like her mother's, which is very useful quality when you have to be boss of elephants!" says Francoise, owner of Thula Thula. Marula brought the herd to visit the house a few days back, marking the beginning of her era as matriarch. (Marula on the far right in the video below)
In an interesting development, the herd at Thula Thula has split into 2 groups. Marula has gotten most of the herd; while direct descendants of Nana, have split off into a different herd, led jointly by Nana & Nandi. Francoise says, "It would have been logical for Nandi to become the matriarch of a united herd. But Nandi is one of those daughters that gives up their life, their career for their mother. Because Nana is half blind with cataract, Nandi never leaves her side, and focuses on taking care of Nana versus leading the herd."
Francoise says that these 2 herds get along well, and the males are the only ones that occasionally have a little competition.
Although things were chaotic for a while, Francoise thinks that, "Marula will do a good job because of her personality. She has been trained by Frankie to one day take on this role. She is still very young though, and has a lot to learn." Marula is only 27 years old. In normal circumstances she would definitely be too young to a matriarch. However, due to her strong personality, Francoise thinks that she will learn quickly and lead the herd into a brighter future.
On a separate note, Thula Thula is expanding it's territory. Previously, they had a contraception program for the elephants because of a lack of space for the herd to grow bigger. Now that they have expanded their territory, the contraception program has stopped.
Marula has 4 children - Bafana, Boni, Victoria & Vusi. But given how young she is, she could have more. One of the things that Francoise is worried about is that all of the males in Marula's herd are either too young to breed with Marula, are too closely related to her. The only possible father of her next child could be Gobisa, who was the 'boyfriend' of Frankie. Francoise is also worried that the health of the herd has taken a toll, as the last child was born 5 years ago. This is not good for any elephant herd, so hopefully the stopping of the contraception program will help create more elephant babies very soon. (Read the previous blog on Thula Thula's New Matriarch to see the elephant family tree.)
With Marula as matriarch, Thula Thula's herd has a bright future. Thanks to the generous contributions from supporters of wildlife conservation through @ayansartforconservation, we have adopted Marula - the new leader. You can read more about the wonderful, feisty Marula here.