There are many ways to speak the language of love. We each give and receive it in a way inherent to us, whether it be in words, action or quality time together. We experience it differently with friends, family and loved ones, each relationship unique in understanding. Beauty lies in such variety, enabling us to encounter a diverse range of connections.
The animal kingdom, too, displays a wide assortment of relationships. From the communities of white-fronted bee-eaters, to the mutual exchange of the buffalo and ox-pecker, to the male Jacana raising its chicks alone. Dynamics vary to extremes, from maternal to savage survival and everything in between.
According to National Geographic, there are 6 definitive relationships in nature:
Competition—when two or more organisms rely on the same environmental resource
Predation—the behavior of one animal feeding on another
Symbiosis—the close relationship of two dissimilar organisms
Mutualism—a symbiotic relationship where both organisms benefit
Commensalism—a symbiotic relationship where one organism benefits and one does not benefit but is unharmed
Parasitism—a symbiotic relationship where one organism benefits and one is harmed
We at Hideaways have decided to add a 7th relationship to the list, being that of love. It seems apt to mention the monogamous partnerships which occur, such as with Black Eagles, prescribing lifelong romance. However, the love that we speak of is a family affair, one of bonds that link generations.
Elephants have an intimate and complex dynamic within a herd, akin to what we know as family. Intelligent beings with generational ties, elephants are committed and dedicated to each other, within and beyond their respective herds. These are made up of between 6 and 20 members, each playing an important role within its intricate social structure. This social structure may be compared to our own with the young dependent on their mother and family members for years.
Elephants exist in a matriarchal society, the head of the herd being female. She is usually the oldest and largest member of the family, leading her kin and peers with collected wisdom. Male elephants leave the herd during puberty, seeking out an old bull elephant as a life mentor, forming smaller herds that are solely male. Females tend to stay with each other for life, every member helping raise calves, guided by their elders. Each calf is given support, guidance and love by the older females in the herd, otherwise referred to as ‘allomothers.’ An allomother is a non-biological caregiver, performing all the functions of a mother, sometimes even suckling.
Nature displays a deep understanding of hierarchy and respect, communication happening beyond our realm. However, if one is able to take the time to observe these gentle giants, one can clearly see cooperation in food acquisition, group protection, offspring care and decision making. At Camp Kuzuma, Chobe we are lucky enough to be visited by herds of elephants almost daily, privileged to witness their ways. Staff and guests watch from the boma as characters and dynamics unfold.
Even though their love language is one we cannot access with our own, its presence is powerful. One can sense compassion as well as generational regard, each member understanding its place. We can learn a lot from elephants about relationships. The fierce dedication and protection of a herd, the maternal qualities of a mother, the tender care for the young as well as unwavering support. The certainty of belonging also emanates, the beautiful and simple reassurance of love. Each member depends on the other, not only for survival, but for the deep emotional connections they share. Taking a leaf from nature’s book we too can experience life-long bonds of connection, speaking the love language of commitment to those who hold our hearts.