When it comes to bodyguards, you really can’t do better than these guys.
In a moving display, a mighty herd of elephants gathers around a female to protect her from lions and hyenas that stalk her as she gives birth.
The amazing images were taken in the early hours of Amboseli National Park in Kenya at the beginning of the month.
Wildlife photographer Paolo Torchio noticed unusual behaviour during a morning drive and was left stunned watching the drama unfold over the course of an hour.
The group of guards circled the mother, raking the ground with their giant feet and closing any distance between them to block the view of any potential predators.
Moments after birth, the calf can be seen clutching an adult’s tusks by the trunk as it staggers to its feet for the first time.
Paolo said: ‘We observed an unusually tight congregation.
‘All of those elephants were in a state of extreme agitation, severe stress and shoulder to shoulder in the squad.
‘A strong wall of muscles and tusks could certainly scare off any other kind of animal.
“This is the formation they are usually taking in only two cases: being at.ta.cked by predators like lions, or during the birth of a new elephant.”
“After 22 months of pregnancy, the time has come.”
Amboseli National Park covers an area of 3,100 square miles on the Kenya-Tanzania border.
The park is renowned as the best place in Africa to get up close to free-ranging elephants.
Paolo added: ‘It’s unbelievable because to witness the birth of an elephant in the wild is almost impossible.
‘It is impossible to predict the exact moment.
‘It is nearly impossible to determine whether the elephant is pregnant or not. So what was happening before our eyes is really the most profound and secret event in the elephant’s life. ‘
“At around 7:30 a.m., the elephants started trumpeting as if they were welcoming their new arrival,” said Paolo.
“Five minutes later, we got our first look at the new creature being born between the legs of the giant animals.”
It is believed that the elephants huddled shoulder to shoulder in close formation, starting to throw mud around to scare off predators from the smell of blood.
“All of the elephants were very, very, very, very excited and were digging in the ground with their tusks and feet,” said Paolo.
“Also, they were throwing grass and soil all over the place in an attempt. I can only assume to mask the smell of blood and placenta and confuse possible predators.”
Creating an impenetrable wall around the calf, the adults, including the other females, try to help the baby stand on its feet.
‘It was amazing to watch the unity of the family, with all the other women trying to help the offspring.
‘At 8:15 am, almost an hour after giving birth, the newborn baby elephant finally stood up with her mother and received her well-deserved milk! “