African elephants may be the largest land mammals on the planet, but for calves that are yet to reach maximum heftiness, a steep riverbank or muddy watering hole can present a considerable challenge. Luckily for baby elephants, a helping trunk is never too far away.

Ex-game ranger Timothy Van Vuuren captured this stellar example of elephant cohesiveness while on safari in South Africa's MalaMala Game Reserve. Van Vuuren came across the elephants enjoying a late-afternoon drink, and watched as the herd began heading back into the bush by way of a steep embankment. Anticipating that a young calf in the group would have difficulty scaling the bank, Van Vuuren began filming in the hopes of catching the herd's response to the toiling youngster.

"The calf was not left to struggle for too long before his family came to the rescue," Van Vuuren explained to Latest Sightings. In just a few moments, trunks were working in unison and the calf was successfully hoisted to safety (a task that was made tricker by the fact that the panicked calf selected the steepest part of the embankment for its ascent!). "We were ecstatic when they helped the little one up and over the embankment," Van Vuuren recalls.

Elephants form complex social connections and family bonds are essential to survival. "The sighting ended with the herd gathering and moving off back into the bush to continue feeding with the calf who was now staying very close to his mother after the ordeal." 

Top header image: Roger Smith/Flickr