Elephant baby and mother side by side

How Long Are Elephants Pregnant?

An African elephant carries its baby for 22 months, but an Asian elephant only needs to carry it for 18 months. Elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal. Elephants have a long pregnancy due to their vast size and the time it takes for the brain to develop. The female elephant can give birth once every five years.

Overview

  • Conservation: Endangered Species
  • African elephant lifespan: 60 – 70 Years
  • Asian elephant lifespan: 50 – 60 Years
  • African elephant scientific name: Elephantidae
  • Asian elephant scientific name: Elephas maximus
  • African elephant Gestation Period: 22 months
  • Asian elephant Gestation Period: 18 – 22 months

Unique Pregnancy of The Elephants

Usually, female elephants give birth to a single calf. On rare occasions, however, elephants can give birth to twins as well. As we have mentioned earlier, female elephants can give birth to babies once every five years. The female elephants can get pregnant until they are about 50 years of age. 

Labour of the Female Elephants

The labour pain of the female elephants can last from several hours to several days. At the beginning of the labour, the female elephants tend to lose their mucus plugs. Once it happens, the contraction of the female elephants starts. 

The gap between the contraction decreases as the labour continues. Generally, wild elephants give birth to babies at night. The researchers believe that the calm and quiet environment of the nighttime allows the elephants an undisturbed environment to bring their babies to the world.

Birth of the Calf

As the time of giving birth approaches, the female elephants communicate to the other female family members. The pregnant elephant unites with the female members to secure protection during the labour process. 

In the Wild, sometimes the entire herd circles around the pregnant female while she gives birth. This behaviour offers the pregnant elephant protection from all sides. The birthing process lasts only for a few minutes. 

During birth, the amniotic bladder of the elephants may come out even before the calf. That is what makes the foetus look like a balloon-like matter. Once the calf passes through the birth canal, the mother comes to the rescue and helps to separate the amniotic bladder away from the newborn baby. 

Immediately after birth, the mother sniffs and blows on the calf before accepting it as its own. Once the mother accepts her calf, she will pull it towards her and start protecting it from then on, creating and forming a special bond together forever.

How much do baby elephants weigh when born?

At birth, the baby elephants weigh about 200 to 320 pounds. 

Protecting The Young

The baby elephant stays with its mother until it reaches adulthood. During this time, the herd takes responsibility for the calf and protects it from predators or other dangers. 

Even if predators like tigers and lions do not threaten the adult elephants, the calves are vulnerable. That is why the herd encircles the baby and young elephants most of the time to protect them from such dangers.

baby Asian elephant wrapping trunk around its mums legs
Asian elephants

Calves Stages

Just after giving birth, the mothers and other female members of the herd help the calf stand up on its feet. 

Within half an hour after being born, the newborn calf can stand up on its own. On average, newborn African elephant babies weigh up to 165 kgs. Compared to that, the weight of newborn Asian elephant babies is about 91 kgs. 

The average weight of a newborn elephant baby is about 120 kg, and their height is about 9 meters.

Once the baby elephant stands on its own feet, the mother and the other female elephants of the herd guide it to the mother’s breasts so that it can start nursing immediately. 

As the trunk of the baby elephants is not that long, the newborns often use their mouths for nursing. 

After one or two hours of being born, the calf can start walking on its own. 

The baby elephants will nurse from their mother for about four years. However, they mainly depend solely on their mother’s milk for the first six months of their lives. 

The baby elephants curl up their tongue trunk over their head, which allows them to reach for their mother’s milk easily. The baby elephant grazes on foliage and grass when they are about 2 to 6 months old and occasionally has milk until the age of 4.

Some baby elephants can drink their mother’s milk till they weigh about 800-900 kg. 

Elephant milk has high levels of protein and fat, which help the baby elephant to grow faster. 

Development

Apart from the mother, the other female elephants of the herd play an essential role in the life development of the elephant calf. Once the baby elephant is born, the pace of the herd gets adjusted by the matriarch to make sure that the young can keep up.

As they grow old, the baby elephant starts to learn about the edible plants and the methods of acquiring them. 

Just like humans, baby elephants also keenly watch their elders and learn the necessary behaviours. Throughout their childhood, the mother and other female members of the herd stay in constant, affectionate contact with the baby elephant. 

They continuously watch over the newborn and offer them assistance and guidance when and as necessary. 

On average, baby elephants drink about 10 litres of mothers’ milk per day. When they are about four to six months old, the baby elephants start to experiment with the functions of their trunks. They pick up grass, leaves, and other dietary supplements.

Recommended Read: Eating Habits Of An Elephant

Can an elephant give birth to twins?

Yes. Elephants can give birth to twins, but this is an infrequent phenomenon. Female elephants give birth to babies about 5 to 6 times in their lifetime. Thus, the chances of having twins for a female elephant are scarce. About 1 per cent of all elephant births are twins. The percentage is slightly lower than humans. Compared to elephants, about 1.6 % of humans are twins.

The earliest record shows a Sri Lankan elephant giving birth to twin calves. Another elephant, named Eloise, gave birth to twins when she was 57 years of age. Eloise is the oldest elephant that has given birth to the twins.

Birth Issues Related to Twins

As you can easily imagine, carrying two massive babies is not that an easy task. When a mother elephant has twin babies, the total weight of her pregnancy becomes about 100 kgs. That is even lesser than the weight of an individual elephant fetus. That means after the babies are born, they require more milk from their mother to survive. That makes the life of both the elephant mother and the calves extremely difficult. 

On average, a single baby elephant consumes about 10 litres of mother’s milk. The mother can find it difficult to produce so much milk to fulfil the requirements of both their calves. 

That is why twin elephants tend to mature very slowly. They also stay dependent on their mother’s milk for a more extended period. 

All of these factors make the survival chances of the twin calves even smaller.   

Do elephants lay down while giving birth?

No. The female elephants give birth to the young while still standing on their four legs. Due to their heavy body weight, laying down on the ground and standing up is one of the most challenging jobs for elephants. With the excessive weight of the babies, it’s almost impossible for the elephants to lie down while giving birth. 

Do elephants ever reject their calves?

Elephants are some of the most tactile and friendly animals. That is what makes the incident, like abandoning their calves, a sporadic affair. 

Generally, a pregnant elephant seeks the assistance of another female elephant during the birthing process for protection. After the birth, the mother sniffs the baby and accepts it as its own. 

However, there are some cases where the elephant rejects the baby and even kills it. Most of the time, such incidents are recorded among captive elephants. However, the reasons for such behaviour of the mother elephants are still unknown.

Can elephants have triplets? 

Yes, the elephants can have triplets as well. However, the chances of such a birth taking place are scarce. In most cases, baby elephants often die after a couple of days of being born. Even if that does not happen, feeding three babies is almost impossible for the mother elephant. As the mother elephant can’t support the weight of all three babies, the newborn triplets are often born underweight. Unfortunately, the babies do not get enough food, and they often suffer from malnourishment and die.

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