If there is an animal that takes motherhood seriously, it is an elephant. These animals are great mothers because of their maternal instincts. Not all species invest their time and energy raising their offspring. Elephants take all the time they need to ensure their calves survive.
One way our African elephant research unit is helping save elephants is by researching elephants’ reproduction, biology and providing care services to help improve the lives of elephants everywhere. Check out our answers to some commonly asked questions, like how long does an elephant pregnancy last and why it is important to understand an elephant’s pregnancy.
How long does an elephant pregnancy last?
An elephant’s pregnancy lasts on average for 22 months or 680 days. They have the longest gestation period of any living mammal. Other animals that make the list of animals with long gestation periods include sperm whales, black horn rhinos and giraffes.
However, it is essential to note that the duration of pregnancy also depends on the kind of elephant. African savannah elephants and African forest elephants have a gestation period of 22 months, whereas Asian elephants have a slightly shorter gestation period of 21.5 and 22 months.
Why do elephants have long pregnancies?
Scientists hypothesize that elephants have longer gestation periods because of their size and intelligence. Elephants are the largest land mammal. So they spend more time in the womb growing to an ideal size that will help them survive. By the time they are born, they are already three feet tall and weigh 264 pounds.
Elephants are also intelligent and sociable animals. These animals have similar intelligence levels compared to dolphins and apes. Longer gestation periods help them develop a brain that will ensure they learn all the survival skills they need.
How many babies do elephants have?
Just like larger animals, elephants have longer gestation periods and small litters. Elephants typically have one baby at a time. Although it is rare, elephants are capable of having twins. After they have a baby, an elephant will dedicate four to five years to taking care of its offspring.
The baby elephant's first few years relies heavily on its mother for milk and protection. Elephants do not really have predators, but lions, hyenas, and crocodiles are known to attack calves and weak elephants.
The importance of understanding an elephant's pregnancy
As of March 2020, African savanna elephants and Asian elephants are endangered, while African forest elephants are critically endangered. These elephants' populations are declining due to a combination of poaching, habitat loss and human-elephant conflict. To add on top of these existing issues, elephants have slow breeding rates causing slow population growth. This problem is even bigger for African forest elephants, who have extremely slow birth rates putting them under greater pressure from poaching. It could take longer for this population to recover from strong declines.
In zoos, elephants also face reproductive problems. Zoo elephants are facing high-infertility rates. These high rates are causing more elephant death than births. If conditions do not improve, elephants could face captive extinction soon. African elephant research unit teams like For Elephants are working alongside zoos to provide specialized reproduction services. Our team provides expertise in endocrine (hormones) to increase the elephant reproduction rate and improve the welfare of elephants in zoos.
How to support our African elephant research unit
One of the best ways to help wild and zoo elephants is by joining our Herd of Heroes donation program. This program allows you to make a monthly donation of your choice to help continue our research efforts to improve the lives of elephants worldwide. Join down below, and do not forget to subscribe to our newsletter as well.