Family is an essential aspect for elephants. They are born into herds where they spend most of their life - unless they are male elephants. Even then, male elephants play a critical role in creating these families.
That is why our elephant research team wants to share some facts about elephant pregnancy and why zoo elephants have trouble with pregnancy.
The average age elephants reproduce
The age at which elephants can reproduce depends on their population - ages can range from 10 to 22 years old. However, the average age for elephants to have their first offspring is 14 and 15 years old.
Although some elephants are able to have babies at young ages, their offspring survival rate is very low. Young elephant mothers do not have the experience to properly care for their offspring. That is why you see more mature elephants have babies.
How long are elephants pregnant?
Elephants have the longest gestation period of all living mammals. African elephants can be pregnant for an average of 22 months. On the other hand, the pregnancy of an Asian elephant can last between 18 to 22 months.
You are probably wondering, why is elephant pregnancy so long? Researchers state that elephants have such long gestation periods because of their size and intelligence. Having an extended gestation period helps their brains properly develop.
The number of babies elephants have
Elephants normally have one baby at a time. Having twins is not common for elephants. However, there have been recorded instances when two elephants have been born. National Geographic states that one percent of elephant births result in twins.
How many times do elephants get pregnant?
In the wild, elephants are capable of getting pregnant every four years. Why every four years? The average pregnancy of an elephant is almost two years. Then, elephants spend another two years nursing their young. In their entire life span, these mammals can have between four to five offspring.
How big are elephants when they are born?
When an elephant is born, it weighs on average 200 pounds and stands three feet tall. It is the largest land mammal baby in the world. The only baby larger than an elephant at birth is the blue whale.
A baby elephant is called a calf. At birth, these elephant calves are born blind. This makes the elephant rely heavily on its mother for the very first years until its vision fully developed.
Wild vs zoo elephants’ pregnancy
In the wild, researchers do not see much of a struggle for elephants to get pregnant. However, in zoos, elephants are facing problems. In the past 10 years, there have been more elephant deaths than births in zoos.
For three elephant births, there have been five deaths annually. The reason for low births is the increased infertility rates of zoo elephants. In seven years, infertility rates have skyrocketed from 22 to 45 percent.
One way that For Elephants is helping improve those rates is by working with zoos. In the For Elephants Show podcast episode “Pregnancy in Elephants,” Dr. Morfeld discusses how we are working with zoos to collect data on elephant’s cycles, reproduction and pregnancy. To learn more about elephant pregnancy, listen to the full podcast episode here.
Support our research of elephant pregnancy!
At For Elephants, we are using science to improve zoo elephants' infertility rates and determine the best conditions for them. You can help us continue our research by joining the "Herd of Heroes." To get our newest podcast episodes and news, sign-up for our newsletter down below.