If you think the pregnancy of a human is too long, wait until you hear about the pregnancy of an elephant. These animals have one of the longest pregnancies of any living mammal. Although we know this fact, there is still a lot more that needs to be learned about elephant pregnancies to help save elephants. That is why our African elephant breeding team wants to share the importance of understanding elephant pregnancies.
The pregnancy of an elephant
Before there is a baby elephant, there needs to be a pregnant elephant. What is unique about an elephant's pregnancy is that it can last an average of 22 months, almost two years. These animals have one of the longest gestation periods of living animals. You are probably wondering, why is the gestation period of elephants so long? It has to do with their size and intelligence.
Elephants are the largest land mammals. Their time in the womb helps their bodies develop to a reasonable size so that they are strong enough to walk with the herd. As for their intelligence, elephants require lots of time in the womb to develop their complex brains.
These gentle giants have three times as many neurons as humans - 250 billion, to be correct. An elephant's complex brain helps them remember paths, use tools, demonstrate self-awareness, and even grief. Elephants are one of the few animals that can recognize themselves in mirrors.
The development of baby elephants
Baby elephants are referred to as calves. When it is born, it can be three feet tall and weigh 246 pounds. Something amazing about these animals is that they are able to stand up on their four feet within a few minutes of being born.
Elephant calves begin to nurse almost immediately after being born. Its mother and other female relatives guide it to start nursing. Another thing to note is that an elephant calf has poor eyesight when it is born. They rely on their smell to find their mother.
What happens if a baby elephant loses its mother?
Motherhood is very important to elephants. An elephant calf relies heavily on its mother to get nourished, learn survival skills, protection and learn its role in the herd. However, many times due to poaching or human-elephant conflicts, the mother can get killed. An elephant calf without a mother is more likely to die unless it is rescued. Without a mother, an elephant calf runs the risk of starvation or being killed by predators.
The importance of understanding an elephant’s pregnancy
African elephant breeding experts need to understand the pregnancy of elephants to help improve the declining population of elephants. Elephants go through long gaps between having babies - around four to five years. This slow process does not help with their declining population numbers. In zoos, elephants also face the struggle of high infertility rates - resulting in more deaths than births each year. Continuing the research on elephant pregnancy can help improve both wild and zoo population rates.
How to help baby elephant research
You can help us continue our research of elephant reproduction by joining our Herd of Heroes program. Every monthly donation made will help us further continue to improve the lives of elephants. Join down below.