Elephants are one of the most fascinating creatures on the planet.
Noted for their enormous size, kind nature and long lifespan, elephants are truly remarkable animals. One thing that makes them even more special is their incredibly long pregnancy period, which can stretch up to almost two years. In this article, we’ll delve into the typical timeframe for elephant gestation, look at how long various species of elephant stay pregnant and discuss how their pregnancies differ from that of other animals.
The Average Duration of an Elephant’s Pregnancy
The average gestation period for an elephant is two years, about twice as long as that of a human. This is by far the longest of any land mammal; for comparison, the average gestation period for a horse is eleven months and for a tiger is around three and a half months.
Elephant pregnancies are relatively similar across all species, typically taking between 18 and 22 months. However, if the mother elephant is pregnant with twins the gestation period may be somewhat under or over the average time frame.
Factors That Can Affect the Length of a Pregnancy
There are numerous factors that can influence the length of an elephant’s pregnancy, including:
Age: Younger elephants, particularly those under 10 years old, tend to have shorter pregnancies while older elephants tend to take longer to give birth.
Weight: Heavier elephants are more likely to give birth earlier than their smaller counterparts.
Diet: Elephants who eat a healthy diet with plenty of natural vegetation may experience a longer gestation than those who lack proper nutrition.
Breed: Certain breed of elephant may have a longer pregnancy than others.
Stress: High levels of stress due to environmental factors or other external factors can affect the length of an elephant’s gestation.
Natural Care Practices During Pregnancy
Elephants go to great lengths to take care of themselves during pregnancy, taking a variety of natural steps to ensure a healthy and successful birth. Here are a few of the things mothers-to-be are known to do naturally:
Form a Support Group: Female elephants often give birth in groups, with the mother surrounded by an experienced female member of the herd. This female can provide physical and emotional support, as well as help with activities such as dusting and mud bathing.
Choose a Good Birthing Site: Mother elephants have been known to seek out sandy soils and grassy patches when it’s time to deliver. This allows them to use the ground as a cushion instead of hard stones and rocks, making birth a bit easier.
Eat Extra: Pregnant elephants will often eat more than usual in the latter stages of their pregnancy. This additional nutrition helps to ensure that the calf is well-nourished and robust at birth.
Lounge a Lot: As mothers near the end of their pregnancy, they tend to lounge more often, taking more breaks and spending more time in the shade. This helps them conserve energy and prevent exhaustion.
Signs That indicate Labour Is Approaching
When the time is near, a pregnant elephant will often give off certain symptoms that indicate that labour is imminent. Here are a few things to look out for:
Cow walking: A cow that is about to give birth will often stretch her back legs out in front and walk in a four-legged fashion, taking wider steps and making faster R movements.
Abdominal contractions: The mother will have small contractions throughout her abdomen, as her body builds stronger muscles in order to push the baby out.
Milk Leakage: As the mother gets closer to labour, she will often begin leaking milk from her teats.
Sticking to a small area: The mother may also start to stay in a limited area, not wanting to wander too far from her anticipated birth location.
The Delivery Process
The typical delivery process for an elephant is both powerful and beautiful. Once the mother has entered actual labour, she will start to experience periods of strong contractions. On average, it takes two to four hours for the calf to emerge from the mother after birth which can be a grueling process for both parent and infant.
The mother experiences extreme pressure and stress as the calf moves down the birth canal, and the baby must fight its way through a tight space and then make a drastic transformation to its new environment once it arrives. It takes the calf considerable effort to make its way out of its mother’s birth canal, and the baby’s vocalisation can be heard once it is born.
Once the calf has been pushed out of its mother, the umbilical cord is quickly severed and the baby is given a thorough examination. At this point the calf can stand up on its own and start to walk –- although a baby elephant may still need help from its mother for up to two weeks after delivery.
Taking Care of the Baby Elephant
A newborn calf becomes an object of fascination and delight among the other members of the herd, with everyone eager to lend a helping hand. The baby’s mother is typically in charge of the infant’s care, taking responsibility for its well-being while the other elephants help to back her up.
In its first month of life, the calf will be completely dependent on its mother’s milk. This period is when the calf really develops –- gaining strength and gradually beginning to adapt to life in the wild. During the first few months, a calf will still need help walking, bathing, and foraging for food, though once it’s about two months old it’s usually capable of doing most things on its own.
Elephant pregnancies are some of the longest seen among animals. With an average gestation period of two years, it’s a long and arduous process for both mother and baby elephant. Though the length of an elephant’s pregnancy varies and can be affected by numerous factors, the process is quite similar across all species.
Elephants take natural steps to care for themselves during their pregnancy, and care for their young after birth. With the help of the rest of the herd, the newborn calf will eventually become a powerful and capable animal -– travelling to far off lands and making memories that will last a lifetime.