Sunday, May 13, 2012

Elephants Make Great Mothers (and Grandmas, Aunts, Sisters and Cousins)

African Bush Elephants
Photo Credit: Gorgo (via Wikimedia Commons)
Yesterday, we talked about how alligators are great moms. On Mother's Day, we'll talk about another great mom from the animal kingdom - the elephant.

Female elephants have a complex social structure which is centered around the raising of offspring. When a young female reaches the age of around thirteen, she'll go into her first estrus. In other words, she'll be "in heat." This phase only lasts a few days, and will be one of the only times an adult male elephant is involved in a herd (males are usually solitary once they come of age). After mating, the female will carry the baby for 20 - 22 months. When the mother goes into labor, the entire herd will surround her and stand guard while she gives birth to a 150 - 220 pound calf. The herd will then greet the newborn, who is born practically blind and with few survival instincts.

Over the next two years, the calf will be dependent on her mother for food. She will survive completely on her mother's milk for the first few months of her life, and will drink about 10 quarts (about 9.5 liters) every day, which is enough for her to gain 30 pounds a week. The calf will start eating on her own at around age two, but mother's milk will still be a part of her diet.

The mother isn't the only one who takes care of the baby. The rest of the herd, which will consist primarily of related females (with some male calves) will aid in protection, teaching survival skills, helping out if the baby falls or gets stuck, and so on. 

If the calf is a female, she will remain with the herd once she becomes an adult (if the herd becomes too large, some of the elder females will break off and start their own herd). If the calf is male, he will head out on his own at around the age of sixteen.

Happy Mother's Day!

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