Female elephants become sexually mature at around 13 years old, and the males at 14. Females, however, much prefer older males from 40 to 60 years old. Female elephants only come into heat and are able to be impregnated for a few days each year, and this occurs at different times for different females.
Male elephants go through a periodic condition called musth, where they have elevated testosterone and aggression levels, which can be recognised by fluid draining from glands behind their eyes and a continuous dribble of urine. Adult males will move from herd to herd, seeking females in heat.
The elephant mating ritual
The female will not only give off a scent to attract nearby males, but will also use audible signals. The male will also issue a low rumble, which is answered by any females who are ready. If there are other males nearby, then only the one who wins the dominance battles will approach the female. These fights between males may look violent, but there are usually few injuries.
He will caress her with his trunk, and often sample her urine to check she really is ready. The female is not passive, and will also show affection by, for example, entwining trunks. This stage can last up to half an hour, and doesn’t necessarily result in mating.
If the female does decide to mate with the male, then they will both wander away from the herd. Then the male will mount the female, and be there for under a minute. The male will then usually stay with the female, for anything up to four days, keeping other males at bay and occasionally mating with her again. After that the female will return to her herd, and the male will go back to spending most of his time alone (though it has been known for them to remain affectionate for up to two weeks).
If the mating was a success, then the female will become pregnant. The length of the pregnancy can vary from 21 to 23 months. See here for information about the birth and subsequent care of the young.