Adult elephant females give birth to their young some 21 to 23 months after successfully mating. They do so standing up, and after what can be up to several days of labour. The baby can weigh anything from between 70 kg to 165 kg, and stand some two and half feet tall.
When the birth happens there is much excitement and interest among the herd, with adults and other young gathering around it as the mother helps it to its feet.
Taking care of the new baby elephant
While the mother is primarily responsible for providing the calf with milk, the whole herd takes a part in looking after and teaching the infant, since young are important to the continuation and survival of the group.
Help with raising the infant is provided by “allomothers”, who are usually aunts, cousins or sisters. The more of these it has, the greater the chance of the calf reaching adulthood. This is essential if the mother is new to raising a child, since the more experienced ones can lend a hand.
The infant will be able to walk in just a couple of hours, and the whole herd will wait patiently until it can. They will also slow down when on the move if the young elephant is having trouble keeping up, and the allomothers will help it along and aid if it falls or gets stuck in mud. While adult elephants are not prey for wildlife, their young can be vulnerable. The herd will all crowd round it in an emergency, to protect it from danger.
The growing elephant
The calf will continue to suckle until around four or five year old, while all the time it is being taught what foods to eat, how to use its trunk, and social skills. Males will suckle more frequently, and move away from their mother earlier than females, interacting and playing with non family members. Females on the other hand stay close to their mothers and other family members. Adolescence typically lasts until the calf is around 17 years or 18 years of age, and afterwards it is considered a full adult.