African Elephants Reproduction
Usually a single baby elephant, or calf, is born to a female after a 20-22 month gestation. Twins are uncommon, but have been recorded.
A calf generally weighs 200-250 lbs. and is 2-3 feet tall. It will nurse for 1-2 years, nibbling on solids as early as six months.
If the calf is female, she will probably live her life within her family until she has calves of her own. Puberty can start as early as 11 years old. The female usually leaves to form her own family group.
She will often see her mature sisters and cousins at reunions when grazing ranges overlap or herds migrate.
A bull calf will live with the family until the age of 11 or 12. This is usually when he becomes very obnoxious and is driven out of the herd. He will live in loose association with other young bulls in “bachelor herds.” He only enters the main herd to seek out estrus females.
Puberty in elephants can be delayed until age 16 or 17 if conditions are poor and adequate nutrition is unavailable. Calving intervals range from 3-8 years. This is also dependent on available food and water resources.
Bull elephants entering maturity will begin to experience a yearly condition known as “musth.” It is basically a hormonal overload of testosterone which creates heightened aggression. It does not coincide with any particular season, but is individual to each bull. It will generally set in once a year and last from 1-6 months. Musth does not trigger breeding. Although musth bulls have the best chance to fight off other males and win breeding rights. Musth will serve to advance a bull`s rank within a group of bulls. This is evidenced by small musth bulls challenging and beating much larger, older non-musth bulls. Usually only one or two high-ranking bulls will reserve the right to breed any estrus females in a herd.
Elephants live in extended family groups which merge and separate according to seasons. The leader of each family is usually the largest, oldest and wisest cow called the matriarch.
Families of 9-10 animals are related to other individuals in other families. This is called a “bond group.” Several bond groups will habitually reunite with each other several times a year when environmental conditions are good. This is generally after spring rains when there is an abundance of fresh grass. These bond groups are “clans” numbering 50 or more animals. These clans will form herds when migrating or gathering for spring grazing. They may number into the hundreds of individuals.
Elephants are highly social animals who prefer to live in large, interactive groups. But they usually break off into smaller groups to more effectively utilize available food resources when conditions become poor. In this way they effectively decrease competition among themselves for food.