How Do Elephants Give Birth?

By Ann Johnson

Female Elephant Comes of Age

The male elephant is referred to as a bull, the female as a cow and the baby as a calf. The male elephant will begin mating between the ages of 10 and 14 years, while the female elephant will begin to mate between the ages of 12 and 15 years. After mating, the bull and cow elephants do not stay together. The bull elephant will mate with several different females.

Elephant's Unique Pregnancy

The female elephant normally gives birth to a single calf, yet she can have twins. Female elephants might give birth every five years, and continue to mate until about the age of fifty. The female elephant’s pregnancy will last up to 23 months, longer than other animals. When she does give birth, the calf can weigh anywhere from 200 to 320 pounds.

Female Elephant's Labor

The labor can last for several days, beginning with labor pains. The female elephant will lose her mucous plug, and contractions increase as the labor continues. Wild elephants normally give birth at night. It is believed this is to provide them with an undisturbed environment. A female in labor has been known to make attempts to interrupt the birth, if it is occurring during the day or early dawn.

Actual Birth

The amniotic bladder may push out before the calf, appearing like a balloon-like matter. The elephant may attempt to rub off the protruding bladder. The calf will pass through the birth canal, and the mother will separate the amniotic bladder from the newborn. Introductions to the new arrival will involve the mother sniffing the calf. Once she accepts her calf, the mother will pull it towards her.

Standing and Feeding the Calf

Within an hour after arriving the newborn calf will be able to stand. Within a few hours the newborn elephant will be walking. After learning to stand on its own four feet, the calf’s next goal will be to find its mother’s breast and begin nursing. Calves will nurse for about four years, with mother’s milk being its mainstay for the first six months of life. The calf will curl its trunk over its head which will enable its mouth to reach the mother’s milk. A young elephant will begin grazing on grass and other foliage between the ages two to six years.

Protecting the Young

A calf will stay with its mother until it reaches adulthood. The young calf is protected by the herd. While the adult elephants are normally not vulnerable to predators such as lions and tigers, the calves are. The herd will encircle the young calf to protect it from such dangers.

About the Author

Ann Johnson has been a freelance writer since 1995. She previously served as the editor of a community magazine in Southern California and was also an active real-estate agent, specializing in commercial and residential properties. She has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University, Fullerton.