Warning: This cartoon may not be appropriate for children.

Romantic overture

Romantic overture

Correction: Female elephants have an estrus cycle every 14-16 weeks.

However, due to the long gestation period (21-22 month) of elephants and also the 4-5 years in which a calf is milk-dependent, a female elephant will typically give birth every 4-5 years (or less frequently).

Male elephants (bulls) will check for their biological receptivity by sniffing the female genitalia and also sniffing the females’ urine for hormonal signals. Males will fight one another for dominant status and the right to reproduce with a fertile female. The male fight in this case is not intended to kill or inflict significant damage to one another but to test strength and one will submit to loss. The bull does not stay with the mother after conception.

After nearly 2 years of pregnancy (gestation), the cow will give birth. This is a truly joyous occasion in the herd and the elephants celebrate with much trumpeting. Other elephants may help the newborn calf up to start breast-feeding. The calf is dependent on its mother’s milk and must feed every few hours.

The herd is the elephant’s family and the elephant identifies strongly with the herd. In the wild, there are stories of how strongly elephants attach to one another. One elephant mother who lost her stillborn baby was observed to grieve the body for 3 days. At the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust care centers for orphan elephants, older baby elephants will adopt and look after newer orphans who tend to be traumatized and more vulnerable after just arriving at a center. One injured elephant’s best friend (another elephant) was reported to check on his friend night and day while Sheldrick Wildlife Trust keepers watched its recovery from an arrow wound.

The strongest bond is between a mother elephant and calf. She will defend her calf until nearly her end.