We often find ourselves uttering the words, “Oh, it’s so cute, so sweet, look how small it is…” and so it goes on, when we see an animal baby. This doesn’t change when one comes across a very young elephant calf and its mother on a walk, at a comfortable and safe distance. The words are uttered possibly even more so.
A female will usually conceive her first offspring at 12 to 14 years of age, however there are areas where this may be prolonged even further to 16 years.
After a gestation period of 22 months a female elephant will give birth to a single calf (twins are extremely rare). The calf can weigh over 100kg, but on average 80kg is more the norm. This young newborn, is then able to stand on his feet soon after birth, and will clumsily follow mom thereafter, with his awkward looking trunk flopping all over the show.
The calf will be suckling from his mother’s mammary glands which are position just behind the front legs, with the teats sticking out at angles, making it easy for the calf to suckle.
Although the calf will be eating solid food within the first year, they are weaned within a year and a half, but the female will carry on lactating up to four years, with the youngster suckling on and off during this period.
At this time period, the mother’s primary focus is on her calf and as with any maternal instinct its wellbeing. Hence, why elephant herds, or any female with offspring needs to be treated with the utmost respect and care, an angry elephant cow of 3 500kg, could leave a serious imprint if you get too close, and don’t show them caution and space.
Often your elephant herds are found within the riverine forests, for several important reasons. The female’s colon is shorter than the males, so she requires more high nutrient vegetation. She will also eat more, when pregnant and with calf, because of the added requirement from the developing youngster. Riverine forests offer good shade and cover, and water is an important requirement. Especially for the calf, and in cases where the mother has noticed her calf may be suffering from dehydration, will in turn regurgitate moisture into her mouth, take it up in her trunk and give it to her calf.
This may also be used to cool down the body. Sand, mud and water from nearby water points, or also used, for body cooling, and the ears, which are often referred to as thermal windows, cooling blood flowing to the brain from the distal parts of the ear to the proximal regions. They say 12 liters of blood is pumped through the ears per minute. Quite incredible.
But none the less we stood there watching, as mom and calf enjoyed one another’s company, with big smiles on all our faces.