Forest Elephant Infants

One of the joys of studying forest elephants in the field is being able to watch the infants. Perhaps it is because elephants are so large that the miniature form of a baby is so arresting. Our researchers have been privy to many magical moments in the field, both endearing and amusing. Some of these have been captured on film, and you can see a selection of these if you click on the Photo Gallery tab below.

Elephants have the longest gestation period of all mammals - 22 months, and they produce a calf only once every 2.5 to 4 years. This lengthy time interval allows the mother to devote the attention that the calf needs in order to teach it all the complex tasks of being an elephant, such as how to use their trunk to eat, drink and wash, and what to eat.

Elephant babies weigh about 105 kilograms (232 pounds) at birth. They can stand up and move around almost immediately, which allows the mother to roam around to forage, and is essential to avoid predation. The calf suckles using its mouth (its trunk is held over its head). The tusks erupt at about 16 months. Calves are not weaned until they are about 4 or 5 years old. At this time, the tusks are about 14 cm (5.5") long, and begin to get in the way of sucking.

Female forest elephants, and juveniles of both sexes live in small family groups, and the arrival of a new infant is always a source of great interest to the females in the family. They help the mother to guard and watch out for the infant; for example if a predator approaches, they will all circle the infant to protect it.

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© Andrea Turkalo