Elephant Life Cycle - Adults

Elephants are considered to be adults at about 18 years of age, and live to approximately 70 years, much the same as humans.

Both males and females begin mating in order to reproduce when they are 20 years old.

They will continue to mate and give birth until they are about 50.

Cows usually have 2.5 to 4 years between births, including their gestation period of 22 months. This is the longest gestation period of all animals. When the baby is born, other adults of the herd join in the celebration. As the little calf finds its bearings, the members of the herd caress it with their trunks in an act of genuine affection.

Because of the years between births, cows and calves are able to form a very special bond with one another before the next calf is born. The adult females of the herd all assist in the rearing of the young and the older adolescents also lend a hand in preparation for their own motherhood. However, the mother chooses one specific babysitter whose primary responsibility it will be to assist that mother. The entire social experience of the elephant is based on interaction around and to do with the babies.

Cows usually have one calf at a time; twins are rare. Once adults reach about 50 years of age, they experience changes that can be likened to the human experience of menopause.

Mature bulls travel vast areas searching for herds of females with whom they mate (female willing). This keeps the gene pool varied and strong as direct interbreeding ties are reduced and because the female will choose the best bull. Bulls travel in bands that can vary in number, ranging anywhere between 2 and 30 bulls. Females also travel, but cover less distance than their male counterparts. Females are attracted to certain bulls and usually opt for the bigger, stronger and older bulls as their mates. This provides, to some extent, insurance that their young will also be big, healthy and strong, able to survive illness or injury.

In their old age, elephants suffer from the same diseases and ailments that humans frequently experience. Pneumonia and cardiovascular diseases are the most common of the age-related illnesses. Other common ailments include arthritis and gout, causing their joints to swell and ache.

As research into the lives and development of elephants continues, it is increasingly evident that these animals are closer to the human being than we could have imagined. Their intuition and mutual understanding sets these magnificent animals apart as being supremely intelligent, sympathetic, and nurturing.