How Long Are Elephants Pregnant?



Elephants are land mammals which means that they give birth to their young. Female elephants have great motherly instincts, making them excellent mothers. Unlike other animals, elephants look after their calves for years after birth. Different mammals have different gestation periods, so the question arises; how long are elephants pregnant? 

An elephant’s gestation period varies from about 18-22 months. The exact number depends on the species of the elephant. While smaller elephant species have a smaller gestational period, larger species, such as the African Bush elephant, have a much longer one. Gestation and birthing are tedious and lengthy processes for elephants.

This article will discuss an elephant’s gestation period and explain why elephant cows remain pregnant for so long.

Mom and baby elephant in zoo

Pregnancy in Elephants

The typical length of an elephant’s gestation is 22 months or 680 days. 

Of all extant mammals, they have the most prolonged pregnancy duration. The list of mammals with long gestation periods includes sperm whales, black-horned rhinos, and giraffes.

However, these mammals’ gestation period is still shorter than that of elephants. 

Age of Reproduction

Elephants may reproduce at various ages, ranging from almost 10 to 22 years old, depending on their population.

However, elephants often have their first child between the ages of 15 to 16 years old.

Although some elephants may have infants at an early age, the survival percentage of their babies is exceedingly low.

Young elephant mothers lack the experience necessary to care for their young. This explains why more adult elephants have kids.

Baby African elephant next to its mother

Gestation For Different Elephant Species 

It’s important to remember that the length of the pregnancy varies on the elephant species. Elephants are separated into two main species: African elephants and Asian elephants

While the two animals inhabit different parts of the world, they have many similarities. However, there are significant variations in their gestational periods. 

The African Bush elephant is the largest species of elephant and, therefore, has the longest gestation period.

African Bush elephants are typically pregnant for around 22 months. Although the African Forest elephant is smaller, it has a similar gestational period.

Asian elephants, however, have more variation in their gestation period, which ranges from about 18-22 months.

The larger subspecies, such as the Indian elephant, is pregnant for about 22 months, whereas the smaller Borneo elephants may have gestational periods of as short as 19 months. 

Duration Between Pregnancies 

While most land mammals can get pregnant soon after giving birth, this does not apply to elephants. 

After an elephant gives birth, it cannot get pregnant for another 4-5 years. This is because pregnancy and childbirth take a tremendous toll on the health of female elephants. 

As a result, the cow’s body ensures that it is once again healthy and can bear the additional burden of pregnancy for the next two years before getting pregnant again.

The extended period between births also ensures the baby is old and healthy enough to look after itself. 

This long gestational period and extended downtime between pregnancies complicate restoring endangered elephant populations.

Why Do Elephants Have a Long Duration of Pregnancy?

Scientists believe elephants have lengthier gestation periods due to their size and brain. Elephants are the largest land mammals and are exceptionally smart.

Therefore, the extended gestational period should not come as a huge surprise. 

The elephant fetus spends additional periods in the womb developing to the extent that will allow it to survive in the outside world. They are almost three feet tall and weigh an average of 266 pounds at birth.

Elephants are also social and clever creatures if compared to apes and dolphins. 

They are born with 250 billion neurons. Those large brains evolve over a long time. More extended gestation periods allow them to form a brain that will enable them to learn all the necessary survival abilities.

How Many Calves Can Elephants Have at Once?

Elephants, like more giant animals, have a longer duration of gestation and smaller groups of offspring.

Elephants usually give birth to a single calf at a time. They may give birth to twins; however, this is quite rare. Moreover, the possibility of both twins surviving is even slimmer. An elephant will devote five years to caring for its children after giving birth.

Elephants can weigh up to 250- 270 pounds and reach around 3 feet tall at birth

That is roughly the weight of a full-grown adult panda bear, reindeer, or warthog. Similar to their gestational periods, the birth weight of elephant calves also primarily depends on their species. 

Asian elephants are slightly thinner, weighing approximately 200 pounds, but are roughly the same height. In contrast, the larger African elephants also have bigger calves, often weighing over 250 pounds.

The young elephant relies significantly on the mother elephant for nourishment and safety throughout its first few years. 

Although elephants do not have natural predators, lions and crocodiles have been spotted attacking calves and debilitated elephants.

Baby elephant in the grasslands

Final Thoughts on How Long Are Elephants Pregnant

Elephants are one of the world’s most intelligent creatures. They’re larger than all other animals and have a lifespan as long as humans. 

It shouldn’t be surprising that creating an infant elephant is time-consuming, given its size and capabilities right after birth.


How Many Times Can Elephants Reproduce?

Elephants can become pregnant once every four years. Their pregnancy lasts, on average, over two years, and they nurse their young for a further two years. These mammals can give birth to four to five babies during their lifespan.

Can Elephants Have Twins?

Elephants rarely have two infants during a single pregnancy. The chances of having twins for elephants is just 1%. Sadly, even if both calves are born healthy, they rarely live to adulthood.

Which Other Animals Have a Long Pregnancy?

Elephants are mammals with the longest pregnancy duration. Other than them, animals like whales, rhinoceros, dolphins, and sharks also go through long gestation periods.

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