As the time for giving birth approaches, the female will seek close contact with another female in her family unit for protection during labor.
Sometimes the entire family unit circles around a female giving birth, protecting her from all sides.
Females give birth while standing. The birth itself lasts only a few minutes.
A single calf is usually born head and forelegs first. Twins have been documented, but are extremely rare.
Mothers will consume the afterbirth to avoid detection by predators.
Calves at Birth
On average, newborn calves stand about 1 m (3 ft.) high and weigh 120 kg (264 lb.) at birth. Newborn male African elephants may weigh up to 165 kg (364 lb.). Newborn Asian elephant calves weigh about 91 kg (200 lb.).
The newborn is helped to its feet by its mother and other females. Calves are able to stand on their own within minutes of birth.
The mother and other females help guide the calf to nurse almost immediately. The trunk of the calf is still short, so it uses its mouth to nurse.
Calves are able to walk within one to two hours of birth.
Within two days, calves are strong enough to join the rest of the herd, which is waiting patiently nearby.
Mothers, aunts, sisters, and the matriarch are very important to calf development. The pace of the herd is adjusted, so the young can keep up. Calves learn which plants are edible and ways to acquire them, by watching their elders. Mothers and aunts are in almost constant affectionate contact with the young, offering guidance and assistance.
Calves nurse for the first six months of life. Elephant milk is high in fat and protein (100 times more than the protein contained in cow's milk).
On average, calves drink about 10 L (21 pt.) a day.
Calves begin to experiment with their developing trunks between four and six months of age by picking grasses and leaves to supplement their diet. Weaning from milk gradually follows this process. Calves are not completely weaned until they are over two years of age and may weigh between 850-900 kg (1,874-1,984 lb.).
The birth interval for elephants is about a year. Females may have up to 12 calves in their lifetime.