There is little doubt that baby elephants are some of the cutest of all baby animals. But as with all gods creatures, they do not stay as babies for very long.
Be that as it may, baby elephants should still be celebrated. So while the attached short movie clips and photos go some way to do them justice, to truly appreciate baby elephants you need to first understand the elephant family dynamics that bring them them to the world.
The mating season is short and females are only able to conceive for a few days each year. To begin with, the female elephant will detach herself from the herd when she comes into season. The scent of the female (cow) elephant in heat (or estrus) attracts the male and she also uses audible signals to attract the male. As the female elephant is both smaller and therefore faster than the male elephant, she can usually outrun the male. This means that she does not have to mate with every male that approaches her.
The male initiates the courtship and the female will ignore him for several minutes. He then stops and starts again. Elephants display a range of affectionate interactions, such as nuzzling, trunk intertwining, and placing their trunks in each other's mouths.
The female elephant is not passive in the ritual and uses the same techniques as the male.
African as well as Asiatic males will engage in same-sex bonding and mounting. The encounters are analogous to heterosexual bouts, one male often extending his trunk along the other's back and pushing forward with his tusks to signify his intention to mount. Unlike heterosexual relations, which are always of a fleeting nature, those between males result in a "companionship", consisting of an older individual and one or two younger, attendant males. Same-sex relations are common and frequent in both sexes, with Asiatic elephants in captivity devoting roughly 46% of sexual encounters to same-sex activity.
Elephant Family Groups
Female elephant social life revolves around breeding and raising of the calves. A female will usually be ready to breed around the age of thirteen, when she comes into estrus, a short phase of receptiveness lasting a couple of days, for the first time. Females announce their estrus with smell signals and special calls.
As a general rule, females elephants prefer bigger, stronger, and, most importantly, older males. Such a reproductive strategy tends to increase their offspring's chances of survival.
After a twenty-two-month pregnancy, the mother gives birth to a calf that weighs about 115 kg (250 lb) and stands over 75 cm (2.5 ft) tall. Elephants have a very long development. As is common with more intelligent species, they are born with fewer survival instincts than many other animals. Instead, they rely on their elders to teach them what they need to know. Today, however, the pressures humans have put on the wild elephant populations, from poaching to habitat destruction, mean that the elderly often die at a younger age, leaving fewer teachers for the young. The consequences of this for the next generation are not known.
A new calf is usually the center of attention for herd members. Adults and most of the other young will gather around the newborn, touching and caressing it with their trunks. The baby is born nearly blind and at first relies almost completely on its trunk to discover the world around it.
Elephants within a herd are usually related, and all members of the tightly-knit female group participate in the care and protection of the young. After the initial excitement, the mother will usually select several full-time babysitters, or 'allomothers', from her group. An elephant is considered an allomother when she is not able to have her own calf. The more allomothers, the better the calf's chances of survival. A benefit of being an allomother is that she can gain experience or receive assistance when caring for her own calf. According to Cynthia Moss, a well known researcher, these allomothers will help in all aspects of raising the calf. They walk with the young as the herd travels, helping the calves along if they fall or get stuck in the mud. The more allomothers a calf has, the more free time its mother has to feed herself. Providing a calf with nutritious milk means the mother has to eat more nutritious food herself.
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