Elephants are expressive creatures. They display joy, anger, grief, compassion and love. But a mother’s love for her calf is the strongest emotion of all.
Elephant mothers carry their babies for almost two years before giving birth. Mother and child remain in constant touch, the calf never straying more than a trunk’s length from its mother, while she gently steers it by grasping its tail with her trunk.
Elephant mothers know best
The mother carries her calf over obstacles, rescues it from mishaps, and uses her own body to protect it from attack: even from the hot sun. She bathes it using her trunk, both to spray water over it and to gently scrub it clean. Protector and nurturer, the mother is also the calf’s teacher. From her it will learn where to find water, what to eat, and how to avoid its only predator – man. It’s a lot to learn for a small elephant, which for the first six years of its life will only taste solid food in its mother’s mouth, and receive sustenance only from her milk. And to ensure her calf gets exactly the right nutrients, an elephant mother’s milk changes four times during the weaning process.
Elephants have the longest childhoods of any creature on earth other than man and, like us, they stay in family groups until they reach puberty (10-15 years). However while the females may stay with the matriarchal herd for life, the young bulls must leave as soon as they reach puberty. Capable of mating at the age of ten, they will not be socially mature until they have reached the age of thirty, at which time they will have attained the size and the experience to compete against the other bulls for the females when they are on heat.
Elephants herds are matriarchal. The oldest female elephant plays a key role in controlling the social network of the group and in ensuring the survival of the family. And when it comes to choosing a mate, the female always has the last word. Careful study of elephant behavior in Amboseli National Park has revealed that the female elephant knows exactly what she wants in a male. Those she fancies, she entices by brushing gently up against them, coyly hesitating to one side, or simply striding up and saying hello. Those she doesn’t favour, she simply ignores, tosses her head at – or runs away from.
Sound familiar? Well so it should.
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