One of the joys of studying forest elephants in the field is being able to watch the infants. Our researchers have been privy to many magical moments in the field, both endearing and amusing.
Elephants have the longest gestation period of all mammals – 22 months, and forest elephants produce a calf only once every 5 to 6 years. This lengthy time interval allows the mother to devote the attention that the calf needs in order to teach it all the complex tasks of being an elephant, such as how to use their trunk to eat, drink and wash, and what to eat.
Soon after birth, elephant babies can stand up and move around, which allows the mother to roam around to forage. The calf suckles using its mouth (its trunk is held over its head). The tusks erupt at about 16 months. Calves are not weaned until the next younger sibling is born (when they are about 5 years old). Even without a new sibling, by five years of age the tusks are about 14 cm (5.5″) long, and begin to get in the way of sucking.