How long is the gestation of the elephant than any other living beast

Please consider the elephant if you or someone you know has gone through a pregnancy that seemed to last forever. It has a nearly two-year gestation period, making it one of the longest in the animal kingdom.

And now, the elephant in the room…

The sick pachyderm

As the largest land mammals on Earth, elephants also have the longest gestation of any living mammal, lasting an average of 22 months in Africa and anywhere between 18 and 22 months in Asia. You could blame their massive size for the extended gestation period, but you’d be wrong.

Due to their enormous size, baby elephants are not in a hurry to mature in the womb. However, this is not the only reason for their slow progress, their massive brains also play a role.

The elephant never forgets

An elephant takes time to develop its intelligence, but once it does, it is a highly intelligent mammal. The brain is the largest of any land animal and has a structure very similar to that of the human brain.

This is another proof of their intelligence. However, it has three times as many neurons as the human brain (250 billion) and is three times larger.

The old saying “an elephant never forgets” is almost correct. Their memory processing region (the temporal lobe) is unusually developed with more folds than in most people’s brains.

How long is an elephant's pregnancy?
How long is an elephant’s pregnancy?

Because of this, elephants are able to remember important information, such as where and how to access life-sustaining resources such as food and water. The herd matriarch has access to complex mental maps covering hundreds of kilometers to guide her family to watering holes.

Elephants are just as smart as dolphins and chimpanzees. To get to their food, they stack blocks and use tools made from branches and stones. Their proboscis give them the dexterity of human hands, allowing them to pick up, carry and manipulate objects with ease.

They are one of the few animal species that understand the meaning of pointing. Many dogs, for example, do, but chimpanzees do not. Elephants are also among the few animal species capable of recognizing their own reflection in a mirror, with only apes, ravens and bottlenose dolphins showing such an ability.

They also show compassion by tending to injured herd members and grieving the loss of a loved one. Gentle giants have been observed burying their dead or covering them with leaves. They can mimic the sounds of other elephants and even some human words, if that wasn’t impressive enough.

Understanding pregnancy to preserve

Illegal ivory trade and poaching have led to dramatic declines in elephant populations around the world. Populations in much of southern Africa are stable or increasing, but poaching is a growing threat in the eastern half of the region.

On the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, savanna and forest elephants are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered, respectively. Elephants’ long gestation periods are contributing to the declining population crisis.

Compared to other animals, they have a significantly longer gestation period (about four to five years) and usually give birth to only one calf at a time.

Although breeding programs in zoos play a crucial role in elephant conservation, adult male elephants that are reproductively active can exhibit unpredictable behavior and may have problems finding a suitable mate. Understanding pregnancy in elephants is essential to the successful implementation of ‘assisted reproduction’ techniques.

How long is an elephant's pregnancy?
How long is an elephant’s pregnancy?

The method behind producing such highly intelligent animals has been shrouded in mystery for quite some time. However, in the last few decades scientists have been able to take a closer look thanks to advances in ultrasound technology.

Seventeen elephants from zoos in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Australia and Germany were examined for a landmark study published in 2012. 12

The elephant’s prolonged pregnancy and unusual ovulation cycle have been traced to a hormonal mechanism not seen in any other mammal. LH (luteinizing hormone) rises twice to initiate pregnancy, and hormones secreted by multiple corpora lutea in the ovary keep the baby growing.

This insight into the mechanisms that support pregnancy is critical to conservation efforts in the wild and in zoos. Artificial insemination should be performed after the second luteinizing hormone (LH) surge, but timing is critical, as ovulation and fertilization are likely to occur within just two to three days.

Scientists monitor hormone levels with weekly blood tests or by measuring hormone metabolites excreted in urine and stool to prepare for the first LH surge. Artificial insemination pairs animals that can be separated by hundreds of kilometers so that their gene pools can be expanded.

An increasingly healthy and stable population is a direct result of a larger and more diverse gene pool. Because of this, the female elephant can stay with her herd, which is critical to her well-being.


Obviously, this is not the last chapter.

Calves that have survived a marathon pregnancy have fully formed brains by the time they are born. By observing the adults, they quickly learn which plants to eat and how to access them, and this skill is used both to recognize the matriarchal social structure around them and to help them forage.

How long is an elephant's pregnancy?
How long is an elephant’s pregnancy?

But they are not completely isolated. If there are calves in the herd, the older females will help care for them and slow the herd down so the calves can cope.

Without those 680 days in the womb, however, none of this would be possible. They are given a head start in life thanks to the complex neural development that occurs during this time.

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