By Cathy Richey, the Cathy Factor
The elephant's life cycle can be categorzsed into 3 main periods
– the baby, the adolescent, and the adult elephant. Like humans,
each stage lasts for an extended period of time and very distinct
developmental milestones characterize each level of maturity.
The baby stage lasts from birth until the elephant has been
weaned off its mother’s milk completely. This can be anywhere
between 5 and 10 years of age. Being weaned means that the calf no
longer drinks milk from its mother, but is able to live only on
solid vegetation. For the first 3 to 5 years, most elephant calves
are totally dependant on their mothers for their nutrition, hygiene,
migration and health.
This period is used to teach the young one all they will need to
know about the herd and their environment in order to be able to
survive alone. These lessons include the proper use of their trunk
for feeding, drinking and bathing. The calf is born after a
gestation period of almost 2 years (22 months). The first calves of
the season are born about 2 months before the first rains, meaning
that vegetation is soft and lush when they start to feed on it.
The adolescent stage extends from the time that the elephant has
been weaned (5 to 10 years of age) until about 17 years old. It is
during this stage that the elephants reach sexual maturity. This
generally occurs anywhere between 8 and 13 years of age. They do not
usually begin to mate at this adolescent stage. Adolescence is the
time in which young elephants begin to break away from the main
herd. Young bulls, in particular, tend to form smaller pods of
peers, known as ‘bachelor pods’. Females are more likely to stick to
the main matriarchal herd.
Adulthood starts at about 18 years of age, and the elephant has
an average life expectancy of 70 years. Although sexually mature in
their early teens, elephants generally only start to mate at about
20 years and stop bearing calves at about 50.
Like humans, elephant cows experience something similar to
menopause. Many of the age-related illnesses also bear strong
resemblances to those of humans, including cardiovascular diseases
and arthritis. During adulthood, many of the bulls tend to wonder
from the main herd in search of new cows with whom to mate. The
female elephants will remain with the matriarchal pod, sticking
together and assisting one another with nursing and caring for
Elephants, like humans, enjoy clearly defined stages of their
lives, each lasting for several years, even decades. Stages are
characterized by structured roles and duties. These fascinating
creatures continue to amaze researchers in terms of their insight,
resourcefulness, and intelligence (editor's note: as opposed to
members of CONgress, which continue to amaze everybody with their
psychopathy, criminality, and stupidity).
Elephants are one of a select few animals that have the capacity
to be joyful and playful with one another, to grasp humor and
appreciate it. As social creatures, elephants will frequently touch
one another in affectionate, loving ways. Joy is most often
displayed when they greet close friends or family members.
Herds sometimes split and larger families are separated,
depending on the matriarch’s decision. This can be due to shortages
of food or water. When these herds meet at watering holes or
breeding spots, they joyfully greet one another. This welcoming
reception includes turning around in circles, holding their heads
up, flapping their ears, trumpeting, and screaming. Elephants who
have formed very close bonds with people are also likely to react in
this way on seeing their companion after a separation.
Another major cause for celebration is the birth of a calf.
During the birth, the aunts and matriarch gather around the mother
in joyful support. Celebrations begin and the cows begin to trumpet,
rumble and even scream in joy and excitement.
Elephants have even been known to amuse themselves by playing
games. These can either be played in a group, or with just one
player. The animal will use objects from its environment and toss,
twist, or interact with it in some way. Games are initiated by
trumpeting loudly, indicating to those in the herd that a new
session has begun.
Unlike humans and some other species, playing games is not
confined to the youth; older matriarchs and bulls have been known to
engage in some playful recreation. Elephants have even displayed a
sense of humor in their games, often tricking and teasing their
Elephants have been known to attack humans. The reason for these
attacks is usually revenge. As mentioned, elephants have a memory
that rivals almost all other creatures. They have been known to
remember those that have hurt them or helped them years after the
fact. After extended periods of poaching and culling, elephants
suffer post-traumatic stress disorder from witnessing the slaughter
of their families and young ones.
Another effect that these killings had on the herds was the fact
that hunters would often kill the oldest and largest elephants,
those that would usually take the lead in the herd. This meant that
more inexperienced teenagers were forced to look after themselves
without the guidance of an experienced animal. This led to a
These unpredictable attacks may be the result of abuse inflicted
on working elephants, whether in zoos, circuses or industry. Out of
loyalty and because of their compassionate nature, elephants will
endure a fair amount of abuse before they snap. When they do give in
to their frustrations, though, the incident frequently ends in the
death of a human being.
Like humans, elephants experience frustration and anger for a
variety of reasons. What is becoming clear is that the more exposure
elephants have to humans, the lower their tolerance to these
destructive beings. In fact, exposure to people has even proved to
make elephant males more violent and aggressive toward one another
and other species. Humans who keep wild animals from their natural
habitat are greedy and have no compassion for the life and
well-being of these magnificent creatures.