Gestation Period and Pregnancy of Elephants

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How long does an elephant cow's menstrual cycle last?

An elephant cow's oestrogen cycle lasts 3-4 months. Thus an elephant cow is only ready to be covered by the bull about 3 to 4 times per year.
This is not very often and makes it all the more difficult to successfully breed elephants in zoos.

Are there any outward signs?

An elephant cow shows no outward signs indicating that she is in heat. That is why it is important that the elephant cow and the elephant bull can meet freely for a few hours daily.

How often is an elephant cow covered by the elephant bull?

When an elephant cow has her oestrus, the bull covers her daily for 3 to 4 days. In a zoo, the bull should only be let in to the cows, however, when he is not in musth, as he can behave very unpredictably when this is the case.

Ideally, the elephant bull is let into the enclosure where the elephant cows are kept. Mating takes place in the presence of the entire family group. It is a natural process which seems to absorb the whole zoo elephant herd.

Elephant bull

Is it also possible to inseminate an elephant artificially?

A few years ago, it became possible to inseminate elephants artificially, in the same way in which this is done with livestock.
However, by no stretch of the imagination can artificial insemination be called species-appropriate, since this method of breeding often requires the use of rather cruel invasive procedures.
The harvesting of sperm from an elephant bull and the impregnation of an elephant cow are preceded by rigid training and require direct contact, a crush cage or anaesthesia.

A description of an artificial fertilisation of a zoo animal can be found on the website of IZW Berlin, the Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research: IZW-Berlin.


How long does pregnancy last?

If copulation is successful, then the pregnancy lasts for around 22 months.
This is one of the longest gestation periods in the animal kingdom. (The blue whale, for example, has a gestation period of around 1 year.)

Why does pregnancy last so long?

It is probably the elephant's enormous size and slow development that make this relatively long gestation period necessary.
In this period an elephant calf develops to its full weight at birth of around 100 to 150 kg.

Elephant embryo

Six-time mother Ceyla's gestation periods were:

Ceyla 1 day befor the birth of Upali  
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