The Suitcase Lady


May 5, 2015, 8:12 pm

Elephant mothers don’t get cards, flowers or presents on Mother’s Day, but they definitely deserve them. Mammal mothers are all stellar (compared to snake moms, for example), but the female pachyderms all should receive a huge bouquet of carrots for exceptional mothering.

Female elephants have the longest gestation of any animal…..22 months. Then, while still standing up, they deliver their 300 pound babies. Fortunately, each mother takes one or two “nurse” elephants with her to a secluded spot for the birth, and, again fortunately, twins are extremely rare.

The big baby is helped to its feet and soon starts nursing. Each day, 10 gallons of milk are consumed and 2 pounds of weight are gained. To produce this much milk, the new mothers have to eat copious amounts of food. Younger female elephants called allomothers baby sit for the calves so the cows can forage.

Elephants are not born with loads of instinctual behaviors. They do not even know what to do with those peculiar trunks that keep getting in the way. Some of the babies suck on their trunks the same way human babies suck their thumbs. All the females in these matriarchal herds teach the babies the skills necessary to survive. The ladies also fight off lions, hyenas and other formidable predators.

Baby elephants are walking from birth, so tending them is like having instant toddlers. The calves fall in ditches, wander off and get stuck in mud. Every mom takes responsibility for all the babies. The herd is a child care cooperative.

Calves aren’t fully weaned for five or six years. Boys continue to stay in the herd until they are young teenagers. The girls never leave home. The herd is one big girl party; mothers, daughters, aunts and cousins.

I recently completed a big elephant art unit for many first and second graders. We talked about science facts like the ones above. We also saw examples of how people in India decorate their elephants for special holidays and parades. The kids resulting art work was pure joy.


1 Comment for this entry

  • Karen Little on Facebook

    I notice that the elephants don’t have tusks. Were these all baby elephants? …. and YES, I love pattern-making. Kids should start decorating their homework (if they still use paper) with patterns around the edges. Nice article.