Study shows how elephant calves can keep up with the herd from birth

Dr Lucy TaylorElephant herds do not slow down for mothers who've just given birth, according to new research from an international team led by Christ Church Junior Research Fellow, Lucy Taylor.

In collaboration with Save the Elephants, Lucy and her team discovered that following a 22-month gestation period, mature baby elephants emerge from the womb able to keep up with the family from the day they're born.

The findings, published in Animal Behaviour, show the average daily speed of the mother did not significantly change during pregnancy, birth and when moving with a newborn calf, except for a small dip in daily speed on the day of birth itself. In fact, the speed on the day before the elephant gave birth and the day after (i.e. the first complete day of the calf’s life) were not different from the yearly average speed.

The study, the first of its kind, gives rare insight into how pregnancy, birth and newborn calves impact the movements of African savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) and further demonstrates the strength and resilience of female elephants.

© Robbie Labanowski - Save the ElephantsTo find out how these factors affect a herd’s movements, Save the Elephants fitted GPS tracking collars to pregnant elephants. The tracking technology works in a similar way to a smartwatch tracking a walk or a run. The age of baby elephants was estimated by size and appearance.

The scientists then brought all this data together to calculate whether the speed of the mother changed before, during, and after birth.

“We speculate that this ability ‘to keep up’ may underpin why elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal in order to facilitate an advanced state of foetal physical development, and may have evolved to help elephant herds stay together,” said Dr Taylor.

“I find it remarkable that female elephants are pregnant for 22 months, give birth and then are capable of carrying on almost straight away. Even the oldest female in a family herd, the matriarch, can still give birth and lead the group, which I consider to be another demonstration of the strength and resilience of female elephants.”

To read more about the research published in Animal Behaviour, please visit: