How Do Elephants Care for Their Young?

Elephant calves are cared for by their aunts, sisters and mother, with the mother responsible for providing breast milk while the aunts and sisters guarding and babysitting the babies. Because elephant calves are born only one every five years, this practice allows the young female elephants, known as “allomothers,” to learn how to care for their own young in the future.

According to PBS, calves are usually born into extended families headed by a matriarch. Adult bull elephants leave the herd when they’re 14, traveling either alone or in a bachelor herd that rejoins the female herd during the breeding seasons.

Calves can walk and follow the herd within a half hour of their births. For the first year, they depend entirely on their mothers for milk. At about four months old, elephant calves start experimenting with their trunks and mimicking the behavior of the adults around them, slowly learning to grasp grass and solid foods and forage among the vegetation. After five years, calves should be fully weaned while their mothers prepare for another infant. Canisius Ambassadors for Conservation states that females rarely leave their mothers, staying in the same herd until death, but male calves leave when they turn six.