EleFact Friday: No Boys Alowed

Happy EleFACT Friday! In our recent AMA, Kat was asked about why we keep male and female elephants in separate enclosures, and how and when they’ll be able to interact. Today we wanted to talk about reproductive ages between males and females and what that means for elephants who may come to sanctuary. 

Both male and female elephants mature rather slowly and have a relatively long reproductive lifetime. In the wild, most female African elephants give birth for the first time at around 14 years old, and Asian elephants begin reproducing a bit later. Females generally get pregnant and give birth between the ages of 16 and 40, with a slight decline after that; but elephants over 60 still have the ability to conceive.

You may remember our post about male elephants experiencing musth. This heightened period of sexual activity and aggression has been shown to occur in wild elephants from ages 17 to 63. Males reach peak reproduction between the ages of 40 and 55 and are still reproductively active at age 60.

It should be noted that these ages are taken from studies done by Dr. Joyce Poole, who evaluated elephants in the wild who were healthy and not compromised, physically or emotionally, by captivity. The difference in average reproductive ages changes drastically between those who are naturally wild and those who may suffer from the damages of captivity.

In captivity, it is not recommended to breed an elephant for the first time who is over the age of 35. We don’t support breeding elephants in captivity, but there are other reasons it would not be a possibility at Elephant Sanctuary Brazil. One of the greatest concerns we have is that the elephants come to sanctuary already physically and emotionally compromised. Expecting any of the elephants at ESB to endure a 22-month pregnancy, much less be bred, would be unfair to their health.

To read more about Dr. Poole’s studies, please visit Elephant Voices

Top photo of Pocha (Po-CHA) and Guillermina(gee-jer-MEE-na), followed by a photo of Tamy (Tammy)


  1. REPLY
    Katie Howard says

    As usual excellent information and a perfect stance to fit with your elephant husbandry practice. GSE ROCKS!

  2. REPLY
    Barb says

    Excellent review of the reproductive history of elephants! Love Friday EleFACTS!

  3. REPLY
    Tammy says

    Definitely agree 100% with that it makes perfect sense after all there are so many elephants already needing deserving Sanctuary life to begin with why add to the problem…..

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      We do love baby elephants and are glad there are other organizations that are able to care for them. In our case, it’s just not a good choice.

  4. REPLY
    Wim says

    Understandably they’ve got more than enough to carry.

  5. REPLY
    JoAnn Merriman-Eaton says

    Always learn something new from your Elle Fact Friday! I cannot imagine the issues and problems it would bring to the sanctuary to mix male and female elephants. Elephant males an females alike have had abuse and emotional trauma their entire life, then to put hormones into the mix? No way!! Thank you GSE.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Some males are perfectly calm during musth, but we can’t be sure about Tamy – and he needs to be able to go through his natural cycles in his own way. It does happen in some places and, who knows, once we know more about Tamy, if others seem interested, there is always a possibility they can spend time near each other. But for now, they will stay in their own spaces.

  6. REPLY
    Jamie says

    If you had two Asian male elephants, would they ever share the same space, or would they need to be separated?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      The goal would be to put them together if they are compatible, but the space is created so they can be separated, long or short-term, if needed.

  7. REPLY
    Carey says

    I wonder f you could tell me, Is it more important to keep Asian male elephants apart than to keep females apart? Are males more solitary than eg the Etosha Park African males in ‘Elephant Don’ by Caitlin O’Connell? And do male Asian elephants mostly socialise when in musth (with females) but not with other males? Is there recommended reading about this aspect of Asian male elephants? Thanks very much.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      There was a small recent study done on the social behavior of Asian male groupings. Obviously behaviors will vary from one species to another and from region-to-region. But it did reflect that Asian males tend to prefer groups of others in their age group, rather than a multi-generational bachelor herd. Socialization behaviors differ in Asian and African elephants for many reasons like habitat, season, available food, etc. Males generally socialize with other males for most of the year, but do go in search of a female while they are in musth, then wander back away and find the other bachelors again. Caitlin’s book has lots of good information, but Asian elephants are just not studied as much as African elephants.

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