EleFact Friday: Raising an Elephant Calf

We’ve written before about the role of a matriarch in a traditional herd, and we’ve gotten many questions about the part that other female elephants play in the raising of a calf – so this week’s EleFACT will talk about group and family dynamics and young elephants. 

When baby elephants are born, they stay close to their mothers for a few months. Because herds are matriarchal, calves have “aunts,” sometimes known as allomothers, who help raise the calves, protecting both the baby and the new mother. Aunts, sisters, and cousins all play a role in bringing up a baby elephant. Younger members of the group use this activity as a sort of training experience for when they have their own babies. The other members of the group pass on life experiences, teaching young elephants everything from how to use their trunks to how to avoid predators. 

Allomothers also keep an eye on calves who are separated from their mothers, making sure they don’t get left behind each time the group moves; they might also help young elephants when they stumble or fall. It’s possible that allomothers want to protect their family members in order to increase the probability that their genes will be passed onto future generations. It is theorized that they might also choose to help the calves of those above them in the matriarchal hierarchy in order to gain favor with the matriarch.

As research continues on this phenomenon, scientists may discover more benefits or reasons behind the practice of allomothering. In the meantime, we can use the information we have now to learn more about social structures of elephant herds in general. 

Photo of Guillermina and Bambi


  1. REPLY
    Pam says

    Thanks for another enlightening EleFACT! It’s great to have this context for the behaviors that we may see in the Sanctuary girls.

  2. REPLY
    Viviana Gallo says

    Todas las elefantas, incluidas Pocha, fueron separadas de su manada desde muy pequeñas, por lo que supongo no han aprendido estas habilidades ancestrales. Para Pocha debe haber sido un desafío abrumador criar sola a Guillermina sin ayuda y sin conocimiento, e igual para sus nuevas tías del santuario debe ser muy difícil ser comadres sin tener experiencia ni conocimientos… Todas están aprendiendo a ser una manada, y lo hacen mientras curan sus heridas emocionales de tantos años de encierro y malos tratos… ¡¡Vaya tarea!! Dios las guíe a ellas y los bendiga a ustedes por acompañarlas en este proceso.

  3. REPLY
    JoAnn Merriman Eaton says

    The awesome, amazing behaviors of elephants within their herd is so interesting and beautiful. They truly are all about family and relationships. Love the photo of these new kids on the block!!🐘🐘♥️

  4. REPLY
    Carolyn Stearns says

    Do you think the others understand the relationship between Pocha & Guerllmina

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      we believe so

  5. REPLY
    Carey says

    @Viviana Gallo may cierto

  6. REPLY
    Patricia Aguilar says

    It is also possible that elephant “nannies” love their younger members and tend to them out of affectionate duty.

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