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EleFact Friday: Reproduction in Captivity

With the arrival of Guillermina, the sanctuary’s youngest elephant resident, and watching her interactions with some of the older ladies, we have received many questions about whether or not the girls here are physically able to produce their own children, and if that’s in the plans for the future. While we understand the curiosity and know that the idea of our sanctuary elephants being mothers sounds wonderful and cute, we want to make sure to educate about why the elephants here at the sanctuary will never be bred. 

The gestation period of a baby elephant is around 22 months – the longest of any mammal. Most mammals have only one corpus luteum, which is a temporary gland that controls hormone levels during pregnancy; elephants have as many as 11. WIthout getting into the exact details of pregnancy in elephants, it can be simply stated that the physical toll that carrying a child has on the body of any female elephant is extreme, even in the healthiest of elephants. 

Female elephants can give birth at approximately four to five-year intervals and have been documented as having up to 12 offspring per lifetime. They generally give birth from as young as 7 years old to 22 years old. Most females give birth for the first time between 14 and 15 years old in African elephants, and slightly later for Asian elephants. The ability to become pregnant remains fairly consistent between the ages of 16 and 40, and then declines slightly, though some females over 60 have shown through hormone testing that they are still having menstrual cycles. All of the elephants at sanctuary are considered geriatric and over the age of 49 so, aside from Guillermina, none of them are the ideal age to carry a full-term pregnancy. 

The physical and psychological toll that the elephants at sanctuary have been through is far beyond what we can understand. Their years in captivity are something that only they will ever know and the greatest thing that we can provide for them is the ability to heal – physically, spiritually, and mentally. To put them in a situation to be bred or to carry a pregnancy for 22 months is not appropriate for their age, their physical condition, or something that the sanctuary supports in general. Additionally, our accrediting body, the Global Federation of Elephant Sanctuaries believes that true sanctuary does not engage in intentional breeding.

Although we are lucky enough to witness the healing of these animals every day and have the privilege to share it with all of our supporters, sanctuary is still captivity. It is the best that captivity has to offer, but the species truly cannot be saved here; that needs to happen in their home range. Bringing babies into the circumstances of sanctuary would not give them the lives that they deserve. While we understand the charm of a baby elephant and what it could do to the herd dynamic, our greatest mission is to provide a healthy home to elephants who are already stuck in the circle of captivity as a result of human desires. We do not believe it’s ethical or appropriate to continue that cycle by introducing breeding. Our goal is to provide a space for these elephants to live out the rest of their lives focusing on themselves, their healing, and their relationships with each other, and we will dedicate our days to doing so in any way we can. 

Photo of the lovely Rana, our oldest lady at sanctuary

Comments(18)

  1. REPLY
    Benita Auge says

    This is so well said and I hope is the philosophy of all sanctuaries. In addition to the fact that for the foreseeable future, there are all manner of animals that need rescue from the result of human activities, there is unfortunately the lack of money to do that. The money required to care for an elephant – the rescue itself, the food, the veterinary care, the sanctuary property, employees all adds up over the remaining life of the elephant to a huge bottom line. And let’s face it -why would we want to bring another animal, no matter what it is, into a lifetime of captivity? They’re in cages – a big cage for the elephant – but still a cage.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      It’s true that the expenses are great, but offering the elephants the best life possible is an honor. Breeding in captivity is a complicated and sometimes controversial subject, but it’s one that we are certain we’ve made the right decision about.

  2. REPLY
    Melinda says

    God bless you all for your compassion and understanding of these wondrous beings. If only all humans had the same comprehension of elephants and their needs.

  3. REPLY
    Nancy says

    THANK YOU

  4. REPLY
    Deb says

    AMEN!

  5. REPLY
    Pam says

    Thank you for having this policy, which I so completely support. Very well written and clear explanation, too.

  6. REPLY
    Marcela says

    Me super satisfizo la explicación que han brindado y apoyo totalmente lo que han dicho. Siempre están pensando en su sanación y bienestar. Los admiro.❤

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Gracias

  7. REPLY
    Lisa says

    Very well said.
    Thank you, Sara.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Must give credit to another member of our writing team, Janna, for this one. Thanks for your kind words.

  8. REPLY
    Wim says

    Thank you for sharing and explaining your exact concept.
    Not all sanctuaries are this ethical.

  9. REPLY
    Suzanne Eaton says

    Thank you, Janna, for a well written piece and thank you GSE, for your love, compassion and understanding of all God’s creatures. ❤️❤️❤️

  10. REPLY
    JoAnn Merriman-Eaton says

    Such a wealth of information. I am so grateful for this approach by GSE. I just cements the fact that these formerly captive elephants are there to heal mind, body and soul. Not to go through the emotional and physical toll of being bred. I so wish zoos would follow this thinking. Thank you once again GSE for always putting the elephants welfare first.

  11. REPLY
    Richard Chiger says

    My opinion here might not be too popular. While I believe that there should be no captive breeding in zoos and circuses, I feel that elephants in sanctuary have a very different life. It is not truly being free, but it is a comfortable and happy living situation. Elephants love to be mothers and the reaction of the other elephants to bringing up and nurturing a calf is something that is intrinsically part of their lives and brings happiness, not stress. I do not feel that allowing elephants to breed in a true sanctuary situation is a bad idea.

  12. REPLY
    Patricia Richardson says

    Thank you for your very well written and informative post! You have enriched our appreciation of the marvelous elephant as a species, and as individuals as we are honored to know each one at the Sanctuary!

  13. REPLY
    Bonnie says

    all I can say is give those girls lots of love and I know you all will

  14. REPLY
    Lisa L says

    Thank God you will not allow breeding. The last thing we need are more captive elephants. Regardless of how it may seem to some, the sanctuary is needed for those elephants who need to escape cruelty.

  15. REPLY
    Carey says

    Thank you very much for this rich information Janna and GSE

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