Watch these Elephants Get in on!

Oct 7 2015

Conrad Cramer, expert elephant guide and videographer of this footage describes this as a special sighting. This is simply because elephants don't generally mate within close proximity to a big herd. During the summer months in Addo Elephant Park the extreme heat forces the elephants to the water holes. He says, 'We arrived at Hapoor (one of their favourite drinking spots) to find approximately 80 elephants gathered. Elephants are usually very orderly with family groups, each taking a turn to drink, but on this particular day, there seemed to be an apparent unease amongst the herd...

The previous day, at the same place, I had witnessed three big bulls getting very demonstrative and aggressive towards each other. It soon became clear as to why this lack of calm, as a large bull started pursuing a female. He wanted to mate! We watched the sighting unfold, in awe.

There were a few other large bulls that he kept charging at, keeping them at bay from 'his' female. He was also showing some aggression towards some of the older females who seemingly wanted to 'protect' her. The young female was clearly in oestrus, and showed no sign of resistance! She kept backing up towards the bulls' advances. We witnessed them mate several times, but often interrupted by full charges from the bull aimed at any other male that might pose a threat at stealing his prize. Continuing for some time the mating seemed to be a source of fascination for many of the younger elephants who would tentatively edge closer to the mating couple with outstretched trunks. We were surrounded by elephants vocalising and trumpeting all around us, and Conrad continues, 'I felt electrified by this close-up experience'.

Conrad is passionate about elephants and has spent many hours with them in the wild, and after witnessing such an unusual sighting we decide to chat to him more about elephants and mating.

TB: What is the courting process between a male & female? And can you explain the female and male reproductive cycle to us?
CC: Usually a male elephant will try luring a female away and isolating her from the herd to mate (this male however chose to mate in the midst of about 80 other elephants.) The two will rub their bodies up against each other and the male will continuously try to influence her movements trying to ensure she walks a distance from the herd. Courtship can last from only an hour to up to four or five days.

A female elephant will become sexually mature around 14 years of age. When a cow is in oestrus she may vocalise and rub herself against a potential male to try and attract him. Her oestrus cycle will last about 15 weeks. Once she has mated with a male she will no longer be receptive to mating.

A male elephants' testicles are located inside his body close to his kidneys and his reproductive tract is about two metres long. An elephant bull starts producing sperm at between 10 and 15 years of age. Adult bulls go through periods of high testosterone levels known as 'musth', evidenced by thick fluid secretion from a temporal gland and urine dripping from the penis. Typical behaviour includes ear waving to spread the strong scent of his musth, and walking with his head held higher than usual for other bulls to notice his aggression. When in musth an elephant bull can walk huge distances searching for family groups or herds that might have a female in oestrus among them. Bulls in musth can be very aggressive and dominate mating with females.

TB: How long is the gestation period, and how many calves does she give birth to?
CC: Female elephants are pregnant for 22 months and give birth to one calf at a time, although there are records of two calves being born at a time, a very rare occurrence. Gestation of a female elephant is 22 months and they will suckle their young for two to four years after which she will come into oestrus and be able to fall pregnant again.

TB: Is there much fighting or aggression between the males?
CC: When males do become aggressive toward each other there is the possibility of injury. I have watched elephants fight for hours until both of them are bleeding from tusk inflicted wounds, but for the most part they will avoid injury with the more submissive bull turning his side toward his opponent as a sign of submission.  

TB: What are social relations like between elephants?
CC: In my 18 months spent photographing and filming elephants in Addo National Park my biggest intrigue has come from witnessing the social behaviour of elephants. A matriarchal society often led by the oldest female with family groups numbering about 20. When they get larger than this, they will split up and another older female takes the leadership role of the new family group. Often around a water hole family groups will gather and spend time together. In Addo I have seen around 250 elephants gather. The bonds between females and their calves are incredibly strong and females can become highly aggressive in protecting their young. Young males start getting pushed out the herd in their teenage years and will soon roam with older bulls. Elephant bulls become more solitary the older they get, moving between family groups in search of females to mate with.

Elephants are very tactile creatures, often showing affection. A typical sign of affection and greeting would be placing their trunk in the mouth of another elephant, reaffirming bonds between them. Young elephants are extremely playful and always a joy to watch, often witnessed chasing birds and anything smaller than them. For such big and potentially dangerous creatures, elephants are incredibly patient, gentle and peaceful animals.

TB: What is the general life-span of an elephant?
CC: An elephant lives to around 60 years and usually dies of starvation as their teeth wear down.

About Conrad Cramer

Conrad Cramer


Free spirited adventurer, photojournalist, lover of lifeand guide in the Addo Elephant Park, Conrad's passion is elephants.

Adventure is dangerous , but routine is lethal !

Instagram: @africanmandreaming

Twitter: @skindiboy

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