Elephant Family Structure

Elephant Behaviour The elephant is distinguished by its high level of intelligence, methods of communication, complex social structure and interesting behaviour. Elephants express their emotions in different ways. Elephants can show great joy and happiness and they can also show other emotions too which you would probably not expect to see in an animal.

Elephant Grieving

Grieving is a natural emotion for human beings, especially when they have lost a loved one. However, humans are not the only ones that can grieve. It also happens in the elephant world. An elephant is capable of complex emotions such as grieving. They have been known to express their sadness over a stillborn baby elephant. The obvious expressions of the mothers face, her sad eyes, drooping ears are a tell-tale sign of an elephant grieving.

Elephants seem to be fascinated with the tusks and bones of dead elephants, fondling and examining them. The myth that they carry them to secret elephant burial grounds, however, has no factual base. What has been observed is that elephants cover their deceased with leaves, twigs and branches. If a herd encounters a dead elephants skeleton on their travels, each will pick up a bone and hide it under a bush. Why they do this is quite a mystery, however, one theory is that spreading out these bones may deter would-be predators from their trail.

Elephants demonstrate concern for members of their families. They take care of weak or injured members and appear to grieve over a dead companion. Elephants have been known to visit the place of a deceased elephant and remain there, mourning for days.

Elephant Joy and Happiness

Elephants are very social, frequently touching and caressing one another and entwining their trunks. Elephants express their emotions in many different ways. They show great joy for the following reasons: in the greeting of a friend or family member (even a human friend), after the birth of a baby elephant and when playing games.

When family members or friends meet, they have joyful meetings. This is usually seen when a friend or family member is absent for a long time. When the absent elephant returns, an incredible welcoming takes place. During this greeting the elephants involved will spin around, defecate and urinate. They hold their heads high and flap their large floppy ears whilst trumpeting, rumbling, screaming and roaring with excitement.

Elephant Fun and Games

Many accounts have been recorded on the fact that elephants work with their environment and engage in games of throwing objects, twisting and interacting with their characteristics. Typically, elephants begin a playing session by trumpeting. Elephants engage in solitary play as well as in group play.

Typically, in many species, playing behaviour is limited to the younger aged animals that are going through a stage of growth that involves a flexibility of behaviour to prepare them for survival in the world. This type of playing involves elephants young and old, acting in expressions of personality and having fun.

Elephant Family Structure

Elephants are generally gregarious and form small family groups consisting of an older matriarch and three or four offspring, along with their young. It was once thought that family groups were led by old bull elephants, however, these males are most often solitary.

Elephant Matriarch

An elephant family is ruled by a matriarch (older female), and generally consists of her female offspring and their young. In Africa, a basic family unit consists of 6 to 12 animals, however, families of 12 to 20 elephants are quite common. An elephant family will split depending on the size of the family, the amount of available food and how well they are getting along. When the matriarch dies, one of the oldest offspring takes her place.

Several inter-related elephant family groups may inhabit an area and know each other well. When they meet at watering holes and feeding places, they greet each other affectionately.


When elephant herds are on the move, usually looking for food and water, they travel together walking in single file.

The elephant herd is led by the elder female and leader followed by the rest of the females and their young.

The calves will hold on to the tails of their mothers and the whole herd will constantly protect the young from dangers along the way.

Elephant Mating Patterns

The mating patterns of elephants offer us key insights into family structures and life cycle behaviours. Mating patterns are unique since elephants do not confine mating to a specific time of year. The situation which develops involves the male elephant pursuing the female elephant until she is ready to mate. Once the mating is over, the male elephant joins the bachelor herd or leaves on his own. It is this male-leaving behaviour that highlights the matriarch elephant family.

Elephant Calves

An elephant’s gestation (pregnancy) period lasts about 22 months (630 – 660 days), the longest gestation period of any mammal, after which one calf is typically born. An orphaned calf will usually be adopted by one of the familys lactating females or suckled by various females.

Elephants are very attentive mothers, and because most elephant behaviour has to be learned, they keep their offspring with them for many years. The calf suckles with its mouth (the trunk is held over its head); when its tusks are 5 or 6 inches long, they begin to disturb the mother and she weans her calf.

Once weaned, usually at the age of 4 or 5, the calf still remains in the maternal group. Young elephants reach puberty at around 14 – 15 years old where reproduction may take place and a new generation of elephants is in the making. Female elephants will continue to reproduce until they are about 50 years old with a 2 – 4 year interval between each calf.

Male Elephants

As male elephants grow older and approach puberty gradually become more independent from the family group. This involves primarily spending more time on the outskirts of the group. Eventually, the males leave the family and join with other males of different ages in a band of bulls.