Is Duke a Dad again?

There is no way of knowing the answer to the above question, but Duke has recently been photographed with a breeding herd, and is pictured here with a calf. It is impossible to know if this is Duke’s offspring as he could have just joined this herd for a while, however it's nice to think that he could have fathered another of what must be many calves.

Duke is currently the largest of the Kruger Tuskers, and therefore perhaps the biggest in the world. His home range is the Lower Sabie/Crocodile Bridge/Tshokwane area though he has been known to travel as far north as Satara. He is seen regularly by the windmill that shares his name and is probably the most photographed of the big tuskers. He has a very relaxed disposition and can be identified by a square-shaped notch in his right ear.

Due to their large size elephants reproduce slowly. First conception typically occurs at 10 - 11 years with the interval between calves ranging from 4 - 9 years.

Elephant cows come into oestrous for periods of 2-6 days and will tend to try to avoid approaching bulls.

Bull elephants usually come into musth once a year for a period lasting a few days to several months. During musth, testosterone levels rise, bulls become very aggressive and are more sexually active. Musth bulls can easily be identified by the copious secretion of fluid from the temporal gland on the side of their head and the constant dribble of a pungent greenish liquid from their penis.Cows may be approached by several bulls who may fight over her. Any musth bulls will dominate other potential suitors.

When a bull finds a potential mate he will use his trunk to test her urine or vulva to see whether she is ready to mate. A receptive cow may walk or even run away from the herd if approached. When a bull finally gets close enough, copulation, with the bull standing on his hind legs, takes less than a minute. The bull guards the female against the approach of other males and this protective behaviour can last for a few hours or even several days.

Gestation is close to 22 months (650 - 660 days).Mating and births are most frequent during the rainy season. Births take place with the female squatting. Delivery is relatively quick (about half a minute) and the newborn is helped onto its feet by its mother and other females. New born calves weigh about 120kg and are very feeble for the first few days. They remain shaky for several weeks.

The young calf has to locate the teats between the mother's forelegs on its own. While suckling, the trunk hangs to one side. Calves begin trying food other than milk at about 4 months, but are not capable of feeding themselves on solid food until well into their second year. Suckling carries on until the birth of the next calf, which can be up to 8 years.

Before young cows have their own calves they are the main caretakers of other calves within the herd. Known as "allmothers" they will rush to protect or assist any calf in trouble and give comfort to distressed calves. Calves with a greater number of allmothers have a higher survival rate.

For more information, visit the online version of the Letaba Elephant Hall.
The images were submitted as part of the ongoing Emerging Tuskers Project Competition by Mr Leon Jenner Kotze from Weltevreden Park. Click on images to expand

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