Rescue mission or deliberate murder?

Being a gigantic land mammal and well-known for its trumpetting sounds, elephants can hardly go unnoticed by one! They fall under the Elephantidae family and mainly in the Elephas and Loxodonta generas. There are only 3 species of elephants living today: the African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta Africana), the African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and the Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus). All other species and genera of Elephantidae are sadly extinct. Elephants therefore may face extinction in the future.

The gestation period of an elephant can range up to 22 months and this makes every pregnancy vital in the conservation of the elephant species. Ironically, this anxiety can be observed in elephant mothers as well! These mothers exhibit astonishing behavioural traits of kicking their new born violently till it is able to respond and stand. This has also been proven effective in saving still born babies and reviving them. The video link below illustrates this barbaric but extraordinary behaviour! A mild warning that this is not for the weak-hearted.

However, these amazing mothers have also been reported by BBC to have killed some of their young through this same gesture, a trend observed mainly in captive elephants. Experts like Mr Redmond believe that this could be because captive elephants have no one to comfort and help them through their birth unlike elephants in the wild that usually have fellow female elephants that accompany them through the process. Perhaps, this is why people lend a hand in zoos during the birth of their elephants! It has also been alternatively theorized that these elephants kill off their young intentionally due to the torturous ‘concretized conditions’ that they have to live in.

Thus, till today, it is uncertain as to why elephant mothers behave in a brutal manner upon giving birth as various factors can be at play. Although this act can either save or kill new born elephants, it is an extraordinary behavioural trait that is yet to be studied deeply on! Meanwhile, it is up to us to decide if this is an act in a rescue mission or a mother’s deliberate murder!


Secondary source:

“Allomothering among African elephants” – Volume 35, Issue 1, P C Lee, Elsevier Ltd, 01 February 1987. (Accessed on 5 April 2010).

References Used:

  1. “Do Elephants intentionally kill their young?”, BBC News – Asia Pacific, 24  May 2007. URL : ( Accessed on 5 April 2010)
  2. “Captive Elephant attacks her baby”, BBC News – Asia Pacific, 6 June 2002. URL: (Accessed on 5 April 2010)
  3. Reproductive Behavior of the Asiatic Elephant (Elephas maximus maximus L.), John F. Eisenberg, George M. McKay and M. R. Jainudeen Behaviour, Vol. 38, No. 3/4 (1971), pp. 193-225, Brill. URL: