Elephant twins do exist. Although very rare in nature, they have been recorded a number of times.
There are a few records of twins being born to Asian elephants in Thailand and Nepal. Their African counterparts in Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape of South Africa have had three sets of twins, with the latest being in 2005, and Amboseli National Park in Kenya had a pair born in the 1970’s.
Elephant calves weigh around 100kg when born. Although twins would possibly be individually lighter at birth, they would nevertheless need a great deal of milk from their mother. The energy demands placed upon the female would make it unlikely, or at least less likely, that both calves would survive, since competition would be intense. It is possible therefore that more sets of twins are born in the wild, but in large wildlife areas such as the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park and surrounds, if one of the two calves does not make it to 6 months old, the occurence may well go unnoticed if the herd is not coming into contact with people that often.
A few days ago, we came upon a very large herd of elephants close to the Londolozi Camps. Within the herd was a pair of very small calves, both of identical size, both vying for suckling rights from the same adult female.
Knowing the rarity of twins among elephants, I was immediately sceptical of the possibility that this was what we were seeing. Why should it not be though?
If the pair were not twins, what would be the explanation? Had the mother of one died and had it now latched on to a foster mother? Maybe, although it seems highly coincidental that both youngsters were exactly the same size. Also, elephants have no real natural enemies, so if the mother had died, what had killed her? Old age? Elephant cows typically give birth up until around 50 years old, and live to around 60, so again, it is unlikely that a mother of such a young calf did infact die.
I would dearly love to believe that we witnessed Londolozi’s first recorded set of elephant twins. Unfortunately, without conducting DNA tests, it will be impossible to know for sure.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide? Twins? Or not….
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell