Do Elephants Have Twins?

by on December 13, 2012

in Wildlife

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.

One can see clearly how these two youngsters are pretty much identical in size

One can see clearly how these two youngsters are pretty much identical in size

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.

Both calves were still relatively young, probably less than 6 months old.

Both calves were still relatively young, probably less than 6 months old.

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.

The youngsters compete for the same teat.

The youngsters compete for the same teat.

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.

One of the calves flaps its ears in agitation, competing with what may well be its twin.

One of the calves flaps its ears in agitation, competing with what may well be its twin.

If they are indeed twins, it would be wonderful if both these calves survived.

If they are indeed twins, it would be wonderful if both these calves survived.

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….

The two youngsters with their little legs try to keep up with the adults.

The two youngsters with their little legs try to keep up with the adults.

Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell


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  • kathy heritage

    We saw the elephant twins in Thailand in 1996. It was quite an exciting event.
    The were been ‘sponsored’ by a Paper mill called Advance Agro.
    So yes I think these two could well be twins. Will be wonderful to know how
    They progress.

  • Pat Schaum

    I made my first trip to Londolozi in 2011, and my stay there remains deeply seated in my heart. It is amazing how the experiences one has take route in your soul. Your writings and photos bring smiles (and sometimes tears.) I always look forward to hearing your news. Thank you and please never stop writing and sharing the world of Londolozi.

  • Shirley

    How adorable. I really hope they will make it. Hopefully so now and than we will get an update. Thank you.

  • Jen Westphal

    I vote twins!!!!

  • kiki

    Anything is possible. Really enjoy listening to your deductive reasoning. Keep it coming!

  • Jo Anne

    Such sweethearts.

  • Danny

    Fascinating story! I hope they are seen again so we can learn more. They look like twins to me:)

  • Fon

    So adorable! Another of Mother Nature`s joys. So lucky to see them and thanks for sharing.

  • vikranth

    Even my vote is for twins!!

  • Louise Taback

    Yes, i do believe they could be twins…..its that closeness that they have with each
    other and Mom!!! Very interesting and awesome thank you!!We learn something new
    from the wild every day!!!

  • David Dampier

    Very interesting! Did a bit of reading and it seems quite rare for elephant calves to successfully suckle from anyone other than their mom. It has been recorded, but usually females agressively reject calves that aren’t theirs. Other records include calves suckling from females who had just miscarried or lost calves and were still lactating (which doesn’t seem to be the case here). I am not sure if both calves were successfully able to suckle without the female being agressive? If that is the case it seems a fair chance that they are in fact twins.

    • James T

      Thanks Doyle.
      Interesting that in a society such as elephants which is meant to be intelligent, caring and somewhat benevolent that there should be aggression from cows towards calves that don’t belong to them. I guess this might go back to the limited milk supply and the additional stress it would place both on the female and her calf.
      The mother elephant in this case was in no way aggressive, quite happily letting both calves suckle.
      As I said before, the only really conclusive proof would be DNA testing, which we won’t do, but in the absence of that, I’m happy to just imagine the possibility of twins.

  • Arden Zalman

    May the Goddess bless her babies with a long life!

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