Elephants are the largest land mammals in the world, so it may not be surprising that they have the longest pregnancy of any living mammal: African elephants average 22 months pregnant while Asian elephants are 18-22 months. If you think that pregnancy this long is because of how large these creatures are, you would be only partially right. Because of their size, but also because of the size of their brain, baby elephants develop slowly in the womb. Elephants are highly intelligent mammals: they are born in that way and such brain development takes time. They boast an impressive brain: it is the largest of all land animals, with a structure similar to that of a human brain.
The elephant brain it’s three times our size, with three times as many neurons – 250 billion in fact.
Elephants have a large gap between the young (4-5 years old) and, unlike other animals, only have one baby. Studies have shown that the elephant has a unique ovulation cycle and prolonged pregnancy due to a hormonal mechanism not seen in any other animal species. It is triggered by the increased level of the reproductive hormone LH (luteinising hormone), while pregnancy is maintained by hormones secreted by various ovarian bodies called the corpus luteum. This knowledge of how to maintain pregnancy is invaluable to conservation efforts in both the wild and the zoos.
Elephants are born with an advanced level of brain development, which they use to recognize the complex social structure of the herd and to feed themselves with their dextrous trunks. The complex neural development that occurs during this period has given them a head start, allowing them to survive from day one of birth.