, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 353-361

Early maternal investment in male and female African elephant calves

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Summary

The suckling behaviour of 130 freeranging elephant calves aged between birth and 4.5 years old was examined in Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Analyses of frequencies of suckling and durations of suckling bouts showed that males attempted to suckle more often, were more successful at their attempts, and as a result were estimated to have a higher milk intake than did female calves. Mothers were equally tolerant of their sons' and daughters' demands to suckle at young ages, but were less tolerant of their older sons' demands. The growth rates of males based on hind footprint length were faster than those of females from birth onwards. During drought years with low food availability, male calf survivorship in the first year was lower than that of female calves. During wet years, there was little difference between sexes in survivorship. It appeared that during dry years mothers were unable to sustain milk production at a level that met the metabolic requirements of their sons, and as result male calves were more likely to die. Females with a surviving son tended to have a longer interbirth interval than did females with a surviving daughter. We suggest that greater early maternal investment in male calves occurs because, in the highly-competitive polygynous mating system of elephants, size in adult male elephants is an important factor in mating success.