The Asian elephant is the largest terrestrial mammal on the continent. Its size can be attributed to the gestation period, which is the longest of any living mammal on the planet—at 22 months. During this nearly two-year period, the baby’s brain develops by 90 percent. The elephant brain is three times larger than the human brain and is wired with three times as many neurons—250 billion, to be exact. Their temporal lobe is exceptionally developed, with a great number of folds allowing for more information to be stored; this comes in handy when the matriarch needs to reference complex mental maps to lead her kin long distances in search of water. These factors give rise to the elephant’s unique capacity for intelligence, strong emotional bonds and remarkable memory.
At birth, the calf is nearly blind, and its skin is pinkish-gray; the light color helps regulate its body temperature under the hot summer sun. Their trunk—like any muscle—needs to be exercised; until the calf musters enough strength, they suck on their trunk to self-soothe—much like a human infant sucks their thumb. At this age, the calf is dependent on the mother and the other sub-adult females in the group for care and protection. This phenomenon is known as “allmothering” and the bond between family units, or clans, lasts even after calves are fully weaned at four years of age. To maintain a healthy growth rate, the calf consumes three gallons of milk every day, gaining 22-26 pounds a week. By eight months, the calf begins to use its trunk to grasp grasses and even suck up water to bathe itself. Similar to human children, young elephants lose their baby teeth and grow an adult set, and just like toddlers, calves will wrap their trunks together or hold onto another elephant’s tail to “hold hands.”
Greater One-Horned Rhino
Another baby animal with thick skin is the greater one-horned rhino or Indian rhino. This species is the largest of rhinos and lives along the foothills of the Himalayas, where alluvial flood plains and tall grasslands provide ample cover and grazing stock to grow up big and strong. After a gestation period of 16 months, the calf is born weighing between 110 and 155 pounds and is covered with small lines and folds, which become more pronounced with age. Their armor is the perfect shield, for rhinos are born with poor eyesight, and these curious calves tend to be quite clumsy.
The mother imprints on her calf immediately, and they will pair off, living in almost complete solitude. The baby gains about two pounds a day off of its daily intake of 5‒7 gallons of milk. After three months, the calf begins munching on fresh grass and small twigs. The babies are fully weaned by five years, and at a certain point, the mother will nudge her young to leave if they don’t go willingly. At roughly 5-6 years, the horn becomes pointed, and the young rhino becomes at risk of being poached. Protected pathways like the 15-mile Khata Corridor help endangered species like the one-horned rhino move safely between fragmented habitats across Nepal and India’s shared border.
Everyone knows how cute kittens can be, but beneath all the fur, Asia’s biggest cat’s cubs can be seriously ferocious. And these cubs have to be, because growing up in dense broadleaf forest, mangrove swamps and open savannas leaves them vulnerable to hungry predators like leopards, jackals and even their own fathers! Fortunately, the mother tigers keep a keen eye on their litters, which consist of up to six cubs, weighing just 800 grams. Born completely blind until their eyes open at one to two weeks, the mother remains in close contact as they drink 10-20 percent of their body weight in milk each day. Around the three-month period, the mother will wander farther out of her immediate home range to hunt and mark her territory with urine, which fends off competing tigers. The cubs will consume five percent of their body weight in regurgitated meat until they are able to catch their own prey at six to seven months of age. The cubs are reliant on their mother for guidance until they are about 2.5 years old, though the male young are forced to leave when they are 18 months old.
Though tigers are at the top of the food chain, they suffer predation by humans who poach them for the illegal wildlife trade and kill them in retaliation when they come into conflict. Populations are on an upward trend, but only 3,900 tigers remain in the wild. Tigers have also lost an estimated 95 percent of their historical range due to the clearing of forests for agriculture and timber, as well as the building of road networks and other development activities. Together with World Wildlife Fund, Natural Habitat Adventures offers the best chance to observe Bengal tigers and photograph them in their territory. These journeys are sure to inspire as much awe as a cub’s first growl.
To learn more about Asia’s baby animals, check out our Daily Dose of Nature webinar, hosted by Expedition Leader Arpita Dutta. Arpita shares captivating stories of her wildlife rescue and rehabilitation efforts, and her experience in wildlife conservation and husbandry over the past two decades. Watch the most tender moments caught on camera and discover ways you can help foster the health and well-being of other animal newborns like the Indian wild dog (dhole)!