Which African mammal has the longest gestation time?

8 of Africa’s great wildlife – how long to produce a baby?

1 – Leopards – 3 months 

The average gestation period for leopards is 94-101 days. They usually have 2 to 4 cubs, but mortality of cubs is estimated at 41–50% during the first year.

Females give birth in a cave, crevice among boulders, hollow tree, or thicket to make a den. Cubs are born with closed eyes, which open four to nine days after birth. Their fur is more gray in color with less defined spots. Around three months of age, the young begin to follow the mother on hunts. At one year of age, leopard young can probably fend for themselves, but remain with the mother for 18–24 months.

2 – Lions – just over 3 months 

Become a wildlife volunteer and help with lions at Shamwari
Lion cubs at the Shamwari Conservation Volunteer Project

The average gestation period for lions is 108 days. Lions usually have 1 to 4 cubs in a secluded den, away from the pride (like these lovely cubs at the Shamwari Conservation Volunteer Project). They begin to reproduce when they’re about 2 years old, and they breed every other year. Breeding takes place throughout the year, but most females give birth between May and October.

The cubs themselves are born blind – their eyes do not open until roughly a week after birth. They weigh less than 2 kilos (4.4 lb) at birth and are almost helpless, beginning to crawl a day or two after birth and walking around three weeks of age.

The lioness moves her cubs to a new den site several times a month, carrying them one by one by the nape of the neck, to prevent scent from building up at a single den site and thus avoiding the attention of predators that may harm the cubs. All in all, as many as 80 percent of the cubs will die before the age of two 🙁

Amanzi Travel have many wildlife volunteer projects that help to conserve these majestic lions.

3 – Baboons – 6 months

The average gestation period for baboons is 187 days. They usually have a single infant, and the females tend to be the primary caretaker of the young, although several females will share the duties for all of their offspring. After about one year, the young animals are weaned. You will always find plenty of young baboons to help at the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary, who love to snuggle up in your sleeping bag, if you’ll let them 🙂

4 – African Buffalo – 11 months

The average gestation period for African Buffalo is 330-345 days. Newborn calves remain hidden in vegetation for the first few weeks while being nursed occasionally by the mother before joining the main herd.

Buffaloes mate and give birth only during the rainy seasons. Birth peak takes place early in the season, while mating peaks later. A bull will closely guard a cow that comes into heat, while keeping other bulls at bay. This is difficult, as cows are quite evasive and attract many males to the scene.

5 – Zebra – 13 months

The average gestation period for zebra is 361-390 days. Mares may give birth to one foal every twelve months. She nurses the foal for up to a year. Like horses, zebras are able to stand, walk and suckle shortly after they are born. A zebra foal is brown and white instead of black and white at birth.

6 – Giraffes – 14 months

Wildlife volunteer helping with giraffes
Baby giraffe with umbilical chord at Shamwari Conservation Volunteer Project

The average gestation period for giraffes is anywhere from 400-460 days.

Despite being the tallest land animal in the world, the mother gives birth to a single calf standing up, with the calf emerging head and front legs first, then falls to the ground, severing the umbilical cord.

A newborn giraffe is about 1.8 m (6 ft) tall. Within a few hours of birth, the calf can run around and is almost indistinguishable from a one-week-old.

With lions and other predators abound, the world is a dangerous place for baby giraffes when they first come into the world — part of the reason for the long delay.

7 – Rhinos – 16 months

The average gestation period for rhinos is 487 days. It might not come as a surprise that rhinos – because of their sheer size – are next on the list. This long gestation period is also an obstacle to replenishing the population. All five species of rhinoceros are endangered or considered vulnerable, and three out of the five are considered critically endangered.

Both Black rhino and white rhino usually have a single calf, and can follow its mother around after just three days. Weaning occurs at around 2 years of age for the offspring. The mother and calf stay together for 2–3 years until the next calf is born.

Adult white rhinos have no natural predators (other than man) due to their size, and even young rhinos are rarely attacked due to the mother’s presence or preyed on due to their tough skin. The life expectancy in natural conditions (without poaching pressure) is from 40 to 50 years.

It is fabulous news that 3 rhino calves expected in 2014 at the Rhino & Elephant Sanctuary in Zimbabwe, as all the females rhinos there have mated.

8 – Elephants – 21 months

The average gestation period for the poor old elephant is 600–660 days – that’s nearly 2 years – the longest gestation period of all mammals.

Wildlife volunteer in Africa helping to conserve the African wildlife
Baby elephant snuggling up to mummy

Long developmental periods are common among highly intelligent animals, and since elephants are the largest living and biggest-brained land animal in the world, there’s a lot of developing for elephants to do in the womb.

For the first few days, the newborn is unsteady on its feet, and needs the support of its mother. It relies on touch, smell and hearing, as its eyesight is poor. It has little precise control over its trunk, which wiggles around and may cause it to trip (like this little ele supported by its mum, at the Desert Elephant Volunteer Project). By its second week of life, the calf can walk more firmly and has more control over its trunk. After its first month, a calf can pick up, hold and put objects in its mouth, but cannot suck water through the trunk and must drink directly through the mouth. It is still dependent on its mother and keeps close to her.


If you want to help with the conservation of these fabulous African wildlife, then the team at Amanzi Travel, would love to help put YOUR plan into place. Just give us a call, or drop us an email at gemma@amanzitravel.com



A truly life changing experience, working on wildlife and community volunteering projects in Africa over eight years ago, convinced Gemma Whitehouse to give up her job as a Marketing Manager for an international organisation and use her skills and expertise to set up a company that would offer others the same amazing opportunities with a service second to none - thus Amanzi Travel was born.

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