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Wednesday, September 9, 1998 Published at 17:43 GMT 18:43 UK

World: South Asia

Leave for elephant mums

Indian elephants are an endangered species

The government in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has announced it is to give maternity leave to pregnant elephants.

The 25 female elephants used in patrolling the state's forests and carrying tourists on tiger safaris are to get a year's leave plus two paid attendants when they are expecting calves.

Female elephants are used for patrols and tourist duties because officials say they respond better to commands than males do.

Their trainers had feared that if the working female elephants were mated with untamed males, the females would be tempted to follow their new-found men folk and stray into the wild.

In the wild Indian elephants live in matriarchal society led usually by the oldest female. Mature male elephants prefer to travel alone or in changing groups of bachelors.

Wild mates

[ image: Elephants will be given a break from day-to-day duties]
Elephants will be given a break from day-to-day duties
But now the pampered pachyderms of Uttar Pradesh will be allowed to mate - under supervision - with wild males.

They will then be separated and the mighty mum-to-be moved to another reserve where she will be cared for throughout her pregnancy.

Elephants have one of the longest gestation periods in the entire animal kingdom with pregnancy lasting up to 22 months, almost always producing just a single calf.

"It appeared to be a case of gross injustice to me that while regular government employees were entitled to such benefits, the same were being denied to the elephants," said Uttar Pradesh forest minister Raghuvir Singh.

Elephants also have natural rights, he said.

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