In a study of African elephants, researchers have identified a link between the quality of maternal care in the first two years of a calf's life and reduced growth and delayed maturity.
Publishing their finding in the journal Biology Letters, the researchers added that projected climate change and habitat loss could have a profound impact on the species.
Early maternal care in the first two years of life actually affects an elephant's survival over 40 years - it has long lasting consequences, according to co-author Phyllis Lee from the University of Stirling.
Prof Lee and colleague in the international team of researchers said inexperienced mums often provided "inappropriate care".
If an elephant gives birth aged 10-12, they are not only inexperienced but she's so tiny that she does not have the physical resources to devout to the calf.
This has immediate consequences to the babies. The babies are more likely to die, but those that do survive tend to be put at a disadvantage, especially sons, for the rest of their lives, Prof Lee said.
These disadvantages included delayed sexual and physical development, he added.
"It is particularly true for the males, which grow up to be shorter-than-average adults," Prof Lee told BBC News.
"As a result, they delay coming into a reproductive state, which is called musth, and as they are never going to be quite as big as their age-mates, they may always be at a reproductive disadvantage," he stated. (ANI)