Elephants are large mammals of the family Elephantidae and the order Proboscidea. Three species are currently recognized: the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant.
Length: 18+ ft.
Gestation period: Asian elephant: 18 – 22 months, African bush elephant: 22 months
Mass: Asian elephant: 12,000 lbs, African bush elephant: 13,000 lbs, African forest elephant: 6,000 lbs
Lifespan: Asian elephant: 48 years, African bush elephant: 60 – 70 years, African forest elephant: 60 – 70 years
Height: Asian elephant: 8.9 ft., African bush elephant: 11 ft.
All elephants have several distinctive features, the most notable of which is a long trunk (also called a proboscis), used for many purposes, particularly breathing, lifting water, and grasping objects. Their incisors grow into tusks, which can serve as weapons and as tools for moving objects and digging. Elephants’ large ear flaps help to control their body temperature. Their pillar-like legs can carry their great weight. African elephants have larger ears and concave backs while Asian elephants have smaller ears and convex or level backs.
Elephants are herbivorous and can be found in different habitats including savannahs, forests, deserts, and marshes. They prefer to stay near water. They are considered to be keystone species due to their impact on their environments. Other animals tend to keep their distance from elephants while predators, such as lions, tigers, hyenas, and any wild dogs, usually target only young elephants (or “calves”). Elephants have a fission–fusion society in which multiple family groups come together to socialize. Females (“cows”) tend to live in family groups, which can consist of one female with her calves or several related females with offspring. The groups are led by an individual known as the matriarch, often the oldest cow.
Males (“bulls”) leave their family groups when they reach puberty and may live alone or with other males. Adult bulls mostly interact with family groups when looking for a mate and enter a state of increased testosterone and aggression known as musth, which helps them gain dominance and reproductive success. Calves are the center of attention in their family groups and rely on their mothers for as long as three years. Elephants can live up to 70 years in the wild. They communicate by touch, sight, smell, and sound; elephants use infrasound, and seismic communication over long distances. Elephant intelligence has been compared with that of primates and cetaceans. They appear to have self-awareness and show empathy for dying or dead individuals of their kind.
African elephants are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) while the Asian elephant is classed as endangered. One of the biggest threats to elephant populations is the ivory trade, as the animals are poached for their ivory tusks. Other threats to wild elephants include habitat destruction and conflicts with local people. Elephants are used as working animals in Asia. In the past, they were used in war; today, they are often controversially put on display in zoos, or exploited for entertainment in circuses. Elephants are highly recognizable and have been featured in art, folklore, religion, literature, and popular culture.
A few more facts…
• Only one mammal can’t jump — the elephant.
• The average weight for an elephant heart is about 27 to 46 pounds!
• Elephants have a highly developed brain and the largest of all the land mammals. The brain is 3 or 4 times larger than that of humans although smaller as a proportion of body weight.
• Elephants have a slow pulse rate of 27. A canary’s is 1,000!
• An elephant’s skin is an inch thick.
• Elephants have poor eyesight but an amazing sense of smell.
• At the age of 16, an elephant can reproduce, but rarely has more than four children throughout her lifetime. At birth, an elephant calf weighs about 230 lbs!
• Elephants have the longest pregnancy of all the animals. It takes a female 22 months from conception to give birth.
• Elephants purr like cats do, as a means of communication.
• Elephants prefer one tusk over the other, just as people are either left or right-handed.
• Tusks are an elephant’s incisor teeth. They are used for defense, digging for water, and lifting things.
• Elephants have four molars, one on the top and one on the bottom on both sides of the mouth. One molar can weigh about five pounds and is the size of a brick!
• The elephant trunk has more than 40,000 muscles in it.
• Elephants waive their trunks up in the air and from side to side to smell better.
• The elephant’s trunk is able to sense the size, shape and temperature of an object. An elephant uses its trunk to lift food and suck up water then pour it into its mouth.
• Elephants cry, play, have incredible memories, and laugh.
• Elephants can swim – they use their trunk to breathe like a snorkel in deep water.
• Elephant feet are covered in a soft padding that help uphold their weight, prevent them from slipping, and dull any sound. Therefore elephants can walk almost silently!
• Elephants use their feet to listen, they can pick up sub-sonic rumblings made by other elephants, through vibrations in the ground. Elephants are observed listening by putting trunks on the ground and carefully positioning their feet.
• Elephants are highly sensitive and caring animals. if a baby elephant complains, the entire family will rumble and go over to touch and caress it. Elephants express grief, compassion, self-awareness, altruism and play.
• Elephants have greeting ceremonies when a friend that has been away for some time returns to the group.
• Elephants have large, thin ears. Their ears are made up of a complex network of blood vessels which regulate an elephant’s temperature. Blood is circulated through their ears to cool them down in hot climates.
• An elephant is capable of hearing sound waves well below our human hearing limitation. The far reaching use of high pressure infrasound opens the elephant’s spatial experience far beyond our limited capabilities.
• Elephants are social creatures. They sometimes “hug” by wrapping their trunks together in displays of greeting and affection.