12 August is World Elephant Day.
These majestic creatures are, as many other wild animals, endangered as a result of man’s greed for their tusks. Today we honour them with 25 elephant facts.
- There are two types of elephants: Asian and Africa – they may look similar but they are too biologically different to interbreed. The most obvious differences and easiest ways to tell them apart are:
- The ears of the Asian elephant are much smaller than those of the African elephant.
- The African elephant has a ‘single dome’ shaped head; Asian has a ‘twin dome’ shaped head
- A third, genetically different, species is believed to be the forest elephant found in some African forests.
- Tusks are found in African elephants of both sexes while only in Asian males.
- An African bull’s tusks can grow to over 11 feet long and weigh 220 pounds.
- Research suggests that captive elephants suffer long-term depression over the trauma of their capture and captivity, as well as drastically shortened life spans. Teaching elephants to do tricks or to carry loads is cruel. They are wild animals and should be left in the wild.
- Young elephants have to be taught how to use their trunks – this is not automatically known at birth.
- The African elephant is largest land animal on earth.
- An elephant’s trunk has more than 40,000 muscles, more than all the muscles in the human body. They can tear down trees or pick up a single blade of grass with their trunks.
- Elephants have the longest gestation period of any animal at almost 22 months. A newborn elephant can weigh up to 260 pounds (or 120kgs).
- Like humans, they mourn their dead, remaining with the corpse long after it has died. They sometimes even cover it with branches, almost like a burial.
- Adults can eat up to 600 lbs (270 kg) of food daily, spending up to 18 hours a day eating.
- They drink up to 50 gallons of water a day – the equivalent of a large bath tub!
- Ears are used to keep cool – holding them erect or flapping them, especially the African elephant.
- The female, known as the matriarch, leads the family.
- Young males are expelled from the herd as soon as they are sexually active, to roam alone or with other males.
- Courting elephants intertwine their trunks as part of foreplay.
Their social lives are fascinatingly similar to that of humans:
- Combined parental care is a major factor in elephant social organisation.
- The matriarch protects her herd by exposing herself to danger.
- Young calves are treated equally and allowed to suckle from other nursing adults as well as their own mother.
- Elephants have been known to adopt orphaned calves.
- Juvenile females assist in rearing the young by preventing them from straying too far from the herd and waking them up after a nap.
- They communicate using a wide range of sounds for different purposes, such as securing their defense, attracting mates, coordinating movement and generally announcing their needs. They also use sounds that humans cannot hear.
- Other means of communication are visual: expressions, postures, and various movements; tactile – mainly using their trunk but also their feet; chemical – producing a wide range of odour signals.