Ten Facts About Elephants

If anyone wants to know what elephants are like, they are like people only more so.

-Pierre Corneille

  1. There are two recognized species of elephants – Asian (Elephas maximus) and African (Loxodonta africana) – and they are the largest living land mammal on Earth. African elephants can stand up to thirteen feet tall, weigh up to 15,000 pounds, and have a concave back. Their smaller Asian counterparts can stand up to ten feet tall, weigh up to 11,000 pounds, and have a convex or level back.
  2. Elephant development and life span is very similar to that of humans. They can live to be sixty-to-seventy years old. Elephants live in matriarchal herds that span generations. Males generally leave the herd at puberty and live solo or in loose bachelor herds. They come visit the female herds when they are in musth and are looking for a mate.
  3. The closest living relative to the elephant is the hyrax, a small rodent-like animal, and sirenians such as manatees and dugongs.
  4. An elephant uses its trunk for breathing, smelling, touching, grasping, and producing sound. It contains over 100,000 muscle fascicles.
  5. Elephants have a complex language consisting of rumbles, squeals, cries, screams, roars, and snorts. Many of their sounds cannot be heard by humans and travel for many miles. In addition to sound, they communicate by touch, sight, and smell. They are self-aware and show distinct signs of grieving for deceased family members.
  6. Elephants walk up to six-to-twelve miles a day, but distances of up to 100 miles have been recorded. Elephants sleep only three-to-four hours a day. The remaining hours are primarily spent eating. Elephants are herbivores and eat leaves, twigs, fruit, bark, and roots. African elephants are browsers while Asian elephants are grazers. They can eat over 150 pounds of food a day and drink thirty gallons of water.
  7. An elephant’s gestation period is twenty-two months, longer than any other mammal. A calf is dependent on its mother for milk for three years; however, they will always stay with their familial herd. A newborn calf will weigh about 200 pounds and stand three feet tall.
  8. An elephant’s skin is one inch thick. Elephants are grey, but Asian elephants have areas of depigmentation which results in pink and light brown patches around the forehead and ears. An elephant’s skin is very sensitive despite how thick it is, and mud or dust makes an excellent sunscreen. African elephants have larger ears than Asian elephants, and both flap their ears to keep help regulate their body temperature.
  9. The elephant uses its tusks as a tool for digging and fighting. Both male and female African elephants have tusks – which can be up to ten feet in length. Only male Asian elephants have tusks, and in some cases males don’t grow tusks at all. Elephant tusks are in large demand due to ivory being viewed as a status symbol, particularly in upwardly mobile China. Because of this demand for ivory, elephants are being killed at a rate of one every fifteen minutes.
  10. Elephants are a keystone species, which means they have a disproportionately large effect on their environment and how it functions, and a dramatic change would occur without them. The IUCN lists African elephants as vulnerable and Asian elephants as endangered. It is estimated that elephants will be extinct in our lifetimes without a major global shift in how we think about these majestic animals.
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