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Elephant Facts

General

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  • The closest living relatives to elephants are hydraxes and manatees or sea cows. 
  • Elephants are the only living representatives of their Order, Proboscidae.  
  • There are two main species of elephants, Asian (Elephas Maximus) and African (Loxodonta Africana). 
  • The Asian elephant weighs between 2,000 and 5,500 kg (4400-12,000 lbs) and has a shoulder height of between 2 - 3.5 metres (6.5 -11.5 feet). 
  • The Asian elephant and the mammoth are more closely related to each other than either is to the African elephant. 
  • The world population of Asian elephants is estimated to be around 50,000, about a tenth of the number of African elephants.
  • Elephants can walk at about 5 km (3 miles) per hour for hours on end but when charging they can reach speeds of up to 40 km (25 miles) per hour.
  • Elephants are excellent swimmers and have been known to swim distances of up to 480 km (approximately 300 miles).
  • Elephants sleep lying down on their sides for about 3-4 hours a night and although they don’t sleep standing they do doze for short periods.

 

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  • Fossils of elephant ancestors indicate that elephants once lived on every continent except Australia and Antarctica but their habitat is now restricted to Africa and Asia.
  • Elephants are highly intelligent and can adapt to and modify habitat, while their diverse diet allows habitation of a wide range of ecosystems, including forest, jungle, woodland, savanna, grassy plains, marshes, highlands and sparsely vegetated desert.

 

Diet of Elephants elephant-herdgrass.jpg

  • Elephants are herbivores and spend around 16 hours a day feeding to sustain their massive bodies. 
  • Elephants eat an extremely varied vegetarian diet, including grasses, leaves, twigs, roots, bamboo, bark, seed pods, flowers, herbs and fruit as well as salt and other minerals.
  • Because elephants only digest 40% of what they eat, they have to make up for their digestive system's lack of efficiency in volume.
  • An adult elephant requires about 75-150 kg (165-330 pounds) of food per day but can consume considerably more.
  • Elephants drink between 80-160 litres (20-40 gallons) of water per day.
  • The knowledge of where to find essentials such as food, water and mineral salts throughout the year is passed down from generation to generation.

 

Elephants Behaviour

Elephants are distinguished by their high level of intelligence, complex behaviour, methods of communication and developed social structure. Elephants live in a structured social order, and the social lives of male and female elephants are very different. 

 

Female Elephants elephantbabyfield.jpg

  • Females spend their entire lives in tightly knit family groups made up of mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts and junvenile males typically led by the eldest female, called the matriarch.
  • Family groups comprising of adult females, calves and juveniles commonly number 20-30 elephants, who are generally all related.
  • Elephants are very social, frequently touching and caressing one another, entwining their trunks and showing a great deal of affection for members of the herd.
  • A family member is rarely more than 20 metres (about 65 feet) from another member but usually they are all within a few metres of each other.

 

Male Elephants jungleboy.jpg

  • Once males reach puberty (between the ages of 8-13 years) they tend to spend more time at the edge of the herd and will eventually be pushed out by the matriarch or will set out voluntarily from their natal group.
  • While males live primarily solitary lives, they will occasionally form loose associations with other males, called bachelor herds and though rare, these male friendships have been known to last a lifetime.
  • Adult male elephants periodically enter a state called musth (Hindi for "madness") during which time they become very aggressive, initiating battles with almost any other male encountered, and hovering around female herds, trying to find a receptive mate.
  • Usually only the most dominant males (over 35 years old) will breed with females but musth can also affect dominance ranking.
  • Battles between males appear fierce, but rarely inflict serious injury with the exception of the breeding season when battles can get extremely aggressive resulting in injuries and occasionally fatalities.

 

Reproduction and Life Cycle

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  • A female will usually be ready to breed around the age of thirteen, when she comes into estrus, a short phase of receptiveness, lasting 2-4 days.
  • The elephant's gestation period is 18-22 months, the longest of any land animal.
  • A newborn elephant weighs about 80-120 kg (180-260 pounds) and is about 75cm-1 metre (2.5-3.3 feet) tall.
  • Elephants have a very long childhood, learning all the time from their mothers and elders how to behave in their society and how to survive in their environment.
  • Newborn calves immediately become the centre of attention, not just for the mother but other adult females and curious juveniles.
  • As everyone in the herd is usually related, all members of the tightly knit female group participate in the care and protection of the young, although one or more female helpers (known as allomothers) play a particularly important role in the rearing of calves.
  • Elephant mothers are very tolerant and indulging of their young, allowing their calves suckle on demand.
  • A mother elephant frequently reassures her calf by touching them all over their body with her trunk, especially during nursing.
  • A female elephant has an average of 5 - 7 calves in her lifetime.
  • The oldest elephant on record died at the age of 82 in Sri Lanka but typically elephants live to 60-70 years old.

 

Communicationfamilytrunks.jpg

  • Elephants have a large repertoire of vocalizations including low growls, deep rumbles, bellows and roars, high trumpets, cries, and screams.
  • Elephants can communicate over long distances by producing and receiving low-frequency sound (infrasound), a sub-sonic rumbling outside the range of human hearing, which travels at least 4km (2.5 miles) through the air and ground.

 

Intelligenceelephantstrunks.jpg

  • A wide variety of behaviour, including that associated with grief, selflessness, allomothering, play, the use of tools, compassion and self awareness are evidence that elephants are a highly intelligent species. 
  • Elephants have been observed to exhibit altruistic behavior such as trying to rescue another member of the herd even at their own risk.
  • Elephants have been known to use leaves and grass to cover dead elephants and humans.
  • Elephants often use tree branches and twigs to scratch themselves in places where their tail and trunk will not reach.
  • Elephants have been known to celebrate births of new elephants and to grieve and even shed tears over the death of a family member.

 


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Senses

  • Elephants have an exceptional sense of hearing and smell as well as an acute sense of taste and touch. 
  • Elephant eyesight is relatively poor, and their eyes are small in relation to their enormous head.

 

Elephant Anatomy

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  • Elephant skin is wrinkled and is about 2.5cm (1 inch) thick around most parts of their body, however the skin around the mouth and inside of the ears is paper-thin.  
  • An elephant’s skin is very sensitive and can be irritated by something as small as an insect bite or a tick and infection can easily set in.  
  • Elephants frequently cover themselves with dust, bathe in water, and take mud baths to protect their skin and maintain its health. 

  

Brain

  • An elephant’s brain is the largest of all land animals, weighing 4-6 kilograms (about 9-13 pounds) and it is highly convoluted in the cerebrum and cerebellum.
  • In elephants, the temporal lobes associated with memory are more developed than in humans and have more folding which facilitate an excellent memory.
  • Elephants also have a very large and highly convoluted hippocampus, which is linked to processing emotion and memory and may be why elephants suffer from psychological flashbacks and post-traumatic stress disorder.

  

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  • Elephant ears are very vascular and assist with thermo regulation. Elephants will flap their ears constantly, creating a slight breeze which cools the surface blood vessels, reducing body temperature. 
  • Ears are also used in certain displays of aggression, making an elephant look larger and fiercer to predators or to each other in battles of dominance.

     

Teeth

  • An elephant has 6 sets of teeth in their lifetime and a total of 24-26 teeth, including 2 incisors (tusks), 12 premolars and 12 molars.
  • One tooth can weigh over 5 kg (11 lbs).

 

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  • Tusks are elongated incisors made of dentine; about one-third of their total length lies hidden inside the skull.
  • Only some male Asian elephants inherit full tusks, but both males and females can have tushes (small, slightly brittle, rudimentary tusks).
  • Elephants are often "right- or left-tusked," using the favoured tusk more often as a tool, thus, shortening it from constant wear.
  • Tusks are used for digging for roots and water, stripping bark from trees, lifting objects, fighting each other during mating season and warding off predators.

 

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  • Of all elephants specialized features, the muscular trunk is the most remarkable and serves as a nose, a hand, an extra  foot, a signaling device and a tool for gathering food, siphoning water, dusting, digging and a variety of other functions.
  • The trunk is large and powerful, allowing an elephant to reach as high as 9.5 meters (31 feet) with the tip of their trunk, while standing on their hind legs.
  • In a small adult, in relaxed state, the trunk is 1.8 metres (about 6 feet) but in larger elephants can be 2 metres (6.5 feet) or longer.
  • There are 8 major muscles on each side of the trunk and a total of about 150,000 fascicles (portions of muscles) in the entire trunk.
  • As well as performing powerful twisting and coiling movements capable of uprooting and tearing down trees, the trunk enables amazingly delicate functions such as plucking a single berry from a branch using the prehensile tip (a fingerlike projection at the tip of the trunk).
  • Asian elephants usually pick up objects with their trunks by the “grasp” and “pinch” method.
  • Elephants will greet each other by entwining their trunks and will also use them while play-wrestling, caressing during courtship, mother / calf interactions and for displays of dominance and submission.
  • By raising the trunk in the air and swiveling it from side to side, like a periscope, an elephant can determine the location of friends, enemies, and food sources.

 

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