Elephants are the world’s largest land-living mammal.
The word “elephant” comes from the Greek word “elephas” which means “ivory”.
Three species are currently recognised: the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant.
Until recently, the African forest elephant was considered to be a subspecies of the African bush elephant, but new research discovered that they are actually a separate species entirely.
They have long lifespans, reaching 60–70 years of age.
An elephant is characterized by thick skin, tusks made of ivory, large pillar-like legs, large flapping ears, and a proboscis, or flexible trunk, that is a fusion of the nose and upper lip.
An elephant’s most obvious part is the trunk. It contains up to 150,000 separate muscle fascicles, with no bone and little fat. Elephants use their trunk like we use our hands: to grab, hold, pick up, reach, touch, pull, push, and throw. They can lift up to 350 kg (770 lb) with their trunks.
Elephants usually have 26 teeth: the incisors, known as the tusks, 12 deciduous premolars, and 12 molars. The tusks replace deciduous milk teeth at 6–12 months of age and grow continuously at about 17 cm (7 in) a year; and they never stop growing!
You can tall whether is African or Asian species by the shape of their ears. Two species from Africa have large ears shaped like the continent of Africa while Asian species have smaller ears shaped like India.
An elephant’s skin can be up to 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) thick on some parts of its body. And even though it’s thick, an elephant’s skin is also very sensitive to touch and sunburn. It is so sensitive that it can feel a fly landing on it.
Elephant have the largest brain of any land animal, and three times as many neurons as humans. The brain of an elephant weighs 4.5–5.5 kg (10–12 lb) compared to 1.6 kg (4 lb) for a human brain. While the elephant brain is larger overall, it is proportionally smaller.
The largest elephant ever recorded was shot in Angola in 1956. This male weighed about 11,000 kg (24,000 lb), with a shoulder height of 3.96 meters (13 feet), a meter taller than the average male African elephant.
The oldest elephant ever was Dakshayani [Photo below], an Asian elephant, who died in 2019 at the age of 88 in Kerala, India.
The rarest elephant on record is Motty, a male calf born at Chester Zoo, England, on 11 July 1978, because he is the only known example of a hybrid between the African elephant and the Asian elephant. Until Motty’s birth, it was not believed possible that interspecific elephant hybrids could occur, and none has been recorded since.
In the wild, elephants have strong family relationship. Their ways of acting toward other elephants are hard for people to understand. They “talk” to each other with very low sounds. Most elephants sounds are so low, people cannot hear them. But elephants can hear these sounds up to 8 kilometers (5 miles) away.
Elephants are known for their superior intelligence as well as their structured social order. One of the main characteristics of the social order in the herd is that males and females live entirely different and separate lives.
Elephants are a matriarchal society; that is, one that is led by a head cow, who presides over her herd of females. Each herd is made up of mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. They are guided by the oldest and largest female of the herd. This herd sticks closely together, rejoicing at the birth of a calf and mourning at the death of a member.
The male, on the other hand, lives apart from the matriarchal herd, and travels alone or with other males in a bachelor pod.
Elephant females can have babies until they are about 50 years old. They tend to have a new baby every two and half to four years. They usually have one baby, twins are very rare.
Elephant females undergo the longest gestation period of all mammals. They are pregnant for 22 months.
The newborn elephant is about 85 cm (33 in) tall tall and weighs about 120 kg (260 lb). It can stand up shortly after the birth. The little one uses its mouth to drink its mother’s milk, so it doesn’t need a long trunk to feed. Calves stick close to Mom and nurse frequently; they gain, on average, 1 to 1.3 kg (2 to 3 lb) a day in their first year! Herd mates tend to look out for the calves if they are in distress.
Elephants consume grasses, small plants, bushes, fruit, twigs, tree bark, and roots. They spend between 12 and 18 hours eating every single day.
An adult elephant requires up to 300 kg (660 pounds) of food and up to 190 liters (50 gallons) of water per day.
Elephants average just 2 hours of sleep a night, making them the lightest-known snoozers of any mammal.
They have the best sense of smell in the animal kingdom. An elephant can smell water from about 20 kilometers (12 miles) away.
Elephants love water. They like to swim, dive into the water and find great fun in fighting the waves. It also gives their joints a break with the buoyancy they get from the water.
A team of researchers working in Nambia has found that elephants are able to detect rain storms from distances as far away as 240 kilometers (150 miles). In their paper published in the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers describe how they tracked both elephants and rain over the course of several years and found the elephants were clearly able to detect rain events from great distances and move towards them.
“An elephant never forgets?” Our keepers feel that, just like people, elephants seem to especially remember good times and bad and seem to have good memories for individual people.
Elephants are capable of human-like emotions such as feeling loss, grieving and even crying. They remember and mourn their loved ones, even many years after their death. When the “Elephant Whisperer” Lawrence Anthony died, a herd of elephants arrived at his house to mourn him.
African elephants are listed as vulnerable and Asian elephants as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
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.