Elephants are large mammals that have several distinctive features, including long trunks and big ears. They are one of the most intelligent, emotional, and friendly animals I’ve seen. Let’s look at some interesting facts about elephants that can drop your jaw.
1. They’re the biggest mammals on earth
There are 3 types of elephant species on earth today: the Asian elephant, the African bush elephant (also called the Savanna elephant), and the African forest elephant. African elephants were once viewed as a single species until genetic tests revealed that they diverged between 2 and 7 million years ago.
So what are the distinctions between these two species? There are more than ten differences between them.
|African elephants||Asian elephants|
|Habitat||Are found between lush forests and deserts in 37 sub-Saharan African nations.||Live in forests and meadows of Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, and India.|
|Size||With the substantially larger size, African species are the largest land animals on Earth. They can reach the size of 13 feet (4 meters) in height and weigh up to 4,000-7,500 kg. |
The largest elephant in the world is a male African bush elephant with 24,000 pounds (10,886 kilograms) and is 13 feet (3.96 meters) tall.
|Asian elephants are just 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) tall and weigh from 3,000-6,000 kg. |
The smallest elephant in the world is the Borneo pygmy which is a sub-species of the Asian. They’re 30% smaller than their cousins.
|Head||Larger and rounder heads||A twin-domed head with a central indent (dorsal bumps)|
|Ears||Bigger and longer ears that stretch up and cover the neck||Ears are smaller and more rounded|
|Back||Concave back||Convex or level back|
|Tusk||Both males and females own tusks.||Only males have tusks.|
|Trunk||Two “fingers” at the ends of their trunks||Only one “finger”|
|Asian and African elephants both move and usually follow the same migratory patterns each year in search of a favorable environment, water, and food.|
Even the two separate African species exhibit a variety of features.
|African forest elephants||African savanna elephants|
|Habitat||in deep rain forests in western and central Africa||in wooded savannas and meadows in Sub-Saharan Africa|
|Tusk||Straighter, downward-pointing tusks and more rounded ears||Curved tusks|
|Conversation status||Critically endangered species||Endangered species|
2. Elephants never forget
These creatures have legendary memories. They have the greatest brains of any land mammal. Even after many years have passed, they can still recall other elephants and people they’ve met. They can also remember the way to get food and drink across a long distance, as well as how to reach alternative sites if necessary.
Their memory is so amazing that they can modify their timeline to come in time when the fruit they want is about to ripen.
3. They have strong family bonds
These creatures establish close family relationships and live in groupings known as herds. These herds are matriarchal, implying that the oldest and biggest female in the group is the leader of the herd. An elephant family usually consists of the mother, her sisters, daughters, and their offspring.
The size of the herd is determined solely by the size of the family and the region in which they choose to live. The herd numbers are usually between 8 and 100, but they can be up to 1.000. Those members look up to their elders.
The elders pass down all of the information needed for their survival. The young must spend time with the old, especially the matriarchs, to learn things in life; such as what to do with various dangers and where to obtain food and water.
Studies have revealed that Asian species are less hierarchical with minimal dominance. You can see the research here. This is because of the difference in their habitats.
Because environments in Africa are tougher, seniors’ wisdom is more essential. On the other hand, predators are scarce and resources are bountiful in Asia, they don’t really need strict leadership.
A herd of elephants frequently walks in a single line when roaming. The leader is the matriarch, follow is her siblings and their young. The baby (a.k.a calves) follow right after their moms.
Wild elephants move at a speed of between 3.2 and 12.0 kilometers per day. In captivity, these numbers are about 5.3 kilometers. The distance of their journey is determined by age, gender, season, food availability, and other factors.
4. They are very intelligent
Elephants are one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet. Their brains weigh about 11 pounds and contain 300 billion neurons that function similarly to human brains.
– They can distinguish languages
These mammals can identify and differentiate between human sounds. They can tell the difference between human words, between male and female voices, and between friendly voices and things that are dangerous.
Their linguistic abilities extend beyond comprehension. One Asian elephant learned to imitate Korean words. According to researchers, because his major social interaction as a child was with people, he learned to imitate language as a sort of social connection.
– They can do math
Asian species may be one of the most intelligent animals in the world, especially in math. In a research, people teach 3 Asian elephants to use a computer touchscreen panel. And then they give them different amounts of fruit to choose from. One of them amazed researchers by selecting the panel having the most fruit.
Researchers believe that the Asian species are smarter than the African species. According to some research, the average EQ for Asian species is 2.14 and 1.67 for African species.
– Elephants can recognize themselves in the mirror. Along with dolphins, apes, and humans, they are the only animals with self-awareness.
– They support each other
They are very social, kind, compassionate, kindness, and altruistic. Researchers discovered that when an elephant got unhappy, other elephants replied with sounds and touches aimed to comfort that member.
This behavior had previously only been observed in humans, apes, corvids, and canids. They also exhibit sympathetic and targeted assistance. They work together to assist a sick or injured member.
5. They are not built to be ridden
Here are some reasons why you should never ride an elephant:
– Anatomically, elephants are not built to hold weight on their backs. They have developed to sustain a bulk suspended beneath their spine. You’ll understand when you see an elephant’s skeleton.
Their spine differs from that of most mammals. These huge animals have pointed bone nodules that rise upwards from their spine rather than smooth, spherical spinal discs. Protrusions like that are sensitive to weight and upward pressure. This can result in irreversible spinal cord damage. Furthermore, putting a chair on their back produces inflamed blisters.
– Elephant training is a particularly cruel kind of torture
They must undergo painful training in order to transport passengers. The babies were separated from their moms and kept in a tiny enclosure before being abused with bull hooks and fastened bamboo rods. People starve them and don’t let them sleep to break their spirits and make them submit.
– Lack of social interaction
Elephants and humans are quite similar. They mingle, have family and friends, and they have feelings like pain, depress, stress, and joy. They normally do not interact with other elephants while at training camp. They are kept in solitary confinement and live lonely life in some camps.
– Difficult living conditions
Babies are tied to their moms while they move. This means they must keep up with their moms while moving, which is really painful.
To maintain the speed, people would shove the animals with a bullock cart. This makes them remember the pain they endured throughout their training period, which causes them to panic. This anxiety might cause a reaction that harms not just the animal but also the riders.
After the ride, they are chained. They don’t enough food or water. Some are even so stressed that they sway, walk, and shake their heads.
Any organization, even a sanctuary or wildlife park, offers elephant rides or circuses, those creatures have been cruelly mistreated in order to act properly. While some establishments may advertise their experience as compassionate and claim that they do not train elephants, please don’t believe them. Long-distance riding elephant services indicate that elephants are abused.
Instead of riding them, you might engage in activities that allow you to witness them in their natural environment (like natural parks).
6. Their tusks are actually their teeth
Elephants’tusks are their elongated front teeth. When they are about 2 years old, they begin to grow out. And they continue to grow throughout their lifetimes. These tusks are utilized to eat food, such as prying bark, drinking or digging up roots, or for defense in the fight. They also protect the trunk.
However, their tusks frequently put them in danger. Poachers regularly hunt them for ivory to sell it for a large amount of cash. Unlike rhino horns, elephant tusks do not grow back.
7. They can’t live without their trunks
Elephants are the most powerful animals on the planet. Their trunks which contain approximately 40,000 muscles are both strong and delicate at the same time. With their trunks, they can lift between 770 pounds (350 kg) to 1.100 pounds (500 kg).
Their trunks are multi-task. Not only do elephants use their trunks to lift things, but they also feed on, create sounds, breathe underwater, clean, smell, and protect themselves with those trunks.
The trunks feature “fingers” at the tips that enable them to grab little objects. The animals are extremely skilled and can make a junction with their trunk to pile up little items such as grains. To choose which foods to consume, they will stretch out its trunk and smell. Their trunks are also used to embrace, caress, and console other elephants.
8. They communicate through vibrant
Elephants communicate through the ground, even for a long distance. To do this, they stomp their feet and emit a range of sounds such as snorts, howls, roars, barks, and other sounds that humans cannot hear. They also produce low-frequency rumbling, which causes seismic vibrations in the ground to travel approximately 20 miles.
They can detect these low-frequency noises (infrasonic sounds). This is because they have large ear bones and sensitive sensory receptors in their feet and trunks.
The capacity to perceive seismic vibrations aids these huge mammals’ survival. When an irritated elephant stomps, it may warn other elephants miles away as well as those in the near vicinity. When it rumbles a call, it could be for family members who are far away.
9. They spend a whole day eating
Elephants are herbivores. Their main diet includes fruit, leaves, roots, bark, and grasses. In one day, an adult can eat up to 300 pounds (136kg) of food. These starving animals don’t need much sleep. They can spend up to 16 hours per day roaming long distances and seeking huge amounts of food to support their enormous bodies.
These species are increasingly coming across human areas due to their voracious appetite. In one night, an elephant can ruin an entire crop of a whole season.
10. They have the best sense of smell
Elephants have small eyes and poor vision, but they compensate with the best sense of smell in the animal kingdom! It can detect water from up to 19 kilometers away. In an experiment in 2019, by only smelling, Asian species can decide which of two sealed buckets has more food.
Another study discovered that African species could distinguish between different plants and choose their favorite based solely on smell.
11. They can suffer from PTSD
Elephants are sensitive and emotional creatures, they have a deep connection with their family. They also have remarkable memory. It’s not a surprise that they can suffer from PTSD like humans.
If an orphanage calf watched a family member being slain by poachers, it would exhibit PTSD-like symptoms. If you rescue an elephant from an abusive situation and bring it to a safe sanctuary, it still exhibits PTSD symptoms even long after they in the sanctuary.
These distressing experiences negatively affect their learning as well. When the elders are killed, the young can’t learn critical social information from them.
12. Elephants honor their dead
We all know that elephants are sensitive creatures. But you will surprise by the way they honor their own kind’s dead.
When a mother loses her baby, she will go into a gloomy mood and even drag the child behind her for days. These creatures also show their feelings for the deceased animal even when they are unrelated. They have been seen making frequent trips, checking, caressing, and sniffing, attempting to aid dying animals, and shouting out for assistance.
After a long time, these giant mammals will come back to visit the expired animals. They use their feet and trunks to touch the leftover bones. It is reported that a young 10-year-old elephant visited her mother’s grave in Kenya and departed with flowing liquid on its face. People said that it could be a type of crying.
13. They can get pregnant at the age of 50
Almost every bird and mammal has nasal turbinates having unique sensitive tissues for olfaction. While dogs own 5 turbinates and humans have only 3, elephants have 7 to 9 nasal turbinates inside their skulls.
These species can supposedly sense airborne hormones in the air when a female is in heat or a male is in a musth period. They can also smell the hormones directly from urine and stool. The females are ready to mount for 3 weeks, yet conception occurs only 3 – 5 days of that period.
In this time, females often show increased attention and enthusiasm when a male in musth approaches. They also display an estrous walk. This is when they lift their head high and constantly glance over their shoulders. They also make sounds that go far and enable distant musth bulls to locate the female.
To earn the right to mate with the female, males will have a strength competition, including tusking, pushing, and wrestling. These mating battles are rarely harsh since they involve a rapid appraisal of power and vigor. The weaker will retreat.
The male will check the partner’s urine to determine her reproductive state. Successive mating lasts anything from a few hours to four days. After mating, the male normally stays with his partner to prevent other males.
Females will go through the longest world’s longest gestation period – 22 months. Every four to five years, females give birth to 1 calf, twins are born on an uncommon basis. Females can get pregnant at the age of 50. The whole herd will protect and raise a newborn calf.
The newborn calf is blind and has a size of 1 meter (3.3 feet) in height and a weight of about 220 pounds (100kg). They can stand within 20 minutes after birth and walk in an hour. They were capable to catch up with their herd after two days.
The trunk of a newborn calf lacks muscle tone. As a result, it will have to feed via its mouth. It takes a long time for the calf to wean. It can last till the mother can no longer withstand the jabs of the developing tusks of her baby.
Elephants mature sexually in their second decade of life. The sexual-maturity age for Asian species is 14 and around 10–12 for African species. During this time, males leave their original herd to live alone or live with other males in small herds. Even after mating with females, they will return to their nomadic and lonely lifestyle, roaming alone. Females, on the other hand, spend their entire lives with their mother herd.
In the wild, elephants’ lifespan is about 60 years. However, the life expectancy of those in captivity can be up to 80 years. The oldest elephant – Lin Wang – can live to the age of 86.
14. They are excellent athletics
– They’re good swimmers
Elephants love playing in the water, spraying themselves and each other. They are also brilliant swimmers. These animals maintain enough flotation to stay on the surface and paddle with their muscular legs. When crossing deep water, their trunk is used as a snorkel. This allows them to breathe easily even when underwater. The swimming skill is especially useful in their journey of seeking food.
– They can run pretty fast
Elephants walk at a speed of roughly 4 km/h and run at a rate of up to 24 km/h. They, however, are thought to be capable of running at speeds of up to 40km/h over short distances. Despite being good swimmers and runners, they can’t jump. And they’re the only mammals that don’t have this ability.
The paws of the species allow them to move silently. Elephant feet are cushioned in a soft padding that helps hold their weight, prevents slipping, and muffles the sound of their footsteps. As a result, despite their massive size, they can walk nearly quietly.
15. They have their own sunscreen
Their normal skin is dark gray or brown, with pink or yellow patterns on the ears, face, and trunk. They have thick skin, about 2.5cm, with folds and wrinkles that retain ten times more water than flat skin. This feature helps them adapt to the harsh environment.
It’s not coincidental that elephants enjoy playing in the dirt. Despite their robust skin, these huge animals can get burnt. That’s why they need to use sand to protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays. They will frequently put mud or clay on themselves and their baby as a protective mask after bathing in a river.
16. It’s a symbol of good luck and wealth
Elephants are symbols of power and prosperity. They are also supposed to enhance spiritual well-being in our everyday life because they represent wellness and happiness. They also symbolize knowledge, longevity, memory, and energy.
These enormous animals are important symbols in Hinduism. Ganesha, the Hindu God, has the head of an elephant and is said to give good luck as well as knowledge. The animal is respected in Buddhism for its power and is known as the guardian of temples.
Many people place elephant statues in front of their entrance doors to bring fortune inside.
17. They’re relative to the rock hyrax
The rock hyrax is a mouse-like animal that is herbivorous and lives in Africa and the Middle East. And you know what?! These small, furry creatures are close relatives of the enormous elephants.
Although their looks are pretty much different, these two species share some common physical characteristics. They both have the same ancestor – Tethytheria that extinct more than 50 million years ago. Their digits all feature flattened nails on the tips. They all have tusks that develop from their incisor teeth. Their reproductive organs have some similarities.
18. They play important roles
Elephants are significant ecosystem engineers, changing their environment in a variety of ways. They eat plants and trees, creating routes for smaller creatures to traverse through the jungles. They remove trees and devour saplings on the savanna, which enables zebras and other grassland animals to survive.
Seeds of many tree species need to pass through their digestive tracts to germinate. When it rains, their footprints can become home to tadpoles and other species. In the dry season, they dig up dry river bottoms with their tusks to create drinking holes from which numerous animals can drink.
Their poop is a valuable resource for humans. Their nutrient-rich dung restores depleted soils, allowing humans to cultivate crops.
19. They are endangered
Unfortunately, their population has been steadily declining since the twentieth century. African species counted in the millions at the time, whereas Asian elephant populations are around 100,000.
But now their numbers are decreasing. There are only about 300.000 African species and 40000 to 50000 Asian species. The IUCN has listed them as vulnerable and endangered respectively.
Due to their huge body, adult elephants have no actual predators in the wild. Their only predator is humans. They have to face three major threats: habitat fragmentation, destruction, and degradation.
Farmers intrude on their habitats to cultivate crops. Elephants require a lot of space, so humans’ intrusion makes it hard for them to find food and water. This increases their conflicts with humans, resulting in the retaliatory slaughter of elephants.
This is particularly true with Asian species. These mammals live in one of the world’s most densely inhabited places and they can’t cope with the growing human population.
Another threat is poaching. Their tusks, meat, and other body parts are money for poachers, especially African species. In 7 years between 2007 and 2014, Savanna species decreased by 30%, whereas forest species dropped by 64% from 2002 to 2011.
Asian species are also poached, but the males are the targets because females don’t have tusks. This leads to gender inequality and less genetic variation.
The poaching leads to elephants evolving to be tuskless. You can see more about elephants without tusks here.