General factsThe word Ele-phant means Great Arch.
Elephants are the largest living land mammals in the world.
Males can grow up to 4 metres in height and weigh up to 7 tonnes; females weigh a mere 3.5 tonnes.
Daily food intake is 4-7 % of their body weight, which, when you are an elephant, equates to an awful lot of food.Their life span is very similar to humans; they can live for up to 70 years.
A single elephant deposits upwards of 150 kg of dung daily!
Elephants are herbivores and only eat grasses, herbs, fruit, plants and trees.
Elephants can walk up to 195 km per day, although the average is only 25 km.
They can reach speeds of 40 mph, easily out-running a man or woman.
Elephants once lived across the whole of Africa. They currently inhabit 37 African and 13 Asian countries.
There are three species of elephant in the world:
- African savannah, Loxodonta africana
- African forest, Loxodonta cyclotis
- Asian, Elephas maximus
AnatomyAn elephant’s trunk is a fusion of the upper lip and elongated nose. It weighs up to 140 kg and can be a deadly weapon. However, a trunk can also be used to pick up a feather, offer comfort to a distressed calf, push over a tree and hold 12 litres of water.
The tusks are present in both male and female African elephants; they are elongated incisor teeth that first appear at two years of age. The males’ tusks can weigh over 100 kg. Man’s greed for ivory has led to a massive decrease in elephant populations throughout the world: in the 1970's there were 1.3 million elephants; now there are only an estimated 400,000.
The ears have lots of blood pumping though them to cool the elephant down. The more the ears flap the hotter the elephant is.
Their brain weighs 4-6 kg.
Elephant skin is up to 2.5 cm thick in places. Despite this, elephants are very prone to skin parasites and use mud and dust baths to try and get rid of them, as well as to cool off.
Elephant have six sets of teeth that grow one set after another, throughout their lives. By the time they reach their 50's, most elephant have started to use their final set.
Social behaviourThe females and their young live in breeding herds. There is usually one leader, the matriarch, who is often the oldest female, and the rest of the herd is made up of her offspring. Being the oldest, she has the depth of knowledge that will ensure the survival of the herd in times of hardship. She will take them to water and food beyond their usual range. Whilst the young females will usually stay with the herd, the males leave the herd during adolescence (between the ages of 10 and 19 years) to lead the life of a more solitary bull elephant.
CommunicationElephants are highly intelligent, social animals and use a variety of means to communicate with each other. Like humans, they talk to each other; so far, 70 different calls have been identified, from the loud trumpets of panic to the comforting rumbles of reassurance. They also use infrasound calls which can be heard up to 14km away.
Elephants use smells to pick up information about other elephants and their environment. A male can tell when a female is ready to mate from the chemical signs she leaves in her urine and faeces. This, combined with the characteristic calls of that time, ensures that all the local males will come to compete for her affections.
Elephants secrete chemicals from temporal glands that are behind their eyes. We do not fully understand their function but it does appear to be linked to chemical communication.
Recent evidence suggests that they may also be able to communicate though seismic waves that pass though the ground, which they pick up though their sensitive feet.
ReproductionFemales generally start breeding at 15-16 years old, and can give birth to as many as 12 calves in their lives.
The gestation period is 22 months.
Males come into their prime at 30-35 years of age and experience periods of musth, which is when they concentrate on finding females. Musth can last for six months in the dominant males and they will often stop feeding for several days at a time during this period.