Fun elephant facts
...about the world's most lovable and lumpy large creatures
- All elephant species are endangered. Poachers kill them for their tusk ivory. One hundred years ago, there were a few million African elephants and about 100,000 Asian elephants. Today, there are between 450,000 and 700,000 African elephants and between 35,000 and 40,000 wild Asian elephants. In one recent ten-year period, the elephant population in Kenya plummeted from 150,000 to 30,000.
- Elephants inhabit 37 African countries and 13 Asian nations.
- Elephants are good swimmers.
- Elephants can get sunburned.
- Despite conventional wisdom, elephants don’t like peanuts.
- Elephants can walk up to 120 miles per day, although the average is only between 15 and 16 miles. They walk about five and a half miles per hour and can run at speeds up to 40 miles per hour.
- The elephant’s closest relatives are the hyrax, the aardvark and the manatee.
THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF ELEPHANTS:
- Until 2010, scientists thought there were only two species of elephant—Asian and African. However, genetic testing has revealed that there are actually three species: the Asian elephant (alphas maximus), the African bush elephant or savannah elephant (loxodonta Africana), and the African forest elephant (loxodonta cyclones).
- The fossil record shows a total of 170 known elephant species have lived on Earth. Elephants have lived on every continent except for Australia and Antarctica.
COOL STUFF ABOUT ELEPHANT BIOLOGY:
- Elephants are the largest land animals in the world.
- An elephant’s trunk has about 40,000 muscles and serves as a nose, a hand, an extra foot, a communication device, a snorkel, and a tool for gathering food, sucking up water, dusting, and digging, among other things. They can even pick up a feather from the ground with their trunks.
- Elephants have the largest brain of any land animal, and they are highly intelligent.
- African elephants can grow to be about 13 feet tall and weigh over 10 tons. Asian elephants are a bit smaller, growing to be 12 feet tall and weighing 7 tons. Their ears are half the size of those on African elephants.
- Both male and female African elephants have tusks, although in Asian elephants, only males have them. Elephants are “right- or left-tusked,” just like people are right-handed or left-handed, using the favored tusk more often as a tool.
- An elephants’ ears are filled with blood vessels. By holding its ears out in the wind or flapping them, an elephant can create its own cooling system.
AMAZING WAYS ELEPHANTS TALK TO EACH OTHER:
- Elephants have sensitive hearing that allows them to communicate over long distances. They also use their ears as signaling devices to warn the herd of approaching danger.
- Elephants produce a variety of sounds, including trumpets, squeaks, chirps, and low-frequency rumbles that the human ear can’t hear. These low-frequency calls can travel five or six miles, moving over the ground faster than sound moves through air. Other elephants receive the messages through the sensitive skin on their feet and trunks.
WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE AN ELEPHANT:
- Elephants have the longest gestation of any land animal. Females give birth every four years and are pregnant for an average of 21.5 months with each pregnancy. Only a single elephant is born to a mother at a time.
- Baby elephants are called calves. They weigh between 200 and 250 pounds at birth. Some suck their trunks for comfort in the same way that human children suck their thumbs.
- Elephants can live for up to 70 years.
- Elephants may spend 12 to 18 hours a day eating. Adult elephants can eat between 200 and 600 pounds of food a day. Elephants can also drink up to 50 gallons of water a day—about as much as a standard bathtub holds.
- Elephants normally only sleep two or three hours each day. They do not lie down when they sleep because of the excellent support their very straight legs give them.
- Elephants often touch and caress one another and even entwine their trunks (similarly to the way humans hold hands).
- Elephants form deep family bonds and live in tight family groups of related females called a herd. The oldest and often largest female is the leader of the herd and is called a matriarch. The children are raised and protected by the whole herd. Male elephants leave their family herd between the ages of 12 and 15 and then usually live alone (although they sometimes live temporarily with other males in “bachelor herds”).
- An African elephant family group usually has from eight to ten elephants, while an Asian elephant family has between four and eight elephants.
- When one elephant in a herd is sick, the others will bring the sick member food and help support it as it stands. If it dies, they will try to revive it with food and water for a while. Once it is clear that an elephant is dead, the herd will become very quiet. They often dig a shallow grave, cover the deceased elephant with dirt and branches, and stay at the grave for days afterward grieving.
FAMOUS FICTIONAL ELEPHANTS:
- Babar (from the book Babar the Elephant, by Jean de Brunhoff)
- Elmer (from the book Elmer the Patchwork Elephant by David McKee)
- Horton (from the book Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss)
- Hathi (from The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling; also a Disney movie)
- Dumbo (from the Disney cartoon of the same name)
- Elephanchine (from the Disney movie Fantasia)
- Shep (from the “George and the Jungle” television cartoon)
- Snorky (from the “The Banana Splits Adventure Hour” television show)
- Stampy (from “The Simpsons” television cartoon)
- Tantor (from the Disney movie Tarzan)