- They are the largest of all the land mammals on earth and an icon of the African continent.
- An elephants trunk weighs a staggering 400 pounds but is sensitive enough to pick up a single grain of rice.
- And they are the largest land mammals on Earth.
Many aspects of their colossal anatomy are a source of amazement themselves, whilst their high level of social development makes them an intriguing subject to observe.
We are increasingly learning that they play a vital role in the natural environment, and in maintaining the balance of fragile ecosystems.
Unfortunately, however, decades of negative interactions with humans have reduced the numbers of these gentle giants significantly.
Why are Elephants so Awesome?
So other than being super crucial to the ecosystem, elephants are also super cool.
Did you know their trunks have mad skills?
Elephants have around 40,000 muscles in their trunk. Their trunks are perhaps the most sensitive organ found in any mammal.
Even though their trunk weighs about 400 pounds, Asian elephants have been seen to pick up a peanut, shell it, blow the shell out and eat the nut.
Elephants use their trunks to suck up water to drink – it can contain up to 10 litres of water. They also use their trunks as a snorkel when swimming.
They are also hefty eaters with the adult elephant spending about 16 hours a day eating – they require up to 300kg of food and 160 litres of water each day.
The elephant’s social structure is different from other animals.
The female elephants live in a family unit, of up to 25 elephants with a female elephant in the lead.
There is a clear hierarchy usually based on age and experience, so the older the elephant is, the stronger their influence is in the herd.
Male elephants, however, typically leave their family between the age of eight and 15. In other words, when they have become real teenage elephants.
After this, they wander around in small temporary herds whilst they search for females willing to make new elephant babies.
Elephants are some of the most intelligent species on the planet
They join humans, apes and dolphins as the only animals that can recognise themselves in a mirror showing their high level of self-awareness.
They don’t just have massive bodies but also have a brain that weighs around 5kgs. With their large brain, they can store information and remember things for years, not just skills that are necessary for survival but also social learning as well.
That’s why Elephants can recognise individuals even several years later – just like seen in this video where the elephants recognise someone who saved them years before.
Elephants can have babies until they’re 50 years old.
Keeping in mind the average life span of the African elephant is 60-70 years; this is pretty late.
They‘re also pregnant for 22 months which is the longest gestation period of any mammal, even the enormous blue whale. Elephant babies are born blind and can weigh up to 260 pounds at birth!
Did you know elephants are very emotional creatures?
They can get very emotional when they experience someone dying and show signs of grievance.
They turn silent and take time to mourn the dead elephant, sometimes they perform a sort of a burying ritual where they cover dead relatives with grass or soil.
It is also proven that these giant animals are pretty scared of bees and ants that just goes to show, despite their size, they are gentle creatures.
Why are Elephants good for the environment?
Elephants are a keystone species, playing an essential role in maintaining the biodiversity of the ecosystems in which they live.
During the dry season, elephants use their tusks to dig for water. This not only allows the elephants to survive in dry environments and when droughts strike, but also provides water for other animals that share harsh habitats.
When forest elephants eat, they create gaps in the vegetation. These gaps allow new plants to grow and create pathways for other smaller animals to use.
They are also one of the major ways in which trees disperse their seeds; some species rely entirely upon elephants for seed dispersal.
On the savannahs, elephants feeding on tree sprouts and shrubs help to keep the plains open and able to support the plains game that inhabits these ecosystems.
Wherever they live, elephants leave dung that is full of seeds from the many plants they eat. When this dung is deposited the seeds are sown and grow into new grasses, bushes and trees, boosting the health of the savannah ecosystem.