Facts About Elephants!
Elephants are the largest land mammals on earth.
Elephants are also the third smartest animal in the world, following only humans and chimpanzees.
They have a long trunk which they use to drink water, eat food and to smell. Elephants have very good hearing and can hear the sound of an approaching animal from miles away. They live in herds and have a strict hierarchy based on age, sex and rank.
Elephants live in family groups of a dozen or more. The bond between elephants are very strong in their families. Elephant families are made up of related females and young males.
Elephants do play with each other, engaging in social games such as wrestling and chasing.
Elephants miss each other when they are separated. When they are reunited, elephants display emotional greetings and ceremonious actions to welcome each other.
Elephants have skills that are learned – taught from elders to their young. One such example would be mothering and nursing skills.
Elephants grieve the loss of their loved ones, just as humans do. They even cry.
Elephants have empathy towards each other. They display sympathy when they observe another elephant with an injury.
Elephants have a funeral type tradition – they bury their own dead. They will even stop to pay their respects to the skeletal remains of another elephant that they encounter in the wild. Elephants will also cover the dead remains of other elephants with things like palm leaves and branches.
The oldest female in an elephant family is the one in charge. She is the matriarch and guides the other adult elephants and all the young ones in daily life and during hard times.
Female elephants stay with the family their whole lives. Male elephants leave the group when between 9-10 years old to journey with other male elephants.
Would it be safe to have an elephant as a pet? Well, no. They actually have very different needs than dogs or cats. They eat a lot, live more than 70 years, grow enormous in size and require hygienic conditions which are extremely difficult to manage.
“Elephantidae” is the scientific classification family comprising the elephants in the world today, and some extinct species such as mammoths.
There are only two genera of Elephantidae that are living today, which are the African Elephants (Loxodonta), and Asian Elephants (Elephas). Those genera are broken down into even more species of elephants that currently exist. Among those, however, DNA testing and scientific debate is still ongoing to determine whether a few of those should be classified separately.
African bull (male) elephants can grow as tall as 13 feet (4 meters), weigh 4,000-7,500 pounds, and may have tusks as long as 6.5 feet (2 meters) in length, each of which weighs 100 pounds (45 kilograms).
Elephants may also have teeth, and these are present in male (bull) and female (cow) African elephants, as well as Asian male elephants.
African elephants have two finger-like features at the tip of their trunks, which they use to grasp small objects. Extremely dexterous, elephants can make joints using their trunks to stack up small materials such as grains. African elephants are able to gently scoop items, whereas Asian elephants are able to only pick items using their whole trunk.
Elephants are relatively protected in southern Africa, and can be seen in great numbers in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Namibia.
African Elephants inhabit all African habitats, from the near-deserts to closed-canopy forests. Elephants once roamed free across all of Africa. However, they now only occupy a fifth of the continent.
African elephants once roamed across all of Africa, now they are restricted to protected areas and Africa’s grasslands.
Apart from being considerably larger compared to the other species, African elephants’ defining characteristic is their big ears, which just so happen to be similar in shape to the continent Africa.
Newborn African elephants are fed by their mother’s milk until about four months old. After that, they nurse only occasionally until they are around three years old.
During times of drought, elephants also tend to dig up and create watering holes, which may benefit other animals, too.
Elephant ears give off heat, which helps to cool African elephants.
Elephant tusks never stop growing, so huge tusks may be the mark of an older elephant.
Other animals that are strongly associated with elephants include the manatee and the dugong.
Elephants are not quiet animals, they produce lots of noise. However, they primarily communicate with each other using lower-frequency sounds that are normally unrecognized by human ears. Elephants’ large ears bones and sensory nerve endings on their feet and trunks enable them to receive each other’s infrasonic communications.
Since 1979, Africa’s elephants have lost more than 50% of their African elephant range, and that, coupled with mass poaching for ivory and trophies in recent decades, has seen the population decline dramatically.
The rapid demise of the elephant population is due to human activity. Such factors include human population growth, humans hunting elephants just for their ivory tusks, or wealthy humans who pay to go on big-game hunting trips to kill elephants and other large animals just for sport.
African elephant species are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation following the conversion of forests to non-timber crops, cattle ranching, and construction of cities and industrial areas.
As recently as the early part of the 20th century, Africa’s elephants could number up to 3-5 million. The elephant population is declining incredibly fast – the current total elephant population in the world is currently around only 415,000.
Facts About African Savanna Elephants
African Savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana, also sometimes called “bush elephants”) are larger animals roaming on plains across sub-Saharan Africa, whereas forest elephants are smaller animals living in forests across central and west Africa.
African savanna elephants are larger, with curving, downward-pointing tusks, whereas forest elephants have straight, downward-pointing tusks.
African Savanna Elephants are the largest species of elephants, the largest land animals on the planet.
African Bush elephants live on the grassy savanna flatlands and scrublands of Earth, in groups containing mothers and their calves.
African bush elephants live in 37 African countries,throughout savanna grasslands and woodlands, wetlands, and farmlands.
Facts About African Forest Elephants
African Forest elephants are found in the rainforest-rich, equatorial regions of West and Central Africa, where there are still relatively large blocks of dense forest.
The African forest elephant is found mostly in lowland rainforests and tropical to subtropical forest areas of Central and Western Africa, including Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, and Central Africa, Liberia, and Ghana.
The African Forest Elephant is one of the largest known land mammals on earth. Male African Bush Elephants grow to about three meters tall, while female African Forest Elephants grow to about 2.5 meters.
African Forest elephants are found in the tropical rainforest regions of West and Central Africa, where there are still large blocks of dense forest remaining.
The population of African Forest elephants is declining due to the destruction of their habitat from human activity.
Facts About Asian Elephants
Asian elephants are generally smaller than their African cousins, and range from about 4,400-11,000 pounds (2,000-5,000 kilograms).
Asian elephants range in height from about 6.6 feet at the shoulder to about 11.5 feet, and have 19 pairs of ribs.
Asian elephants have far smaller ears than either African species, and typically, only male Asian elephants grow tusks.
The majestic Asian elephant is found throughout 13 countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. They are the largest land mammal in the continent of Asia.
Asian elephants are a little smaller than their African cousins. They have a type of “finger” on the end of its trunk that helps with holding onto small objects, while their cousin, the African elephant’s trunk has two.
Asian elephants have smoother skin and a firmer trunk than African elephants.
Asian elephants have a fourth toenail on each of its hind feet.
Asian elephants have varied diets that allow them to live in forests disturbed by humans, provided that they have ample room to roam and are able to take advantage of the variety of food available without conflict with humans.
The Asian elephant family is considered to be a forested animal, however, they generally prefer habitats which involve more open spaces, which provide more diversity of plants, including grasses, for food.
In nature, Asian elephants live in various types of tropical and subtropical habitats ranging from wet, evergreen, lowland forests, dry, semi-decumbent, teak forests, and cool mountain forests.
Threats to wild Asian elephant populations include habitat loss due to deforestation and agricultural development, and conflicts with humans, as elephants search for space and attack crops grown near their forest habitat.
Crop farming, mining of iron ore, and flooding from hydroelectric projects also act to reduce large areas of land that The Asian Elephant requires to provide an adequate food supply.
Poaching is still a major threat to Asian elephant populations, even though ivory is mostly from African elephants.
Asian elephants are also taken from the wild for the live elephant trade and tourist agency, which occurs mostly in Thailand.
India, Vietnam, and Myanmar have made laws against capturing elephants in an effort to preserve their wild populations. However, Asian elephants in Myanmar are still captured every year to work in the timber industry, or for illegal wildlife trafficking. A large percent of elephants die during the process because of inhumane methods.
Asian elephants are capable of breeding in captivity, as are large cats and other wildlife. However, they are not selectively farmed, in large part due to their lengthy reproductive cycles.
Facts About Indian Elephants
Indian elephants (Elephas maximus indicus) are grayish-black animals, which are a subspecies of Asian elephants.
Indian elephants are larger, with longer front legs, and thinner bodies compared to Asian elephants found in Thailand.
Indian elephants’ spines are more arched than African elephants.
Indian elephants’ skin color is lighter in comparison to Asian elephants, with smaller patches of skin lacking pigmentation.
Indian elephants are known for having smaller ears and larger, wider toes, although their skulls are wider and their trunks are larger than in African elephants.
Of the three recognized living subspecies of Asian elephant, the Indian elephant is endemic to mainland Asia.
Male Indian elephants have more convex, thicker tusks than African elephants.
Poaching remains the primary threat for Indian elephants, with humans harvesting their ivory tusks. Since only male Indian elephants grow tusks, their deaths due to poaching are having serious effects on the male-to-female ratio in the wild. This leads to the decline in Indian elephant numbers over time.
Facts About Sri Lankan Elephant
Sri Lankan elephants (Elephas maximus maximus) are the largest of Asian elephant subspecies, the largest land animals in Asia – exclusively native to Sri Lanka, the island located off the southern coast of India.
Only 5-10% of male Sri Lankan elephants grow tusks – the majority of Sri Lankan elephants have no tusks at all. This is vastly different than African elephant species, where both male and female usually develop tusks.
Sri Lankan elephant males have rounded shoulders that taper off sharply, whereas females have a flat, flat, box-like profile.
The Sri Lankan Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC) estimates that their forests and national parks have between 4000-5000 elephants.
Sri Lankan authorities recognize elephants cultural and natural importance, and are working diligently to ensure both wild elephants and domesticated elephants survive and are healthy in the island. Despite these measures, elephants in Sri Lanka, whether wild or captive, are abused for various reasons, including loose compliance with laws and regulations, as well as continuation of ancient traditions.
Predation by wild Sri Lankan elephants has destroyed farmers’ livelihoods, and while there is widespread reverence for elephants in Sri Lankan culture, they are increasingly treated as vermin.
Wild elephants are protected by Sri Lanka’s Wildlife and Flora Protection Ordinance, and killing an elephant is punishable by death.
Once found all over Sri Lanka, these elephants are now restricted to ever smaller areas, with the activities of development clearing forests and interrupting their ancient migration routes.
Facts About Sumatran Elephant
The Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) is an endangered subspecies of Asian elephant, native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
Sumatran elephants were once widely distributed across the island, with the Riau province believed to contain Sumatras largest elephant population, numbering more than 1600 individuals as of 1980.
Their populations typically inhabit the broadleaf humid tropical forests on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia.
Sumatran elephants are also known to browse through palm oil plantations, rice paddies, and coconut thickets, searching for food.
Sumatran elephants live only in the wild.
There are roughly 2,400-2,800 elephants living on Indonesian islands currently. By 2008, elephants had locally gone extinct on 23 out of the 43 ranges identified on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in 1985, which indicates very substantial population reductions to that point.
Sumatran Elephants are already locally extinct in the Western part of Sumatra island, because their populations suffered significantly due to habitat loss.
Deforestation and the loss of adequate elephant habitat has led to a rise of human-elephant conflicts on Sumatra.
In Way Kambas National Park, home to one of Sumatran Island’s largest elephant populations, the humans living along the way to Way Kambas National Park border are often affected by elephants harvesting crops.
The Sumatran elephants in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia, unfortunately are under severe threat from conversion of forests to agricultural land and palm oil plantations.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List places Sumatran elephants status as either endangered or severely threatened.
The sanctuary for Sumatran elephants is the Riaus Tesso Nilo National Park, which contains one of the last remnants of Sumatran forests big enough to sustain a viable population of elephants.
Facts About African Pygmy Elephants
The African pygmy elephant (Loxodonta pumilio) is a small elephant discovered in dense, marshy rainforests in the Congo Basin, central Africa.
Herds of African pygmy elephants have been observed to be shorter than two meters tall.
After the discovery of African pygmy elephants at the beginning of last century, these small elephants were considered to be an independent species (Loxodonta pumilio). However, it is now believed African pygmy elephants are likely African forest elephants, and their small size and/or early maturity are attributed to ecological conditions.
The numbers of African pygmy elephants are unassessed, and the status of their conservation is unknown.
African pygmy elephants are not recognized as separate species/subspecies, so they are not given protection considerations as a distinct entity.
In 2003, DNA samples were extracted from several museum specimens labeled as Loxodonta pumilio, and compared with DNA samples of African forest elephants, which showed the two types of elephants were the same species.
Facts About The Borneo Pygmy Elephant
The Borneo Pygmy Elephant (Elephas maximus) is another variety of small elephants found in Malaysian Indonesia.
The Borneo pygmy elephant is the world’s smallest subspecies of elephant.
The Borneo pygmy elephant is a subspecies of Asian elephant, and is native to north-east Borneo, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Bornean elephants are the largest among Bornean Island mammals, yet move through forests freely and cautiously, not doing much harm to trees and vegetation.
Bornean elephants’ habitat varies from lowland forests in lower Kinabatangan, Sabah State, in Malaysian Borneo, to the Indonesian state of East Kalimantan.
Bornean pygmy elephants are about 30% smaller than the rest of Asia’s elephants.
Borneo pygmy elephants are exceptionally small elephants – they grow to be no taller than five to six feet (about 1.7 meters).
The pygmy Borneo elephant has a single, grasping finger on its trunk which it uses to pick up grass, leaves, fruits, and other plants.
The Borneo pygmy elephant has shorter trunks and longer tails that sometimes touch the ground on some elephants. Bornean elephants generally also have larger ears and straighter tusks compared to other Asian elephants.
Pygmy Borneo elephants not only look different, but they also behave differently than most Asian elephants.
The Borneo pygmy elephant is mild-mannered, unlike its more aggressive Asian elephant ancestor.
Borneo elephants are a more delicate species than Asian and African elephants, and their quiet temperament has led some scientists to suggest that they are descendants of a domesticated herd.
DNA comparisons with other subspecies of elephants revealed that the Borneo elephants were descended from stock animals, becoming a population that was isolated, and they diverged genetically 300,000 years ago. This may explain how the elephants were separated from their mainland Asian counterparts, then evolved to become Borneo Pygmy Elephants, a subspecies of Asian Elephants.
It is also believed that the current surviving population of Borneo pygmy elephants probably became isolated from other Asian elephant subspecies when land bridges that linked Borneo with the other Sunda Islands and the Asian mainland disappeared after the Last Glacial Maximum 18,000 years ago.
Isolated from the other subspecies, the Borneo elephant evolved on the island of Borneo alone, never swapping genes with other elephant populations.
The Borneo pygmy elephant is a critically endangered species, and there are an estimated 1,500 individuals left in the wild, mainly found in Sabah.
Some Elephants That Are Now Extinct:
Throughout earth’s history, many types of elephants have come and gone. In fact, most elephants that have ever existed are now extinct. Some of them disappeared because of natural changes in the planet’s climate. Others, however, disappeared because of humans.
There are about 32 types of extinct elephant species and 2 extinct elephant genera. Here are some of them…
The North African Bush Elephant.
These were a subspecies of the African bush elephant. Researchers are still considering classifying it as its own independent species. They were a bit shorter than regular African bush elephants, standing only around 8 feet (2.5 m) on average. They became extinct during the Roman Empire, probably due to the fact they were killed during Roman games as entertainment.
Actually, the genus Mammuthus. Their numbers started dwindling around 10,000 years ago – but the last of them went extinct around 4,000 years ago. Their extinction was caused by glacial climate change (meaning it got really, really cold and these poor creatures couldn’t find food anymore). This genus has 9 extinct species that we know of:
- Wooly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius)
- Sardinian dwarf mammoth (Mammuthus lamarmorae)
- Southern mammoth (Mammuthus meridionalis)
- Steppe mammoth (Mammuthus armeniacus)
- South African mammoth (Mammuthus subplanifrons)
- African mammoth (Mammuthus africanavus)
- Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi)
- Pygmy mammoth (Mammuthus exilis)
- American mammoth (Mammuthus imperator)
Primelephas gomphotheroides and Primelephas korotorensis.
These two types of extinct elephants lived between 25 million to 5 million years ago. They actually would have looked very much like modern elephants, except they had four tusks instead of two! There were two tucks that extended from the top of their mouths, and the other two tucks extended below, from the front of their jaw.
The Stegotetrabelodon and Stegodibelodon genuses.
All the species from these two extinct genuses also lived 25 million to 5 million years ago, during the Pliocene and Miocene epochs.
- S. syrticus (Petrocchi, 1941)
- S. orbus (Maglio, 1970)
- S. lybicus (Petrocchi, 1943)
- S. emiratus (Sanders, 2022)
Elephants that are endangered / soon-to-be extinct:
All of them.
Yes, that’s right. All of the remaining elephants in the world are now at serious risk of being gone forever, without unified, concerted conservation by humans. That means we need to take action, create awareness, and change some of our human activities that have threatened – and in some cases, already decimated elephant populations.
Would you like to help? Here are some ways you can do so!
1 – Refuse to buy, sell, own, or wear things made from ivory.
2 – Elephants do not exist well in captivity. So —
Among zoos that have elephants, support only the ones that provide elephant-friendly environments with sufficient space that allow them to live in social groups and be in control of their own lives. Boycott zoos that keep elephants in small spaces without elephant-friendly environments.
3 – Boycott circuses that use elephants.
Boycott them if they use wild animals altogether – they belong in nature, not on a stage for human entertainment.
4 – Look for planet-friendly certifications on products you buy.
Goods that we use, such as coffee and lumber may actually come from farms or harvested woodlands around the world where the habitat of endangered species – especially elephants – was destroyed. Organizations such as The Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®), or the Rainforest Alliance, for example, promotes responsible management of these types of forests and habitats. Manufacturers who are committed to protecting elephants’ habitats will either display the organization’s seal or logo on product packaging, or provide a website address to access this information.
5 – Get involved through awareness and support.
It all starts with knowledge. After educating yourself, you can help to spread awareness about the plight of elephants. You can do this by sharing articles such as this one through social media, a text link, or email. You can also continue your research of many non-profit organizations dedicated to the conservation of elephants. You can support their mission by reading about what they do, and donating to their cause.
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