species on the planet, and the largest living land animal. There are generally two recognized elephant species: The African elephant and the Asian elephant. They live in a range of habitats throughout Southern and Southeast Asia and in the sub-Saharan Africa. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), African elephants are vulnerable to extinction, while their Asian cousins are listed as endangered. They are faced with a number of threats, including illegal poaching for their ivory tusks, habitat loss and fragmentation, and conflicts with humans¹. Elephants are one of the most fascinating and easily recognizable species on the planet.
Here are some fascinating facts about the grey giant:
- Elephants can live for up to 70 years. The oldest recorded elephant died in captivity aged 86 years old⁴. Combine this with their slow reproductive rate and long gestation period, and it is obvious that decimated populations will take centuries to recover. They generally give birth every three or four years, but are pregnant for almost two years before giving birth – the longest time period of any land animal².
- Elephants can spend up to 16 hours eating every day in order to fuel their huge bodies. This sometimes leads to conflicts with local farmers or villagers, as a single elephant has the ability to destroy a crop on its own in a matter of hours².
- The trunk of an elephant contains around 100,000 different muscles – yes, a hundred thousand muscles². To put this in perspective, the entire human body only contains approximately 650 muscles³. This huge number of muscles allows the elephant to move its trunk in nearly any direction, and to perform any number of fine and coordinated movements.
- Along with hearing, the elephant’s ears have a second, extremely important function. They act as giant heat dispersal units. Due to their huge size, elephants produce huge amounts of metabolic heat, and would therefore easily overheat without a way to get rid of it. Their large ears provide just one method of doing this⁴.
- Elephants are the largest extant land animal, and usually grow to a huge 7000 kilograms and four meters tall¹. The largest elephant recorded weighed in at almost 11000 kg and stood 3.96 meters tall⁴.
- Elephants are the only mammal that can’t jump⁵! Perhaps this is due to their large size, or perhaps the ability to jump has simply been lost during the evolutionary process.
- A pair of ears from a bull elephant can weigh more than a person, or around 100kg².
- Elephants purr in a similar manner to cats⁵. This is thought to be a method of communication or a way of expressing contentment.
- An elephants two largest teeth, usually known as tusks, can reach around 3 meters long and up to 90 kg each¹. They are used for a number of things, including lifting, fighting, and digging for water. Elephants also have four large molars, one in each corner of the mouth. Each of these is the size of a brick, and can weigh more than 2kg⁵.
- Due to their soft feet, elephants are able to walk almost silently – an incredible feat for an animal which weighs as much as a small truck!
- Elephant form small family groups, usually containing around 10 members, which are ruled by a matriarch. The matriarch is often the oldest and most experienced member of the family, and will rule until she no longer has the strength, at which time her eldest daughter will take over¹.
So there you have it, these are just some fascinating facts about the world’s largest land animal, the elephant. If reading this has inspired you to learn more about this wonderful creature, then consider joining an elephant conservation group and helping to protect them for future generations to enjoy!