Sunday, July 10, 2011


Here's how you can tell the difference between African elephants and Asian elephants:
1.  African elephants live in Africa and Asian elephants live in Asia.
2.  African elephants are bigger.
3.  Also, African elephants have bigger ears.
4.  Both male and female African elephants have tusks, but only male Asian elephants do.
5.  African elephants have two finger-like things at the tip of their trunks, and Asian elephants only have one.
6.  Asian elephants can be tamed, and they will carry heavy loads and do a bunch of work for people, but African elephants prefer being self-employed.

There are two different species of African elephant, and one is called the African Bush Elephant or Savannah Elephant (Loxodonta africana), and the other is called the African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis).  The word loxodonta is Greek, and it means "oblique-sided tooth."

An elephant has four molars to chew with.  Each one weighs about 11 pounds and is 12 inches long.  Okay, now here's the interesting thing:  when the front two molars get all worn down, they fall out, and the other two molars move forward to take their place.  Meanwhile, two brand-new molars grow in in the back of the mouth.  An elephant gets new teeth 6 times, and then by the time it is between 40 and 60 years old, it doesn't have any teeth left, and it starves to death.

The elephant's tusks are actually the second set of incisors that grow out really long.  A baby elephant starts growing tusks when it is about 2 years old. There are many good uses for tusks, such as digging up roots, tearing bark off of trees, herding young, and poking around in the ground to find water.  Also tusks can be used as weapons in a fight.  They weigh between 51 and 99 pounds, and they can be from 5 to 8 feet long.

The bush elephant is the biggest of all land mammals.  Males are 10--13 feet tall at the shoulder, and they weigh from 13,000 to 20,000 pounds.  Females are 7.2--8.5 feet tall and weigh 4,800--7,130 pounds.  The very largest elephant that we know about was a male that was shot in Angola in 1965.  He weighed 27,060 pounds and stood 13.8 feet high.   This elephant got stuffed and mounted, and now you can see him in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Elephant skin is super thick and leathery.  It is made that way so it can help the elephant keep cooler.  Also an elephant's ears are really big, and when the elephant flaps its ears, the blood in all the blood vessels in the ears gets cooled off.  Elephants have really good hearing, but their eyesight is not so great. They usually move along at about 4 mph, but if they are scared or upset, they can run as fast as 25 mph.

Of course, the thing that makes elephants really special and different is that they have trunks.  The trunk is a combination of what would be the nose and the upper lip of any other animal.  Elephants' trunks are about 7 feet long, and they are very muscular and strong.  Trunks are used for eating, drinking, and taking dust baths or water baths.  When elephants drink, they suck up as much as 2 gallons of water into their trunks and then squirt the water into their mouths.

Also the trunk can show what sort of mood an elephant is in, sort of like a dog shows its mood with its tail.  Elephants can punch and push with their trunks.  And sometimes they wrap their trunks together in a sort of hug.  Elephants also have a very good sense of smell, so they can do things like find water that is out of sight under the ground.

Elephants are very smart, and they are also very social.  A herd of elephants is usually made up of females and their young, with the oldest female as their leader.  This leader is called the matriarch, and she's the one who decides where the herd goes.  She knows how to find all the water sources, and she teaches the locations to the other members of the herd.  When one of the elephants gives birth, all the other females come and touch the baby with their trunks.  And when an elephant dies, the others will stay by its body for a while.

A female can come into season at any time of the year, and when she does, she starts sending out something called infrasounds, and that makes lots of males come around.  They fight with each other, and whoever wins gets to mate with the female.  Then after 22 months, a baby elephant is born.  This is the longest gestation period of any mammal.  The baby weighs about 220 pounds when it is born, and it will nurse until it is 5 years old.  But it will also eat solid food, starting at about 6 months old.  Adult elephants don't have any natural predators to worry about, but they have to keep the young elephants safe from lions, crocodiles, leopards, and hyenas.

Watering hole
Elephants eat lots and lots of food, but what they eat depends on where they live.  Mostly, they like to eat stuff like leaves off of trees and shrubs.  In one day, an elephant can eat as much as 660 pounds of vegetation.  But since elephants have lousy digestive systems, only about 40% of the food is actually digested.  The rest ends up being poop, which Mom is very happy that she doesn't have to pick up, but I think it might be nice to roll in it.  Elephants also drink a lot of water, like 50 gallons every day.

African elephants have a conservation status of VULNERABLE.  They have been hunted for their ivory tusks since at least the 14th century.  During all the years when Africa was under colonial rule, the Europeans exported ivory so that they could make things like piano keys and billiard balls out of it.

Fang Traders With Ivory
When the World Wars came along, people stopped exporting ivory for a while, but in the 1970s, Japan started using raw ivory to make name seals.  The ivory was also used for making souvenirs, jewelry, and trinkets.  By the 1980s, Japan was using about 40% of the ivory coming from Africa, Europe and North America used another 40%, and most of the rest of it stayed in Africa.  In 1989, the export of ivory was outlawed, but there is still a lot of poaching going on, not just for tusks, but also for elephant meat and hides.  Oh, and there is also some trophy hunting.

Forest Elephants

Forest elephants live in west and central Africa, where there are still a lot of tropical rainforests.  Bush elephants live more in eastern and southern Africa, with the biggest bunches of them in Botswana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zambia, and South Africa.  In some areas, there are plenty of elephants, but in other places there aren't very many.  There are several protected areas for elephants, but less than 20% of the elephants' range is formally protected.

Elephant at the KC Zoo

Okay, well, this was a very BIG topic, so it's hard to say everything there is to say about elephants in one little blog entry.  I don't think I would want to see an elephant in person because I would be afraid the elephant would step on me, and then I would be as flat as a little black-and-white pancake!


  1. Hmm... Do you think if the elephant could still eat it could live longer?


  2. Yes, I think it could, if it didn't have a disease or something. The elephants in zoos usually live longer, like to 60 or 70. Maybe the keepers make them brush their teeth. LOL