Happy World Elephant Day! This auspicious day to recognize how much we love these gentle giants of the Savanna, and appreciate the dangers they face from mankind's ever-expanding swathe of deforestation and encroachment into historical habitats for many animals, including elephants of all species and locales. First celebrated in 2012, World Elephant Day is celebrated on August 12th every year. So in honor of this extremely important day, we've put together a list of some interesting facts about these creatures you might not have known.
If you want to get even more background on this day, and why it exists in the first place, you can check out some of these links:
Elephant trunks weigh up to 400 lbs, and contain 40,000 muscles, but only 6 major muscle groups, which can be divided into up to 150,000 individual muscle units. You can compare this to human's 639 in our entire bodies. It is so deft that they can pick up something as small as a single grain of rice or a penny with their trunk, and are strong enough to lift full grown trees out of the ground as well. They also give an elephant a sense of smell 4 times more sensitive than a bloodhounds, able to smell water miles away.
Just like the T-Rex was a fearsome predator with stubby little arms, full grown elephants can reach up to 13 feet tall, and up to 14,000 lbs, which is absolutely massive. But also like the T-Rex, this also plays into an interesting aspect of their anatomy, as all of their bones, unlike other mammals, point downward. What does this mean in the long run? They are the only mammals on the planet that cannot jump. They are incapable of generating enough downward force to jump in the air.
So just like you can be a lefty or a righty, besides those weirdos who do both, elephants actually have a preferred right or left tusk, which they will use more often, and called the "master tusk". It is easy to distinguish from the two, because the 'master tusk' is usually much more worn down, and has a round tip at the end.
When male elephants enter a state of Musth, during the time they begin needing to compete for mates, they have an incredible biological change they undergo. Their testosterone levels skyrocket 60 times their normal levels, and stay there for up to 2 months! The condition is especially pronounced in male Asian elephants, and you can distinguish an elephant in Musth from one that isn't, by those who are undergoing it carrying their heads and ears higher, along with a very noticeable rumbling sound they emanate. They are also extremely dangerous to anything that gets in his way during this time.
Elephants have one of the longest gestation periods of any animal, ranging from 640 to 660 days, or 18-22 months for Asian Elephants, and 22 months for African Elephants. That is over double the amount of time humans carry babies to term. They give birth usually ~2-3 times per decade, and elephant young may nurse from their mothers for up to several years after birth. They live up to 70 years in the wild, but in captivity only 48, which is one of the longest living land mammals, beside humans.
Unlike humans, who seem to have a bit of an issue with female leadership, elephant herds are, nearly without exception, headed by the most venerable female elephant, with the rest consisting of her sisters, daughters, and their offspring. Male elephants travel with the herd from their birth, until they are teenagers, around 14 years old.
But more interestingly, recent research has challenged the notion that male elephants are aggressive and territorial and loners by genetic predisposition. Recent research has found that when male elephants leave their herds as young adults, they often form bonds with others, that while not on the same level as a herd, last them the duration of their lives.
Though you would think since there are so few species, those species that are out there would share a great deal of similarities. But interestingly enough, in terms of genetic makeup, the Asian Elephant is closer to the Woolly Mammoth, than to its relative in Africa. African Elephants are also significantly larger in size on average than Asian Elephants. Another interesting difference is that while Asian Elephants have a single, finger like appendage at the end of their trunks, the African Elephant has two.
Humans suck. There I said it. African Elephants are considered a Vulnerable Species, and the Asian Elephant Endangered, due to our greed and destruction of the environment all for the sake of "progress". The rapid escalation of poaching, habitat loss due to industrialization and deforestation, not to mention their mistreatment and use in captivity both in zoos, and as attractions in certain countries. The large elephant in the picture was named Satao, and until 2014 he was one of the largest elephants ever recorded. Poachers killed him with a well placed poisoned arrow in June 2014 and mutilated his face on their way to taking his tusks.
Elephants are massive creatures, so their diets also have to be equally as substantial. Elephants need to eat at least 150kg of food every day to remain healthy, and they poop out about a quarter of that a day.
Elephants do have a penchant for alcohol that has been observed by scientists, which is definitely an interesting sight. But a persisting myth out there that has been perpetuated ad nauseum, is that elephants eat fermented fruit, specifically Murula fruit, and get drunk off of them. Unfortunately, there are several holes in this myth, not the least of which is that elephants do not eat rotting fruit from the ground in the wild, they eat it off the trees.
In addition, they even push over trees sometimes to reach the fresh fruit, and ignore the rotting fruits on the ground right beside them.They also would not wait for the fruit to ferment, because they, along with a number of species of birds and monkeys, and other animals as well, are in love with the fruit.
Elephants unsurprisingly have much larger brains than humans. Though it still pales when compared to a whale's brain, Elephants' brains are about 2 and a half times the size of a human one. However, they have only 30% of the neurons that the human brain has, with 5.6 billion and a bit more than half what Western Gorillas do.
Elephants are one of the most unique mammals in terms of their intelligence. They are one of the few able to use tools, and even recognize themselves in the mirror! They also are able to feel empathy for others, and are able to display a range of emotions, including grief. They are also the only mammal to bury their dead, which is considered a very human trait in general. All of these point to a very high level of awareness, especially the self-recognition, which besides elephants, only magpies, cetaceans and humans can achieve.
Elephants have stunted drunks when they are born, but they rapidly elongate over the course of the subsequent days following birth. However they are not so adept at using these complex and able appendages when they are first born, so they are oftentimes found actually "tripping over their noses", or trunks as it were. Luckily all we have to worry about is tripping over our own feet, and thankfully not our noses.
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