Facts about Elephants

Facts about Elephants

All you need to know about the largest land mammal in the world.

The Elephant

Introduction

The elephant is the largest land mammal in the world, and adult male bulls can weigh up to a massive 6,000 kg.  Both males and females have tusks, but the males tend to be larger.  The tusks grow continually throughout their life, and the longest tusk ever recorded was 355cm.  Elephants can live for as long as 60 years. 

The gestation period for a female elephant is a staggering 22 months, and when born, the baby elephant has a matt of dark black hair on the top of his head. The baby will never stray far from its mother, and the other females in the herd will be protective towards it, always making sure that it is in the middle of a group for added protection

The Matriarch of the Herd

Female elephants live together in close family herds of anything up to 25 related females. The matriarch female of the herd will be the mother, normally easily identifiable as being the largest elephant, and the rest of the herd will consist of her grown offspring and their offspring too. The matriarch dictates where the herd moves to, and what they do, whether it be feeding, bathing or sleeping. Male bull elephants are either solitary or live together in small bachelor herds, and will only join the females to mate.

Uses for an Elephant's Ears

When elephants are alarmed, they will try to make themselves look even more imposing by spreading their large ears out, swishing their trunks, jerking their heads, and pawing the ground. A gland on the side of their face, just underneath their eye, also begins to weep. The ears also act as a form of 'air-conditioning' - to help cool itself down, the elephant will pump more blood to its ears and flap them around. 

Elephants and Water

Elephants can go a couple of days without water, but they prefer wherever possible to drink and bathe daily.  A large bull elephant may drink over 200 litres of water a day. Elephants are therefore never found far away from water, be it waterholes or rivers, and it is a common sight to see the entire herd drinking and then wallowing afterwards in the mud and seemingly having great fun. As well as a pleasant way to spend an hour, the mud acts as a protective layer against ticks.  

Elephants and the Habitat in Winter

During the Winter months, and periods of extreme drought, elephants will strip the bark and upturn tree trunks to feed off the roots in the absence of foliage. Very high elephant populations have become a real problem, especially around the Kruger area, as the land is unable to fully recover before the next onslaught by hungry elephant herds. Although many elephants have been redistributed already, the problem is still there, so culling may be the only option to reduce the numbers and give the bush a chance to grow back again.  

Feeding

Elephants spend about 16 hours a day feeding, and will consume about 5% of its total body weight in food a day.   Their primary diet is grass, shoots, and tree bark. Being a single stomached animal, nearly 50% of the food digested passes immediately through the gut again, so very little nutrient is taken in. Because of their need to eat such vast quantities, elephants are a natural destroyer of habitat, and in certain areas in Southern Africa the environmental damage to the bushveld has become a major problem.  

Why the Elephant has a Trunk

How the Elephant got his Tusks