The elephant is the largest living land mammal in the world. An elephant has large bones filled with sponge bone instead of marrow, and pads on its feet that absorb the shock from its heavy weight. Its ears are packed with blood vessels and are fanned to bring down body temperature. Its thick skin is tender, and an elephant rolls in the dust to protect it from the hot sun and insects. Elephants love water and like to bathe daily, spraying their bodies and each other with their trunks. They drink nearly 40 gallons (151 l) of water at a time and can eat as much as 500 pounds (227 kg) of vegetation, consisting of fruit, branches, grass, and other foliage.
The elephant is a gentle animal, but becomes extremely dangerous if angered. They have extraordinary power in their trunks, able to kill with a single blow. With as many as 40,000 muscles, an elephant’s trunk ends in a lobe or lip that functions like a finger, allowing the elephant to pick up small objects. An elephant’s tusks, used for digging and ripping bark, are actually large protruding incisor teeth that grow throughout the elephant’s lifetime. Tusks do not grow back when lost.
Social animals that greet each other if they’ve been apart, elephants communicate by vocal sounds such as trumpeting and purring. Purring is controlled by sounds in their stomach. They usually purr when out of sight of each other, and if they stop purring, it is a sign of danger.
Elephants travel in small troops, usually led by a dominant female. They can live up to 70 years of age, reaching puberty in their middle teens. After a gestation period of 22 months, a single baby is born. Baby elephants nurse for around two years and stay with their mother until puberty. At that time, young bulls are usually driven from the herd to live alone or in bachelor groups.
There are two kinds of elephants alive today: the African elephant and the Asian elephant. There are reports of a few elephants alive near Nepal that have the characteristics of the extinct mammoth.
The elephant’s main enemy is man. Poachers unlawfully kill elephants for the ivory tusks and have endangered this wonderful animal to the point of extinction.
Proboscidea • Elephantidea • Elephas maximas (Asian Elephant) or Loxodonta africana (African Elephant)
Height: 15 feet (4 m) (African)
Weight: 6.6 tons (6,000 kg)
Length: 24.8 feet (7.5 m)
Life Span: 70 years
Special Design Feature: Elephants have excellent hearing and their ears are also used as cooling units.
Did You Know? African elephants are the largest living land mammal in the world.