For the past five years, April 12th has been designated as World Elephant Day in an effort to raise awareness about poaching, the mistreatment of elephants in some locations (particularly Asia) and the human-elephant conflict. The elephant is my favourite animal, and despite seeing thousands of them during my time in Africa, I continue to stare in awe whenever I see them in the wild; I don’t think I will ever go to a zoo again. In honour of World Elephant Day I would like to share my favourite facts and stories about elephants.
1. In African elephants, both sexes have tusks, but only males have tusks in the Asian species.
2. The African elephant is the world’s largest animal, averaging over 20,000 pounds. Asian elephants are about half that size.
3. Elephants are also Number 1 in terms of pregnancy. As in, they are pregnant for 22 months. That’s almost two years! And when the baby ele is born it weighs about 250 pounds.
4. Throughout their lifetime, elephants have six sets of teeth. Each set lasts about 10 years, so if an elephant lives past 60 or so they end up dying from malnutrition and/or starvation. As they get older, they can only eat soft food (grasses that are waterlogged) and have to break their food down before they eat it, otherwise they can’t chew and digest it. Here is an example of how they do this:
5. Elephant poop is huge! Like, bigger than my foot!
6. Elephants are nocturnal animals. Yes, you often see them during the day, but for every one you see during daytime there are 10 more than come out at night. Also, their eyes do not reflect light, so it is incredibly difficult to see them. I know what you are thinking, “How can you NOT see a 10 ton animal?” Trust me, I tell you this from experience. More than once I’ve come face to face (within a couple of meters) with an elephant because it was night time and there was no advance warning.
7. They are a matriarchal society. This means if you see a lone elephant, it is probably a male. After the males hit puberty they are kicked out of the herd. A herd is anywhere from 10 to 100 elephants, which consist of the mommies, the babies, and pre-pubescent males.
8. Elephants are incredibly intelligent. When I lived in Botswana, every other day I heard about how elephants would “break into” people’s gardens and steal their produce. One of my students told me his father spent a week building a fence around their property to keep the elephants from destroying his tomato plants. During the time it took to build the fence the elephants never entered the garden (they would normally do this at night, of course). My student’s father went to bed the night he finished the fence, only to wake up the next morning and find the fence missing! The elephants had patiently waited and watched him build the fence. As soon as the project was finished, the elephants uprooted the entire fence, seemingly making it disappear without a trace. The dad found the fence later that morning three miles down the road.
9. Even though they are really smart, I’m not sure that they necessarily read the elephant warning signs:
10. Or maybe they do read the signs and try to be considerate, like this elephant here who, instead of walking through the fence, actually stepped over it:
I like to think of myself as a “pseudo” park ranger, at least when it comes to elephants. I could go on all day with stories, videos and pictures of my elephant encounters, but I think that should suffice for now.
Happy World Elephant Day to one and all!