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Elephants are truly incredible animals. Sunday, August 12 is World Elephant Day. It is a day to spread awareness. That awareness is meant to help save elephants. What do you know about elephants? Here are some facts you may not know.
African elephant populations are sometimes thought to differ only by the location of the animals. But that’s not true evolutionarily speaking. Forest and savannah elephants are as separate genetically as Asian elephants and woolly mammoths.
What is the elephant’s closest living relative? It is the rock hyrax. It is a small furry mammal. It lives in rocky landscapes across sub-Saharan Africa. It also lives along the coast of the Arabian peninsula.
African elephants are the largest land mammals on the planet. The females of this species undergo the longest pregnancy. It lasts 22 months.
We know that elephants are large. But did you know that elephants can be turned off by the smallest of critters? One study found that they avoid eating a type of acacia tree. Why? Because it is home to ants. Underfoot, ants can be crushed. But an elephant wants to avoid getting the ants inside its trunk. Its trunk is full of sensitive nerve endings.
Don’t feed an elephant peanuts. They don’t like them. They don’t eat them in the wild. Zoos don’t feed them to their captive elephants.
Female elephants live in groups of about 15 animals. They are all related. They are led by a matriarch. She is usually the oldest in the group. She’ll decide where they move. She’ll decide when they move. She’ll also determine when they rest. This will be day to day. It will also be season to season.
Male elephants leave the matriarch groups between age 12 and 15. But they aren’t loners. They live in all-male groups. In dry times, these males will form a linear hierarchy. It helps them avoid injuries. These could result from competing for water.
Asian elephants don’t run. Running requires lifting all four feet at once. But elephants filmed in Thailand always kept at least two on the ground at all times.
An African elephant can detect seismic signals with sensory cells. These are in its feet. They can also “hear” these deep-pitched sounds. This happens when ground vibrations travel from the animal’s front feet, up its leg and shoulder bones and into its middle ear. The elephant can determine the sound’s direction. They do this by comparing the timing of signals received by each of its front feet.
Elephants have passed the mirror test. They recognize themselves in a mirror. This is just like human toddlers. Great apes can recognize themselves. Magpies can also recognize themselves. Dolphins can recognize themselves, too.
Elephants can get sunburned. They take care to protect themselves. “Elephants will throw sand on their backs and on their head. They do that to keep them from getting sunburned and to keep bugs off.” That's according to Tony Barthel. He is the curator of the Elephant House and the Cheetah Conservation Station. He works at Smithsonian’s National Zoo. How do elephants protect their young? Adult elephants will douse them in sand. Then they will stand over the little ones as they sleep.
Elephants have evolved a sixth toe. It starts off as cartilage. It is attached to the animal’s big toe. It is converted to bone as the elephant ages.
Some farmers in Kenya protect their fields from elephants. They do this by lining the borders with beehives. Not only are their crops saved, but the farmers also get additional income from the honey.