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Wonders of the Wild: African Elephant

by Dani Johnson

August 10, 2013

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Donate Elephants have been my favorite animal for as long as I can remember. My childhood imaginary friend was an elephant, and two of my favorite TV shows were Babar and The Elephant Show. Even as an adult, I still enjoy watching and learning about these incredible creatures. Please enjoy these amazing images and quick facts about elephants.

There are 2 main types of elephants, the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the Asian elephant.

The African elephant can be found in most of Africa either in dense forests, more sparse woodlands, among shrublands and even out in the scorching desert. The African elephant is broken down into 2 subspecies: the bush elephant (Loxodonta africana africana) and the forest elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis).

Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) can be found in the forests, shrublands and grasslands of southern Asia. Their ears are much smaller, their forehead more bulbous and their back arches upward more than the African elephants.

African elephants have large ears that radiate heat to help keep them cool. One neat way to remember the different elephant species is that the African elephant ears are shaped a bit like the continent in which they live.

Both male and female African elephants have tusks that they use for digging, feeding and even for fighting. Female Asian elephants don't have full sized tusks, they have small, unnoticeable tusks that don't have a central nerve. These mini-tusks are called tushes and are even present in many males.

The trunk of African elephants has two finger-like appendages on the tip that they use for grabbing things like twigs and branches. Asian elephants only have one of these finger-like appendages, but it doesn't seem to make much of a difference in their ability to grab small things.

An adult elephant trunk can be as long as 7 feet tall and can hold almost 8 liters of water at one time. The trunks are actually just elongated noses but they can do a lot more than just smell. Elephants use their trunks socially, to communicate with one another, and they especially use their trunks to put food in their mouths. They're even known to fiddle with things when they're bored, like using a stick to scratch on the dirt.

Elephants can even "paint" amazing things with their trunks, such as flowers and even crude elephant drawings, but it isn't exactly what you think. The elephants aren't coming up with the ideas of what to paint, they have no idea what they're even painting. The elephants are simply mimicking the motions their trainers have taught them. Still, it is an amazing thing to watch!

Elephants eat up to 136 kilograms (300 pounds) of food every single day. They eat leaves, branches, grasses, fruit and bark, and they need to drink water every day.

Adult elephants aren't preyed on by any other animals, but their young may become food for neighboring meat eaters such as lions or crocodiles. When attacked, the adults in the family unit form a bodily shield around the calves to protect them from the threat.

Female elephants get pregnant every 2-9 years and always give birth to one calf. The newborn calves weigh about 91 kilograms (200 pounds) and are around 1 meter (3 feet) tall.

Elephants have a complex social structure. They roam for food together in small family units that are lead by the oldest and largest female called the matriarch. The family unit consists of the daughters of the matriarch and their calves. The male elephants stay in the family unit until they reach puberty, sometimes as early as 9 years old, then they leave the unit and roam on their own. Elephants have long life spans, like humans, and can live to be around 70 years old.

Sometimes the family units join together to form a herd with up to 70 individuals. In some regions, if a region is compromised for whatever reason, herds will temporarily join together to form a mega-herd with more than 1,000 elephants until they can find new places to spread out.

Unfortunately, elephants are an endangered species because of humans. People have destroyed their natural habitat and they even kill these magnificent creatures to harvest their ivory tusks. Thankfully, there are also people that are trying to save elephants. There are also people that want to help domesticated elephants, like The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. The Elephant Sanctuary is a natural-habitat refuge that is designed specifically for old and sick elephants that are retired from zoos and circuses. It's more than 2700 acres and provides 3 separate natural-habitat environments for both Asian and African elephants. They have great diaries, pictures and videos of all of their elephants. I have fallen in love with all of them, especially Tarra. The story about Tarra and her best friend Bella the dog is sad and heart warming, but it's my favorite of them all. It shows the profound sadness an elephant displays when they lose a loved one. It's a sad one that will make you cry and warm your heart at the same time. Here is Bella's tribute page, and the journal entry describing the events right after the loss.

Just for fun, check out these adorable elephant videos!


by Dani Johnson

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