World Elephant Day, 12th August 2018
‘Tuskers’….Three African males with beautiful long tusks
The elephant is the largest land mammal on earth with an African male weighing in at up to 6 tonnes. In order to maintain good health, an adult elephant needs to eat up to 150 kg of food a day which amounts to around 50 tonnes a year. Their diet is varied and comprises grasses, roots, shrubs bark and even fruit when it is in season. There are three species of elephant in the World today: the relatively small forest elephant found in Africa, which has only recently been recognised as a separate species, the Asian elephant and the largest of the three, the African elephant. The African and forest dwelling elephants are closely related but the Asian elephant is quite distinct.
DID YOU KNOW…. Elephants may be able to detect a thunderstorm 280 km away…..
Asian elephants are much smaller and more docile than the African elephant.
Elephants are social animals and live in matriarchal, tight knit groups. They are led by one dominant female and the group is made up of her offspring and other female relatives and their calves. Group living helps keep the elephants safe and allows for more time to be invested in caring for each other and teaching their young.
DID YOU KNOW…. In 2004 elephants appeared to head for higher ground in Sri Lanka to avoid the tsunami…
Young elephants enjoy the safety of the group and this affords them the time to play and learn as they mature.
DID YOU KNOW….. Elephants produce a lot of methane gas – the methane emitted in one day would power a car for 32 km!
As well as being the largest, elephants are also one of the most intelligent and sensitive of our animals on earth. Their long-term memories are extremely good and this often helps them survive situations such as drought by revisiting areas where they can remember water has been found many years before. Scientists have found that elephants can recognise themselves in mirrors, knowing it is themselves and not another member of their species. Experiments have also shown that they are aware of each other’s feelings and they have been known to try and comfort their friends putting their trunk into the others mouth and trying to help them if they are injured. It is even thought that elephants mourn their dead.
Elephants can live up to the age of 60 or 70. Their excellent long term memories allow them to remember water holes and other more remote areas that might offer fodder in times of drought.
Forest elephants, recently identified as a distinct species, are much smaller than their African and Asian cousins
A piece of writing on elephants would not be complete without mention of ‘musth’. At this time males experience very high levels of testosterone and this hormone prepares them to compete for females. The condition can last for up to 60 days and it makes the elephant very much more aggressive. During this time males carry their heads and ears higher than normal and they make a characteristic rumbling sound.
An elephant in musth….
Finally tusks; these are actually elongated upper incisor teeth. Such useful tools help elephants in all manner of ways from digging for food and water to stripping bark from trees and they are a fearsome weapon when fighting for females. Unfortunately, it is these tusks which have caused much of the elephant’s downfall and accounts for their much reduced numbers today.
With all animals one always wonders what they might say if they could speak. What might their view be of humans and all that comes with us as a species. I think elephants with their emotional intelligence, long lives and excellent memories would have much to say and I would like to think that we would be respectful enough to listen and hopefully learn something to help us be better partners to help our planet as it continues on its orbit far into the future.
Deborah Boyd-Moss IDEAS & THOUGHTS On behalf of PLANET EARTH