Although all elephants have a number of similarities,
African elephants are different from
Asian elephants. The highly muscular trunk is
common to both and is described as a modified
nose. Elastic, cartilaginous tissue cushions the
soles of the feet, making elephants silent walkers
that can move up to twenty-five miles per hour.
Elephants lose body heat through their ears.
Adult African elephants can weigh up to 1,500
pounds. They have large ears and two fingerlike
lips at the tips of their trunks. Anatomically, the
African elephant has a concave back, with shoulders
that rise above the head. In this species, both
sexes have tusks.
Adult Asian elephants can weigh eleven thousand
pounds. They have smaller ears and one lip
at the tip of the trunk. Anatomically, the Asian elephant
has a convex back with shoulders that lie
below the bulbous head. In this species, some
males have tusks. Easier to domesticate than the
African variety, Asian elephants are used for
transport and logging. Their trunks have a characteristic
flexibility and a greater range of motion
that makes them more suitable for such activities.
Asian elephants are an endangered species, and
African elephants are a threatened species, because
of destruction to their habitat and illegal
poaching for their valuable ivory tusks.
The elephant is a herbivore that consumes up to four hundred pounds of vegetation per day. Large molars chew vegetation, which may take up to nineteen hours to digest. Molar teeth do not all erupt at once; when one molar wears down, it is replaced by a new one. This replacement happens six times, and after that the elephant may starve to death. The trunk serves to siphon up gallons of water to facilitate digestion and ensure hydration. These animals are unselective browsers that use their tusks to chisel away tree bark and, in the process, often uproot trees. Over time, these destructive habits can transform the ecology of the environment.
Protection, Defense, and Communication
Elephants use their tusks for defense and sharpen them on tree bark.Anaggressive elephant will fan out its ears, kick sand, sway from side to side, and trumpet and scream when angry and excited. Males travel with female herds until puberty. At approximately twelve years of age, males leave female herds and form smaller male herds. Mature males join a herd when a female is in heat. Older males are solitary. Amatriarch leads the herd, which is mainly female. Males in musth and females in heat advertise their condition by producing infrasonic rumbles not audible to humans. Since elephants have poor eyesight and hearing, these sounds allow for long-distance coordination of mating.
Reproduction and Birth
Elevated testosterone levels cause notable physical changes in elephants. The male secretes fluid down the sides of his face from the temporal glands. He also dribbles urine that often stains the insides of his hind legs. The male is now ready to mate: He is in a musth state. The male in musth is hostile and aggressive toward other males, viewing them as competitive suitors in his quest to mate successfully. Meanwhile, the female's urine emits a distinct odor that invites the male's advances. A male interprets a female's readiness to mate through his Jacobson's organ. Females mate once every three to five years. A female will exhibit aggressive behavior, including fighting to kill, when aggressors threaten her calves. Elephants also grieve the death of the aggressor soon after they have killed it. They may cover the dead animal with leaves and sand. This is noteworthy, as such behavior is rare in the animal kingdom. Elephants are extremely intelligent mammals. Aggressive and defensive, protective and devoted to their young, elephants are majestic herbivores with muscular, serviceable trunks and magnificent ivory tusks.
Family: Elephantidae (modern elephants)
Genus and species: Loxodonta africana (African elephant), Elephas maximus (Asian elephant)
Geographical location: African elephants are abundant south of the Sahara desert; Asian elephants occur in India, Sri Lanka, and south and east to Sumatra
Habitat: Mostly forest and savanna biomes, which are never far from water
Gestational period: Twenty-two months
Life span: Sixty years in the wild; eighty years in captivity
Special anatomy: Gray coloration; massive head with trunk and tusks; large, flaplike ears
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