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Elephants: General

© written by Tasha Guenther

Elephants in Amboseli National Park, Kenya, Africa
Photographer: Diana Robinson; License CC BY-ND 2.0

Elephants are warm blooded mammals that are some of the largest land animals in the world! In fact, the African bush elephant is the largest land animal in the world.

Elephants have long trunks used primarily for breathing, but also used to hold water before drinking and grabbing food from high places, like trees!

Like most mammals, elephants have large, prominent knees. Unlike, most mammals, however, elephants are the only mammal that cannot jump! This, of course, is mainly because elephants are just so big. It is also because elephants have a rounded back and tubular-shaped legs which allow them to hold all the weight.

Elephant feet are very interesting: firstly, not all of an elephant's five toes have toenails. Secondly, elephants are known for walking so quietly because they have a thick layer of fatty tissue on the soles of their feet. This helps support their weight and absorbs the shock of long walks through savannahs or tropical jungle forest floors.

Elephants organize themselves in matriarchal structures--this means that the head of a herd of elephants is a stronger, older female elephant! These structures are made up of the matriarch, other adult females, and calves (both boys and girls). When the boy calves reach adulthood, they leave the herd and wander on their own or sometimes in small groups with other male elephants.

Interestingly, like primates, dolphin species, and humans, elephants are known to be very intelligent and can experience a level of sympathy for their kind. For example, if an elderly elephant, a calf, or a member of the herd dies, elephants are capable of feeling sad for the death.

One of the biggest dangers to elephants is not their natural predators (since they have very few), but is rather human encroachment, loss of habitat, and illegal poaching. Sadly, numbers of elephants, especially populations of the Asian elephant have drastically dwindled over the last 100 years due to the illegal hunting of elephants for their ivory tusks!

Even the tourism industry, though it looks cool on TV, is very bad for the existence, safety, and happiness of elephants. Generally, elephants in south-east asia are treated poorly, especially if a company offers elephant rides. As well, circus elephants are often hurt badly when being trained and are put in cages, much too small for elephants whose instinctual habits are built for roaming happily in the vast grasslands or making their way with the help of their tusks in the dense tropical jungles!