“Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant ― the only harmless great thing.”– John Donne
Last week we visited the Madumalai National Tiger Reserve, near Ooty in Tamil Nadu, India. It was an amazing experience, not only for our 9-year-old son, but for us as well. We have been to other tiger reserves but this time we stayed in a place right on the outskirts of the jungle, with deer coming outside our doorsteps at night and rabbits and peacocks coming in the garden.
While we did not spot any tigers on during our stay, we did see innumerable deer, peacocks, magpies, woodpeckers, flying squirrels, giant squirrels, mongoose and many birds that I could not identify.
The most amazing of these was the elephant. We visited the elephant camp nearby and saw the mahouts feeding the enormous animals. Many facts about the elephants were shared with us and they were so amazing that I could help but share them with you all. So here it goes.
1. They are largest land animal
Elephants are world’s largest living land animals. Male African Elephants can reach a height of 3m and weigh between 4 tonne and 7.5 tonne. Asian elephants are a little smaller and grow up to 2.7 m tall and can weigh between 3tonne and 6 tonne!
2. They are thick skinned
Elephant skin is around 2.5cm thick in most parts of the body. Talk about being thick skinned!
The folds that you see in elephant skin actually help retain 10 times more water than flat skin. This helps them in cooling their body. Like some other animals, elephant skin is sensitive to heat from the sun. To protect themselves, they regularly take mud baths and throw mud and sand over themselves. What an idea for a natural sunscreen!
3. They are intelligent
Elephants are quite intelligent animals. They can identify themselves in a mirror just like humans and apes. They can differentiate between humans. They can even recognise human voices and languages which helps in training them. They can learn and respond to about 60 commands!
They also have a strong memory. You must have heard of elephant like memory. This is because of their large temporal lobe.
Did you know that elephants are the only mammals incapable of jumping or leaving the ground?
4. Multiple communication methods
Elephants have multiple ways of communicating with each other – trumpet calls, body language, touch and scent. They can even communicate through seismic signals that create vibrations in the ground. They detect these vibrations through their bones.
They display complex social behavior like empathy, grief and playfulness. They even greet each other by wrapping their trunks together.
Elephants have one of the longest gestation period of 22 months (almost 2 years!). Baby elephants are almost 95 kg when they are born. The calves can stand within 20 minutes and walk slowly within an hour.
This is like many other animals, including giraffes. Read here to find out 10 Interesting Facts about Giraffes.
6. Matriarchal head
Elephants live in a matriarchal society. The oldest female usually is the leader of the herd. She teaches the young ones how to behave with other elephants. She is also responsible for remembering where the best places for shelter and food and guiding the herd to these places.
Males usually leave the herd when they are 12 to 15. Some of them lead a lone life while others live in all male groups.
7. Multipurpose trunk
The first thing one notices about an elephant is the large trunk. The trunk is both an upper lip and nose with nostrils running through the entire length of the truck.
What is a trunk? It is a boneless structure which has 150,000 muscle units! Yes, that’s right. 150,000! It is used for breathing, smelling, grasping, touching, pushing, producing sound (they trumpet through their trunks).
Their trunks can suck up to 38 liters (10 gallons) of water in a minute. They can smell water from 12 miles away!
If any of their friends are in distress, elephants use their trunks to stroke them to give them comfort.
8. Food is a priority
Elephants spend over 16 hours each day foraging for food. They need 150 to 200 kg of fodder per day. They also drink up to 200 liters of water every day.
All this eating and drinking also means a lot of poo. Each elephant creates 1 tonne poo per week! This is actually useful for the environment because it makes the soil fertile and also helps in the dispersal of seeds.
Elephant tusks are made of ivory. They are actually incisors that grow very long. They are hard and used for defense, digging and lifting.
Both male and female African elephants grow tusks, but only male Asian elephants grow them. A tusk-less adult elephant is likely to be a female Asian elephant
Did you know that elephant tusks grow all through their lives? Thus, enormous tusks are a sign of older elephant.
Unfortunately, tusks are also a reason that humans have killed many elephants.
Elephants have large ears. They use these to radiate excess heat away from their body. It is interesting to note that Asian and African elephants can be distinguished by the size of their ear lobes – African elephants have larger ear lobes than Asian ones.