Elephants: The gentle giants
Elephants are the largest land animals. They can weigh over 6,000 kilograms, more than the weight of four cars! The one feature that makes an elephant unique is its long trunk.
A trunk is an elephant’s best tool for sucking up water, digging, grabbing, lifting, sniffing, and breathing.
The trunk even has a finger-like tip that can flick dirt from an elephant’s eye or pick up a single blade of grass. There are three species of elephants.
Two species are African elephants. The savannah elephant found only in eastern and southern Africa and the forest elephant which lives in the tropical forest regions of western Africa.
The third specie is the Asian elephant which lives only in the tropical forests of Asia.
Elephants live in social groups called herds. Herds usually have about 10 to 20 members. Sometimes many herds will meet and form “super herds” of 100 or more elephants.
Herds consist mainly of females, the mothers, daughters, aunts, and grandmothers, and a few young males. The oldest female is the herd’s leader. She leads the herd to water and finds food and a place to rest.
There are also smaller bachelor herds that are made up of adult males.
Elephants are herbivores. They eat grasses and shrubs as well as the roots, fruit, bark, twigs, and leaves from trees. Because they are such large animals, a full-grown elephant eats at least 100 kg of food and drinks as much 200 litres of water.
Females start to breed when they are about 13-years-old. They give birth to a baby elephant, or calf. The calf begins to walk within a few hours of its birth.
Like all babies, a calf begs mom to feed it. Elephant calves drink over 11 liters of milk a day! Calves drink milk until they are about two years old.
The females of the herd protect the calves. They offer shade from the hot sun to the newborns, chase predators away, and help the calves if they stray or become stuck in mud.
Young male elephants leave to join a bachelor herd when they are about 11-years-old. Female elephants, however, stay with their mother’s herd for life. Elephants keep growing their whole lives. In the wild, elephants can live for 60 years.