Elephants are descendants of the mammoth and are currently the largest land animals on the planet. They stand out for having a long, mobile and sensitive trunk and for their impressive beauty and colossal size. However, they are also known to be part of the list of endangered animals, mainly for hunting, either for their meat or for ivory.
The elephant is a herbivorous mammal, intelligent, with a lot of memory, sociable and protective of its herd. Scientifically called Elephantidae , the elephant belongs to the group of pachyderms , which also includes other popularly known species such as the rhinoceros, hippopotamus, tapir and wild boar.
One of its main tools, as well as its most characteristic physical part, is its long trunk . With no bone structure but with over 350,000 muscles, this tool allows you to reach high limbs to feed, hydrate, groom yourself, and even communicate. For almost all the daily activities that elephants carry out they need their trunks. However, there are other very important characteristics of elephants that we include below so that you can get to know them better:
Elephants main traits and characteristics
- Speed: despite their girth, elephants can reach a speed of 40 km / h.
- Life expectancy: between 40 and 60 years in freedom, although in certain cases they can reach up to 90 years.
- Reproduction: Females have young every 4 to 5 years, after 22 months of gestation, and care for their young for years, often assisted by other females in the herd.
- Communication: elephants use low-frequency sounds to communicate with each other, as well as their trunk and touch, very important for this species. They greet each other, for example, approaching and twisting their trunks.
- Memory: these animals stand out for their surprising memory. Their brain, the largest in the animal kingdom, allows them to remember the members of their group throughout their lives, even if they do not live with them.
- Emotions: They help and collaborate between members and caress and stay with deceased members for days.
Although in the past there were more than 300 species of elephants , today only two types persist , the African and the Asian . Both types share many characteristics, such as being strong, large, heavy, powerful animals with long trunks and thick, wrinkled skin with little hair. However, there are clear differences between the two species:
African elephant ( Loxodonta africana and Loxodonta cyclotis )
- Dimensions: approximately 3 meters high and 7 meters long.
- Weight: up to 8 tons.
- Ears: very large fan-shaped ears.
- Fangs: both males and females have long, curved fangs.
- Toes: these types of elephants have five toes on the front legs and three on the back.
- Threat level: vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List. One of their biggest threats is the ivory trade from their tusks.
- Subspecies: savanna elephant and jungle elephant.
Asian elephant ( Elephas maximus)
- Dimensions: approximately 2.5 meters high and 6 meters long.
- Weight: between 5 and 6 tons.
- Ears: much smaller than those of Africans and with a straighter shape.
- Fangs: Females do not have fangs and only some males possess them.
- Fingers: five fingers in the front and four in the back.
- Threat level: endangered. Some of the causes of their precarious situation are due to the destruction of their habitat and hunting.
- Subspecies: none.
Where elephants live
First, the estimated 400,000 African elephants that live in the wild need large tracts of land to live , as well as an abundance of food and water. Specifically, these pachyderms are divided into two subspecies, the savannah elephants, which are the most common and the largest, and the jungle elephants. The former are better used to living in areas with hot climates, such as the savannah , where their huge ears help them dissipate heat and prevent overheating, while the latter tend to inhabit slightly colder and more humid places, such as forests and jungles .
On the other hand, it is estimated that there are currently about 50,000 Asian elephants in a state of freedom. This number of specimens is distributed in areas typical of the regions of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Sumatra and Borneo, although some specimens can also be found in colder areas, such as in the southern Himalayas or near the Yangtze River. In any case, the conditions of the areas where they live are usually leafy areas with abundant rains, bushes and low vegetation.
In both cases, groups of elephants are organized into social structures with a leading matriarch, the oldest and wisest female of the group, along with other females and their young, who are usually not more than one or two meters apart. mothers. Thus, females show to be social animals, supportive, protective and lovers of family life. Males, on the other hand, tend to separate to live in solitude when they reach adolescence, although they can also be grouped with other males, but the ties that unite them are not as close as in the case of females.
To finish talking about these large land mammals , we can only clarify what elephants eat .
Both subclasses of elephants are herbivorous species , which means that they eat tree leaves, soft bark, fruits, herbs, stems, roots, and all kinds of plant foods. Given their large size, it is not uncommon for them to need to eat huge amounts of food on a daily basis. Elephants eat between 120 and 130 kilos of food daily and spend approximately 13 hours of their time in the feeding process.
Notably, elephant mothers consume even greater amounts of food given their milk production needs. For their part, the young, weighing up to 100 kg at birth, suckle from their parents for up to three years, although they can occasionally eat some types of plants.
Once again, the elephant’s trunk, which is formed by the nose and the upper lip, takes on a leading role in the task of feeding. They use it to feel, drink, smell and select the most tender and appetizing foods, as if it were a hand-nose. They also take advantage of their strength and size to obtain food, uprooting or shaking trees or even standing up to reach certain branches.
On the other hand, elephants also have the need to cool off and drink plenty of water, ingesting up to 10 liters of water per drink, 140 liters a day . That is why these animals need to always be close to water sources to supply their needs.
In general, it is very common to see elephants inspecting the terrain to select their food, although in the end they put almost anything in their mouths, they love to eat! However, they have a problem, although their large molars allow them to chew food and turn it into a paste, in many cases they have certain digestive difficulties, especially older elephants, making it difficult for them to fully digest food. For this reason, it is common to see remains of plant fibers and even whole leaves in the stool. Due to this, it is also common to see elephants rummage through their own feces and other individuals in search of more food, especially in areas where there may be times of food shortage, such as in some of Africa.