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20 elephant facts for World Elephant Day

Did you know?

1. Previously classified as pachyderms and lumped with the rhino and hippopotamus, elephants are now placed in their own order, the proboscidea, along with the extinct mammoths.

2. There are three types of elephant, the Asian elephant and the African elephant split into two species, the African Forest Elephant and the African Bush Elephant. Until 2010, only 2 species of elephant were scientifically recognized. However, genetic testing has revealed 3 species.

3. Even though elephants weigh on average 5,5 tons, they can run up to 45 km per hour.

4. Recent discoveries have shown that elephants can communicate over long distances by producing a sub-sonic rumble that can travel over the ground faster than sound through air, some estimate this distance of 50 plus kilometers.

5. Known as a keystone species - entire ecosystems are dependent on them for their survival. The role a keystone species plays in its ecosystem is analogous to the role of a keystone in an arch. While the keystone is under the least pressure of any of the stones in an arch, the arch still collapses without it. Similarly, an ecosystem may experience a dramatic shift if a keystone species is removed, even though that species was a small part of the ecosystem by measures of biomass or productivity.

6. Elephants can recognise different tribes from their human languages and scents and know which ones belong to people with a history of confrontation with elephants. This incredible ability is being explored by researchers at the Rory Hensman Elephant Research Unit to see how the elephants compare to dogs and if one day we could use them to help wildlife and humanity by detecting diseases such as 'foot and mouth', checking areas suspected to have landmines and possibly even early cancer detection.

7. Female elephants are called cows. They start to have calves when they are about 12 years old and they are pregnant for 22 months – longer than any other animal!

8. An adult elephant needs to drink around 210 litres of water a day.

9. Elephants ears are made up of a complex network of blood vessels which help regulate their temperature as blood is circulated through their ears to cool them down in hot climates.

10. Elephants have no natural predators. However, lions will sometimes prey on young or weak elephants in the wild. The main risk to elephants is from humans through poaching and changes to their habitat.

11. The elephant’s trunk is able to sense the size, shape and temperature of an object.

12. An elephant’s trunk can grow to be about 2 metres long and can weigh up to 140 kg. Some scientists believe that an elephant’s trunk is made up of 100,000 muscles. There are no bones in the trunk.

13. Female elephants spend their entire lives living in large groups called herds. Male elephant leave their herds at about 13 years old and live fairly solitary lives from this point. An elephant herd is considered one of the most closely-knit societies of any animal.

14. Elephants can swim – they use their trunk to breathe like a snorkel in deep water.

15. Elephants are some of the most intelligent animals on Earth. Their brains weigh 5kg, much more than the brain of any other land animal. Their brains have more complex folds than all animals except whales, which is thought to be a major factor in their intellect. Elephants have a more developed hippocampus, a brain region responsible for emotion and spatial awareness, than any other animal, and studies indicate that they are superior to humans in keeping track of multiple objects in 3D space.

16. Elephants commonly show grief, humor, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness, tool-use, playfulness, and excellent learning abilities.

17. There are many reports of elephants showing altruism towards other species, such as rescuing trapped dogs at considerable cost to themselves.

18. Their normal lifespan is 60-80 years.

19. Elephants, humans, and Neanderthals are the only animals known to have death rituals. If an elephant becomes sick, herd members will bring it food and help support it as it stands. If it dies, they will try to revive it with food and water for a while. Once it is clear that an elephant is dead, the herd will become very quiet. They often dig a shallow grave and cover the deceased elephant with dirt and branches, and will stay at the grave for days afterwards. If the elephant had a particularly close relationship with its deceased peer, it can show signs of depression. Even herds that come across an unknown lone elephant who has died will show it similar respects. There are also reported cases of elephants burying dead humans they have found in this way

20. The collective noun for a group of elephants is "a memory"

Aren't they the most incredible creatures? Celebrate these larger than life creatures by sharing stories of your favourite elephant encounter in the comments below...

And if you've not yet seen these magnificent creatures in the wild, why not plan your next trip to include an amazing elephant experience. We recommend Thula Thula Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal and RiverBend Lodge near Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape.

Text: Kathryn Rossiter

Images: Pixabay