HOW MANY SPECIES OF ELEPHANT ARE THERE?
There are three species of elephant – the Asian elephant, the African Savanna elephant and the African forest elephant. The largest of these species if the African Savanna elephant.
HOW BIG ARE ELEPHANTS?
Elephants are the largest land mammal currently living in the world. Male elephants have been known to reach up to 4 meters in height and weight up to 7 tonnes. Females are a lot smaller, but can still fetch up to 3.5 tonnes in weight.
WHAT DO ELEPHANTS EAT?
Elephants are herbivores and live off grass, fruit, tree bark and roots. They need to consume around 70000 calories each day in order to sustain their massive bodies. Consequently, they spend most of the day roaming vast distances in order to find the huge quantities of food and water they need to survive. Over the years, humans have encroached more and more on the areas inhabited by elephants, and so increasingly come into conflict with them. For local farmers, elephants pose a very real problem, as they can easily decimate an entire crop in one night. One of the challenges posed by conservation programs is to work with farmers and local communities to protect both the crops, and the lives of the elephants.
Elephants have an incredibly long gestation period of around 22 months. When a calf is born, it is initially blind and recognises its mother through touch, sound and smell. It takes a huge effort to raise a baby elephant; they need around 20 pints of milk a day, and they’re not fully weaned until around 10 years old! Thankfully for the mother elephant, her close-knit family circle chips in and helps to care for the calf.
Elephants are the only animals on earth to have trunks. These enormous appendages are a combination of a long nose and upper lip. An elephant’s trunk can contain around 40000 muscles giving it incredible strength. To put that in perspective, a person has only 600 muscles in their entire body. Despite its size and strength, an elephant’s trunk can be incredibly dexterous; not only can it move large heavy objects such as logs and branches, but it can also pick up items as small as individual berries. Elephants also use their trunks for drinking, communicating (both through sound and touch) and fighting.
Elephants grow tusks from around the age of two. These tusks are essentially continuously growing incisor teeth. They use their tusks to dig up roots, find water from the ground, and tear off tree bark for food. Males also use their tusks for fighting. Tragically man’s greed for these ivory tusks has had a devastating effect on elephant populations over the past few decades, and all three species are now considered endangered.
ARE ELEPHANTS ENDANGERED?
Yes. As of 2021, all three species of elephant are now on the IUCN red list. Asian and African Savannah elephants are classified as endangered, with African Forest Elephants now critically endangered. The main threats to elephant populations are poaching for their ivory, the loss and fragmentation of their habitat due to human population expansion, and persecution from farmers and local communities in retaliation for destroyed crops or buildings. Conservation efforts are in a constant struggle to provide safe spaces for elephants to live and roam, to clamp down on the ivory trade, and to forge better relationships between local communities and the native wildlife.