African ElephantThe largest land mammal on the earth, weighing up to 16,000 pounds, elephants have captivated observers for centuries. Elephants have been used for labor, war, entertainment and hunting. Elephants are one of the most unique animals due to their enormous size and unusual physical characteristics.
One of the most popular elephants is Dumbo, from the Walt Disney film made in the 1940's. The large ears of elephants, exaggerated in this film, do not hear well, despite their size. They are instead used to help keep themselves cool. There are many blood vessels in the ears, that as they are flapped, easily circulate the blood and keep body temperatures down, an ability that is essential in their desert climates. Elephants ears are so effective due to their size, ranging from two to three feet across.
One of the most distinguishing attributes is the trunk of the elephant. The trunk is an elongated nose that has many purposes and functions, made up of over 40,000 muscles, but no bones. They can use their trunk to suck up water and then spray it into their mouth to drink, wash themselves and keep cool. They use it to warn of danger and communicate with other elephants, as well as to smell and touch each other affectionately. The trunk is used most frequently though to eat. Elephants eat an average of 16 hours a day. Elephants use their trunk to reach up into trees to get food and pluck grass. Because they are such large animals and are herbivores who only eat grass, leaves, other vegetation that is available, African Elephants eat a high quantity of food, more than 700 pounds a day! They have to eat so much because over half of all they consume is passed through their systems undigested.
Elephants have the largest teeth of any animal. Even though they eat so much food,they have only four molar teeth. What they lack in numbers though, they make up in size. Each molar can weigh more than five pounds. With all the food that is eaten, their teeth take a lot of wear and tear and they need to replace their teeth throughout their life, up to six times for some. Their large tusks that extend out in front of them are also teeth, but instead of chewing, these incisor teeth, are used for defense, digging for water and uprooting trees. The ivory of these tusks has long been sought after and the primary reason elephants have been hunted.
Elephants are social animals. They live together in herds, with older females, called matriarchs, guiding the family. Adult males generally live alone while younger elephants, both male and female stay with the herd. Baby elephants, called calves, have a gestation period of 18-22 months and typically nurse from their mother up to five years. When a calf seems bothered or upset, the herd will come to its aide to comfort and caress. It is several more years after they stop nursing before they fully mature and if they are male, move out to be on their own. Their social nature is also reflected in their awareness of death, as grieving seems to take place among a herd when one of their family members die.
Not long ago there were over five million elephants on the earth, but there exists now less than a half million. Climate changes, as well as destruction of habitat, and hunting have influenced the number of elephants. Elephants need a lot of land because they eat so much, drink so much and are such large creatures. When humans are close, the elephants do not have the space they need and infringe on farm land, even eating crops. Although elephants have been revered for centuries and a symbol for faith and religion for some, they are quickly dwindling in numbers, and it is not known how long these captivating mammals will survive.
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About The Author: Emma Snow has always adored wild animals. Emma provides content for Wildlife Animals http://www.wildlife-animals.com and Riding Stable http://www.riding-stable.com.