Posted on Mar 11, 2022 77
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There are two genera of elephants: the African elephant (Loxodonta) and the Asian elephant (Elephas). Each of these is divided into several species.
In Africa, the savannah elephant and the forest elephant are found. The animals inhabit the dry forests of the savannah south of the Sahara. However, they are also found in the evergreen tropical moist forest areas. The savanna elephant grazes mainly in South and East Africa, while the forest elephant grazes mainly in the Congo Basin in Central Africa. According to WWF, between 470,000 and 690,000 animals live on the African continent, according to the latest estimate.
This genus is divided into five subspecies: Ceylon elephant, Indian elephant, Sumatran elephant, Malayan elephant and Bornean dwarf elephant. They live in tropical and subtropical monsoon rainforests, evergreen forests, deciduous forests and thorn scrublands. According to WWF, their population ranges from 25,600 to 32,750 individuals. Populations are spread across 13 countries in Asia, namely Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.
THE ELEPHANT IN NUMBERS
African elephants are the largest land mammals on earth. The savannah elephant can weigh about six tons and reach a shoulder height of 3.30 meters. The forest elephant is much smaller at 2.80 meters. Asian bull elephants are not quite as large as their savannah relatives, reaching weights of up to five tons at around three meters in height.
Elephants are herbivores, feeding primarily on leaves and grasses. Twigs, bark, roots and fruits are also on their menu. The animals spend about three quarters of the day feeding, eating between 150 (Asia) and 300 kilograms (Africa) a day. The pachyderms are also thirsty, drinking between 100 and 150 liters of water a day.
Elephants do not communicate by trumpet sounds, which they make when they are frightened or aggressive. Instead, they communicate primarily through infrasonic sounds, which can be transmitted through the ground for several kilometers. Speaking of hearing: Asian elephants’ ears are much smaller than those of African elephants.
Way of life
Elephants are herd animals. Groups comprising cows and calves are led by a lead cow, which is usually an older, barren cow between 40 and 50 years old. The young bulls separate from the herd at about eight years of age and henceforth travel as loners or in small groups of males.
Males rejoin the herd only for mating. They are usually sexually mature by the age of ten, but are usually not strong enough to assert their right to mate before the age of 20. A cow carries her young for 22 months, usually giving birth to a single young that weighs about 100 kilos at birth.
From about the age of 25, male animals go through “musth” once a year. During this phase, caused by a surge in testosterone, there is a marked increase in aggression and sexual activity. Bulls in musth fight with competitors for mating rights and even out-compete with stronger and larger animals. The older the animal gets, the longer the “musth” lasts.
African elephants are fertile until the age of 55, and they live up to 70 years. Asian specimens reach an age of 50 to 60 years.
The elephant’s movable, boneless trunk is an elongated nose and consists of about 40,000 muscle bundles. The sensitive and long organ serves on the one hand for breathing and olfactory perception, but also as a tactile and grasping tool. The animals use it to reach branches and plants at heights of up to seven meters. Elephants use the trunk for drinking; in five minutes, a bull can drink around 200 liters of water with it. It can also be used as a threat and as a weapon; the animals show their affection by wrapping their arms around each other. They also use it to spread dirt and dust on their skin to protect themselves from the sun and insects. The trunk of the African elephant ends in two finger-like extensions. In the Asian, it is only one.
The best-known feature of elephants is their tusks. These are made of ivory and can grow up to three meters long. The animals use them for debarking trees, and in combat they are used for impersonation. In the African elephant, both males and females have tusks, in the Asian only the bulls. However, the beautiful tusks are also the great undoing of the animals. The precious ivory is used as raw material for jewelry, carvings, sculptures, or other luxurious items. Therefore, elephants have been hunted since time immemorial.
ELEPHANT AND MAN
The hunting of the animals has caused their population to shrink massively over the decades, especially in Africa. After the ivory trade was banned in 1989, the population increased again slightly, but poaching has not yet been completely stopped. According to a 2009 estimate, 38,000 elephants are poached annually for their ivory. For the Asian elephant, however, the greatest threat is the destruction and colonization of its habitat.
Of course, man has also been trying to tame elephants since time immemorial. He uses them as beasts of burden or for entertainment, including as a circus attraction. Around 500 people die each year at the hands of elephants, many of them because of accidents involving animals in human care, such as in zoos or safari parks.
Conclusion: Although the elephant is no longer as threatened as it was a few decades ago, populations are still suffering from poaching for ivory and human encroachment into their habitats. Therefore, it is still important to protect the gray giants and prefer to observe their fascinating nature from a safe distance.