Elephants are said to be the largest land animals on earth. These animals have very distinctive characteristics including long noses which are commonly referred to as trunks, big floppy ears as well as wide thick legs. These huge animals mainly live in the tropical and sub-tropical areas of Africa and Asia. Elephants can basically survive in areas where there is plenty of to consume. The tropical and the sub-tropical areas are said to be very favourable for elephants due to their wide variety of food sources that they can consume. You may have probably heard or seen elephants but very few people understand in a detailed way the facts of these huge land animals.
This article will try to shed some light and get to equip you with some of the facts that you really want to know about elephants. Let’s dive in.
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How many species of elephants do you know? It has always been estimated that there were more than 300 species of elephants in the world. Surprisingly this statistic has greatly reduced to only two species. This means that, today, we only have two species of them remaining. Species of elephants are broadly categorized into two species, that is the African and the Asian species. These species, however are at a greater risk of extinction. Therefore, more organisations from all over the regions are trying their best to protect these huge animals. Due to the poaching for elephants’ ivory, it is said that illegal hunting as well as destruction of the natural habitats is really closing of these animals at a very high rate. If better and measures are not implemented, then the world may end up moving on without the beauty of elephants.
The African specie has some characteristics that are different from the Asian specie. The two species have several sub-species within them.
The African Elephant
The African specie has two sub species, which are the Savannah which can also be termed as the Bush elephant the second sub specie is known as the Forest Elephant. These sub species have been determined according to a new DNA study. These specie names have been given according to the natural habitats of these elephants.
Savannah Elephant (Bush Elephant)
The Savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana) is the bigger of the two types of elephants that live in Africa. It’s the most common specie in Africa due to the fact that it is widely distributed in Africa than the Forest elephant. This elephant is the heaviest and actually the largest land animal on earth. Their weight can exceed 10 tons where roughly they can weigh as much as 10.4 tons. They can also grow 13 feet tall at their shoulders, thus these two properties make this elephant that largest and the heaviest terrestrial animal. The Bush elephants have very huge ears that they use to control the temperature. They can flap their ears to radiate excess heat. Another very distinctive characteristic is their much longer trunks which are longer than those of other types of elephants. Both the male and the female have bigger tusks.
The savannah specie can be divided into four sub species which are based on their minor genetic and morphological differences. Here are the sub species of the African Bush elephant:
- East African Bush elephant. Also known as the Masai elephant. These elephants are mainly found in the East African countries, that is Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. They are also found in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda as well as Angola.
- Southern African Bush elephant. Mainly found in Gabon, South Africa, Southern Congo, Malawi, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Swaziland.
- West Africa Bush elephant or the African plains elephant. As the name goes, these elephants are found in the West African countries including Senegal, Mauritius, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Liberia, Somalia, and Cameroon.
- North African Bush elephant. These elephants were once native to the Sahara, however some studies show that they are since extinct.
Initially, the African Forest elephant was termed as being of same species as the African Bush elephant. However several genetic studies revealed that they possess some significant differences between the two species. Some studies also show that these species evolved at different times, in which some evolved 2 to 7 million years ago. These indication have really cemented the argument that these two species are different from each other.
The African Forest elephant (loxodonta cyclotis) are mainly found in the forests of the Congo basin of Africa. This is actually the natural habitat for these elephants. The forest elephants have some physical characteristics that are different form the African Bush elephants and they can be easily noted. These elephants are smaller and relatively darker than Bush elephants. Their ears are smaller and look rounded. Also, they have trunks which are narrower while their tusks are straight and stronger. Due to their nature of their natural habitat which usually has a dense undergrowth, Forest elephants use their strong tusks to push and move through them. An additional and distinctive characteristic is that forest elephants have five toenails on their forefoot and four on their hind foot.
Poaching has really affected these elephants and the recovery from this heinous act is often very difficult for them due to their slower birth rates.
The Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) are found in Asia. They have a huge body which but smaller ear than their African counterparts. The smaller ears are due to the fact that they live in cooler habitats hence they don’t require larger ears to radiate off the extreme heat. These elephants do not have tusks, nevertheless, some males can develop tusks but females don’t. They also have a head which is twin-domed in shape which has an indent in the middle. Generally the Asian elephants are smaller than the African elephants in terms of size and weigh lesser. Females are usually smaller than the males by a couple of feet as well as several pounds.
The population of these elephants is deemed to be less than 50,000 which is far less than the African elephants which are deemed to be about 400,000. The Asian elephants are found Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh.
What do elephants eat in the wild?
Elephants are wild animals that live in the natural habitats which provide them with plenty of food sources. Under pretty much natural conditions, elephants eat grass, twigs, fruits, shrubs, bamboo, tree leaves and wild fruits. When the weather is not favourable for the growth of grass, elephants turn to eating almost any type of vegetation they can come across. They can bring down trees to eat their green leaves. The bark is also makes some good food for the elephants.
It is known that the African elephant which is larger than the Asian elephant eats a lot more than the latter. It is estimated that, on average the African elephant needs to eat 250 kilograms of food and drink 60 litres of water while the Asian elephant will need to eat 150 kilograms of food and drink 40 litres of water.
The habitat if the African elephant is different from that of the Asian elephant. African elephants live in types of habitats that range from the savannah to deserts and marshes and also to forests in the mountains. These elephants have to reach high for their food which makes them browsers.
The Asian elephants on the other hand are mostly found in the evergreen habitats thus they generally feed on grass, trees and bamboo which is plenty in their natural habitats.
Behaviour of elephants
Elephants are intelligent animals and they know how to form strong bonds which enable them to live in family groups which comprises of related families known as a herd. They usually migrate together around their habitats looking for food if their habitats are not destroyed. Usually, the oldest elephant leads the herd. Also, elephants are good mothers since they take good care of their young ones. They have a unique way of spending time interacting with each other verbally and non-verbally. Additionally they are very protective of each other and can even identify the remains of the dead elephants. Elephants know how to express their emotions including sorrow when they come across the remains of their fellow elephants.
Elephants don’t have an exact period of mating, however they are more likely to reproduce during the rainy seasons. When fertilisation takes place, it takes up to 22 months for the offspring to be born. Birth is a highly celebrated act among all females in the herd. The offspring becomes a responsibility for the all females in the herd where it is cared for by the mother and other females until it reaches the age of 4 years.
A young one of an elephant is called a calf and at birth it usually weighs 200-250 lbs. during the first months after its birth, the calf usually has a weak trunk and, hence it suckles through its mouth. After several months the calf develops stronger muscles around the trunk which makes it gain full control of it.