What’s that coming towards you, like a huge grey shadow on marshmallow feet? If you’re standing on the African plains or in Asian jungles, it could be an elephant! We’ve compiled this list of unforgettable elephant facts for kids and grown-ups. Get the lowdown on these wise, tusked giants and learn about elephant pooping habits, elephant tails, gloomy elephant graveyards and more, but be warned! Readers with mere human noses might get elephant trunk envy.
Meet the African bush elephant, African forest elephant and Asian elephant. Of the African species, the bush elephants are larger, lighter in colour, and their tusks curve outwards. To tell the difference between an African and Asian elephant, look at the ears: Elephants in Africa have large ears shaped a bit like the African continent. Asian elephants’ ears are smaller and round.
Elephants live in many habitats across Africa and Asia, including wetlands, forest, grassland, savanna, and deserts. They can happily live anywhere that has enough food and water.
Elephants are herbivores so they eat only plants, including roots, grasses, leaves, fruit, and bark. These super-snackers spend 80% of their day eating and need 160 kilograms of food a day! If they can get hold of them, bananas are a special treat. Whatever your eating habits, you’ll probably love these pancakes! Try and make an elephant face.
An elephant's trunk has 40,000 muscles. It looks like a long nose and is used for smelling, breathing, and trumpeting. With two finger-like parts at the end, the elephant trunk is also like a hand and can perform delicate moves like picking a delicious berry. Elephants fill their trunks with water and pour the water into their mouths to drink. So, the elephant trunk is a nose, hand, and hose pipe!
Elephants happily bathe, swim and play in water. They use their trunk as a snorkel to breathe when swimming in deep water. They’re not just strong swimmers, but super-slurpers: An adult male elephant can drink up to 212 litres of water in less than five minutes. That’s the equivalent of around 640 cans of Coca-Cola! Watch these elephants at a water hole in South Africa.
A river or lake isn’t only a drinking spot, but an elephant spa. Elephant skin looks tough but is sensitive and can get sunburnt. That’s why elephants roll in mud. It cools them down and creates a protective layer on their skin. Elephants also enjoy a “shower” and use their trunk to squirt water on their back. Then they dust themselves with sand and they’re ready to go.
Elephants have 26 teeth, and each tooth can weigh as much as 3 kilograms. The most famous elephant teeth are the long incisors, called tusks. These can grow as long as 2 metres in African elephants. Elephants are “polyphyodonts”, so their teeth fall out and regrow many times in their life (usually six).
Each elephant foot has 5 toes and is flat with a large pad underneath. Much like the sole of a trainer, the pad acts as a shock absorber. It also helps the elephant walk quietly. Elephants walk huge distances to find food and water, so comfortable soles are essential.
Compared to its trunk and tusks, an elephant’s tail looks a little feeble. With a tuft of hair at the end, it’s still useful as a fly swatter. Plus, baby elephants will hold their mother's tail with their trunk to keep up.
Elephants defecate (poo) between 8 and 10 times a day, and there are 6 or 7 balls called “boli” in a pile. So, one elephant produces a pile of dung (poo) every 2-3 hours. Imagine the mess if you invited an entire herd to stay! Elephant dung can be used to make high-quality paper, so it can be useful too.
Elephants love company. Adult females and baby elephants travel in herds ruled by a matriarch (an elephant queen). Adult males live alone or in small groups. Elephants hug by wrapping their trunks together. They can also use their trunks to help lift an elephant calf over an obstacle or to gently raise a newborn to its feet. If an elephant friend is stuck in mud, they’ll use their trunk to try and rescue it.
An elephant's brain weighs up to 5 kilograms. That’s larger than any other land animal and helps store the amazing elephant memory. They can easily remember as many as 1,000 elephant friends and will never forget where the best food can be found!
Do elephant graveyards really exist? Elephants don’t seem to go to one place to die, but they are interested in the bones of dead elephants when they find them. Perhaps they are paying their last respects? The life expectancy of African elephants is around 70 years in the wild. Asian elephants live up to 48 years.
Elephant herds the world over are vanishing and all elephant species are endangered or critically endangered. In Asia, habitat loss is the biggest threat to their survival. Elephants in Africa aren’t just losing their land — they’re also poached for their ivory (the white material their tusks are made of). It’s not all doom and gloom! With vital conservation work and tough anti-poaching laws, some populations are now stable. Read up how you can support charities like ifaw in their elephant conservation work.
If you love animals, don’t miss these crafts. Pretend you're at the watering hole with this African animal spy periscope. No trunk needed! You can also explore the great outdoors with the Adventurer’s Nature Bag. Pop both in your toucanBox, and you’ll also get an educational magazine and sticker sheet, for just £5.95!
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Images ⓒ unsplash.com:
African elephant by Nam Anh
Asiatic elephant playing around by Saketh Upadhya
Elephant spraying mud by Andrew Rice
Baby elephant with mother in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania, by Dmitrii Zhodzishskii
Baby elephant in Serengeti by Hu Chen