Elephants are the largest land mammals but how much do you know about these African giants? In celebration of World Elephant Day on 12th August, we put together our top fun – and not so fun – facts about elephants.
Elephants mature around the age of 10 and can live for up to 70 years
Males have to leave the herd between ages of 12 and 15 while females spend their entire lives in tight family groups made up of mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and daughters. The eldest female usually leads the group.
Elephants have the biggest brains of any land animal in the world
Elephants are just as brilliant as they are big. Elephant brains weigh a hefty 4-6kg, and they can really learn stuff. They form lifelong kinships with each other, talk with a large vocabulary of trumpets, rumbles (undetectable to humans), kicks and visual signals. They can use tools, make group decisions, and show genuine empathy to others.
Elephant has more than 100,000 muscles in its trunk
Instead of shaking hands, elephants greet each other with a trunk-to-mouth movement; it means 'Hello, how are you?' Elephants use their trunks for all sort of things: smelling, breathing, drinking, grabbing and trumpeting. Oh, the noises they can make with their trunks!
Elephants have the best sense of smell in the animal kingdom
African elephants have the greatest sense of smell among mammals – even beating dogs and rats. They have the most genes related to smell: 2,000 (five times more than humans) and can detect water up to 20 km away! They can also hear up to 10 km away. This is particularly useful if another elephant is calling for help or warning of danger.
Elephants have poor sight
One sense that is not so good is elephant's sight, which is pretty awful. So elephants smell and touch and rub against each other instead, to communicate and learn about one another. They primarily navigate with their trunks not sight as they walk through forests, grass and water.
Elephants mourn their dead
When a relative dies, or even if elephants come across a dead elephant they don't know, the herd gather around the body and mourn their loss. They smell the air and the ground for signs of how and why they died, and we comfort each other, just like we humans do at a funeral.
Elephants are scared of bees
Illustration by Gabby Dawney
Despite their difference in size, African elephants are scared of honeybees. The giants flee when they hear the buzz of an angry bee! Elephants have been known to destroy farmers' crops. Rather than getting angry and hurting the elephants, local farmers now build beehive fences to protect their crops.
Elephants are a KEYSTONE species
Elephants have been around on planet Earth for 60 million years. They play a huge role in shaping the environment. They change landscapes, create new ones, spread seeds from the plant they eat, and their dung fertilises the soil with nutrients that encourage the seeds to grow and flourish.
Around 75-100 elephants are killed every day
A terrifying 30,000 elephants are killed every year for their ivory. It has been used to make ornaments, jewellery, combs, piano keys and even chopsticks. More elephants are being killed today than new baby elephants are being born, meaning their numbers are going down and down. Can you imagine a world without these gentle giants?
Find out more about these and other incredible giants in our Africa's giants issue of Eco Kids Planet.
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