An elephants social life is organised
around a family unit, which consists of an adult female and her offspring and two or more
closely related females and their offspring. Bulls leave the family unit at puberty when
they are about 16 years old and join bachelor groups or move about alone.
The best guide for determining sex is to look at their head profiles; males have a rounded
head and females a squarer head.
At birth, an
elephant calf weighs 118kg (260 pounds) and is able to walk under its mothers belly for
the first year. Elephants spend 16-18 hours a day grazing and browsing, from ground level
to 18 feet or more into trees, when standing on their hind legs and stretching out their
long trunks. They also use their trunks to squirt water into their mouths at seven litres
a sip! In a full drinking session elephants take up to 50 litres of water.
action of their ears when charging is thought to be merely a cooling action as the stress
of the moment causes them to become overheated. The advantage of this is that it helps
them to look even more fearsome to their enemies. Elephants are unfortunately very
destructive feeders and often large trees are pushed over and only a few leaves eaten from
the top. If too many are confined to a small area, massive damage and deforestation can
and does indeed occur, especially in the
Of all its specialized
features, the muscular trunk is the most remarkable it serves as a nose, a
hand, an extra foot, a signaling device and a tool for gathering food,
siphoning water, dusting, digging and a variety of other functions. Not only
does the long trunk permit the elephant to reach as high as 23 feet, but it
can also perform movements as delicate as picking berries or caressing a
companion. It is capable, too, of powerful twisting and coiling movements
used for tearing down trees or fighting.
tusks, another remarkable feature, are greatly elongated incisors (elephants
have no canine teeth); about one-third of their total length lies hidden
inside the skull. The largest tusk ever recorded weighed 214 pounds and was
138 inches long. Tusks of this size are not found on elephants in Africa
today, as over the years hunters and poachers have taken animals with the
largest tusks. Because tusk size is an inherited characteristic, it is rare
to find one now that would weigh more than 100 pounds.
Elephants are generally
gregarious and form small family groups consisting of an older matriarch and
three or four offspring, along with their young. It was once thought that
family groups were led by old bull elephants, but these males are most often
solitary. The female family groups are often visited by mature males
checking for females in estrus. Several interrelated family groups may
inhabit an area and know each other well. When they meet at watering holes
and feeding places, they greet each other affectionately.
is the most highly developed sense, but sound deep growling or rumbling
noises is the principle means of communication. Some researchers think that
each individual has its signature growl by which it can be distinguished.
Sometimes elephants communicate with an ear-splitting blast when in danger
or alarmed, causing others to form a protective circle around the younger
members of the family group. Elephants make low-frequency calls, many of
which, though loud, are too low for humans to hear. These sounds allow
elephants to communicate with one another at distances of five or six miles