||Rather poor vision capable of seeing clearly only at very
short distances up to about 10 metres.
||Excellent hearing superior to human standards. Large ears act
as amplifiers and warn of possible dangers.
||Highly developed sense of smell thought to be superior to that
of any other land mammal.
||Acute deftness of balance achieved by high tactile sense. The
trunk, an incredibly versatile organ, contributes greatly to this ability and is covered
in a separate section on this page.
||Comparable to all higher animals and can easily distinguish
between unsuitable, suitable and favoured fodder.
||A comparison between the heart-beat
of man, mouse and elephant
Breeding Patterns and Birth
Males are highly individualistic and only join the herd for mating seasons. Their penis
is retractable, there is no scrotum and the testicles are housed internally. Males duel
each other with the winner claiming steed rights for the whole herd. Deaths sometimes
occur from wounds inflicted in these duels.
The female runs away coyly for a short while, as part of a ritual, before submitting to
her victorious mate. The bull then mounts the female from behind gripping her body with
his fore feet upon her pelvis and assumes a standing posture. Copulation takes around 20
seconds with very little movement or noise. Mating continues promiscuously (with other
herd males), for two days after which the most powerful bull drives off the others. He
then remains with the cow for around three weeks.
The female, when pregnant, carries the calf for 22 months and when parturition (birth)
occurs other herd cows form a circle around the pregnant cow. She assumes a squatting
position while giving birth and the birth takes around 2 hours.
In regions where large carnivores, such as big cats, prey upon newly born animals the
mother forms alliances with other herd members. Mother and associated protectors then blow
dust over the new-born calf with their trunks in order to dry it.
Just two hours after birth the calf can stand up and begins to suckle the mother.
Life - Cycle
- The life cycle of the elephant is remarkably similar to that of an average human being.
- Suckle using the mouth, not trunk.
- Are weaned on milk between two - four years. Although the elephant will naturally be
attracted to it's mother other cows in the herd often take turns to look after the
- If the mother dies then the other cows (auntie's) look after the orphaned baby.
- Cows can bear young at age 16
- Begin work at 16
- Are fully grown at 20 years old
- Are in their working prime between 20-40
- Start going bald around 30 years
- Begin to slow down at 40
- Live around 70 years
- Are on light duties only when they reach 50
- An elephant will be able to tell if a corpse is from the same herd. If so then the whole
herd will avoid that area, apparently out of respect. This is so even when the bones are
buried. The reason for this phenomena but may be attributed to their acute sense of smell
and possible other unknown factors.
- Largest of all land creatures.
- A bull can stand 2.7m (9ft) in height
- Weigh between 3 - 5 tonnes (3,200 - 4,500 kg or 7,000 - 12,000 lbs.)
- Cows can stand 2.3 m (7.5 ft) in height
- Weight between 2.3 - 4.5 tonnes (2,300 - 4,500 kg or 5,000 - 10,000 lbs.)
- Newly born baby elephants (calves) stand at around (0.9m) 3ft
- They weigh 90kg (200 lbs.)
- Despite it's huge size the elephant has an extraordinary sense of balance and extremely
high tactile sense.
- The brain of the elephant weighs about 5 kg or 11 lbs. (4 times the weight of a
- Has the largest ears of any creature
- Skin is around 2.5 cm (1") thick.
- Are purely vegetarian, herbivore
- Eat around 200-300 Kg of fodder per day
- Drink about 150 litres of water
- Favoured foods include: Bananas, bamboo, berries, mangoes, coconuts, corn, jungle
shrubs, palm fruits, sugar cane, wood apples Feronia elephantorum and wild rice. In
western Zoos they are often fed bread and have developed a taste for this type of food.
The popular myth that elephants love buns probably stems from this peculiarity.
- Salt is essential and the elephant shows a distinct liking for it.
- The elephants digestion system is quite inefficient and only around 50% of the fodder
eaten is utilised.
- Cold climates cause stomach aches.
- Some elephants will even peel fruit before eating. The revered holy Thai white elephant
is very particular about eating and will not consume any food that has fallen on the
ground and will not eat with the rest of the herd.
Trunks Arguably the most versatile of all animal organs. The trunk can be used
for such diverse tasks as shifting a 600 kg log to picking up a coin. It is a boneless
mass of flesh and up to 100,000 muscles that can bend easily. It is 2 metres long and
weighs around 140 kg. The trunk has a small finger like lip at the end which can
distinguish between size, shape, texture, hot and cold. The animal uses its trunk to feed
and drink by bringing food and water to the mouth, breathe, make noises, caress it's young
and sometimes even fight. When totally submerged in water the trunk can also be used as a
snorkel. Trunks can hold six litres of water and are often used as a flexible shower hose
pipe. It is a superb organ of smell, and can be directed easily toward the source.
By beating the ground
violently with the trunk the elephant signals its anger or displeasure. This emotion
equates to desk-banging in humans
When an elephant is on unsteady or unfamiliar ground it will use the outside of the
trunk to beat the earth, determining if the ground is firm enough to walk on. Once safety
is substantiated the front foot is moved forward onto the tested area. The rear foot
follows and is carefully placed in exactly the same footprint.
It is indeed a sad
state of affairs that the evolution of the human being failed to develop this remarkable
organ of smell and touch. We can all imagine situations when it could have been an
Tusks & Teeth
- Males have larger tusks of up to 1.5 - 1.8m in length whilst the females do not have
tusks at all.
- Milk tusks are fully grown at just 2 inches long and are shed before the calf reaches
it's second birthday. Permanent tusks then begin to grow.
- Tusks are, in fact teeth (incisors) and are classified as ivory. The only other creature
to have ivory teeth is the walrus.
- The purpose of the tusk is to dig for food, clear debris, fight and to carry heavy loads
of up to 1 tonne such as timber.
- Molars (grinding teeth) are at least 30 cm, 1 ft long and weigh about 4 kg, 8.8 lbs. The
animal has only four of these teeth at any one time. New molars form in the back of the
mouth and push the old ones forward and out completely. An elephant usually grows six sets
of these molars in a life-time, the final set grows when it is about 40 years of age. When
the last set decays, around 70 years, the elephant finds it hard to eat and subsequently a
great many are likely to die of starvation.
- Tusks never stop growing.
Related Animal Species
All other members of the proboscidea animal order are now extinct. Historically
there were some 300 different species that belonged to this category. These included
mastodons, mammoths and pygmy elephants believed to have died out in Southern Thailand in
the early 1920's.
The nearest current relative to elephants are the dugong and manatees, sometimes
referred to as seacows, which belong to the sirenia order. Fossil and other
scientific studies indicate that in a geological time-frame that this is a fairly recent
branching off from a common ancestor. These complex issues are outside of the scope of
this site and we suggest those seriously interested in such subjects find further reading