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Sensory Perceptions

Elephant's eye with "tears" running down the cheek
Elephant Senses: Sight


Rather poor vision capable of seeing clearly only at very short distances up to about 10 metres. The sight of an elephant is quite poor and they can only see for short distances of up to 20 metres.  In by-gone days elephant riders mounted on tame elephants were able to venture unnoticed into wild herds to select those suitable for training and subsequent sale.The eye is small in comparison with the head and there is only a vestigial tear gland.  Elephants do not have a tear duct and ‘tears’ simply evaporate or run down the cheek.  Sight improves when in jungle areas or shade.The poor eyesight is more than compensated by excellent hearing, sense of smell and tactile sense.
Asian elephant's ear
Elephant Senses: Hearing


Excellent hearing superior to human standards. Large ears act as amplifiers and warn of possible dangers.Asian elephant’s ear Hearing ability is amongst the best of all land creatures. The range of elephants hearing is much superior than that of human beings. They communicate in extremely low ranges and sounds can travel many kilometers. It is thought that this ability is mainly used when communicating between a female in heat looking for a suitable male companion. The sound made is beyond the range of the human year but is said to contribute to the “rumble in the jungle”The“knuckle”  found at the back of the ear is amongst the softest parts of the body and is used by professional elephant riders (mahouts) to steer and direct the creature.The ear of the Asian (pictured left) and African elephant differ in shape. The Asian’s is said to resemble a map of India; the African’s a map of the African continent.
Elephant Senses: Smell
Elephant Senses: Smell


Highly developed sense of smell thought to be superior to that of any other land mammal.Elephants have an extremely developed sense of smell. The nostrils are, of course at the tip of the trunk. They use smell to differentiate between different herd members.One of the first things a calf smells is the dung of the mother. When dropped, shortly after the calf’s birth, it is associates her scent to her baby.Elephants can detect scents from long distances, up to several kilometres.
Elephant Senses: Touch
Elephant Senses: Touch


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.Elephants love to touch each other. Explore friends with their trunk or slide sniff at their mate. They are an extremely sensitive creature. They also use touch for much more important activities. When they walk on untested ground they use the trunk to feel out the safe route. When they are assured of the ground’s firmness they place the front foot forward. The rear foot then goes exactly into the same footprint.Friends enjoy touching each other using the trunk as an arm.
Elephant Senses: Taste
Elephant Senses: Taste


Comparable to all higher animals and can easily distinguish between unsuitable, suitable and favoured fodder.Elephants love to eat so much that they spend 20 hours per day snacking and eating.They can consume some 200-300 kg of jungle foliage per day and drink up to 100 litres of water.

They grow six sets of teeth during approximately 70 years of life. When the last row of teeth grinds down the animal will generally die from hunger.

Contrary to popular belief in the west elephants generally do not display a preference for buns or sweet cakes, preferring jungle food.

heartbeat of an elephant


A comparison between the heart-beat of man, mouse and elephant

Heartbeat, of mouse, man and elephant

Illustrations are of a human heart and  depict the *heart-beat rate difference of the species.  Smallest mammals have faster heart beats than larger ones. There is quite a difference*Average beats when resting.




500 beats per minute
500 beats per minute
70 beats per minute
70 beats per minute
28 beats per minute
28 beats per minute


Note If your heart is beating as fast as the mouse or as slow as the elephant see a doctor immediately

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. They;
  • 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 baby.
  • 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 human).
  • 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.

SadBy 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.

SadIt 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 invaluable asset.

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 elsewhere.

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