Human interest in elephants isn’t a modern phenomenon; for centuries we’ve been in awe of these creature’s massive size and incredible strength. But only in recent decades have we been able to closely monitor the behaviour of nature’s gentle giants and discover more about how these creatures live, how they interact with one another, their mating rituals and their family dynamics.
We know more today than we have at any other point in history. So without further ado;
Here Are Our 8 Most Interesting Elephant Facts
Did you know that elephants break the record for the longest gestation period of any mammal?
That’s right, baby elephants are in-utero for nearly two years before they’re ready to enter the world, the longest gestation period of any mammal. It’s believed that one reason for this is that as well as being rather large, elephants are very intelligent creatures. The increased time spent gestating allows their brain to be more highly developed.
Do you know what an elephant can’t do that ALL other mammals can?
We’ll give you a clue; they wouldn’t place in a high jump competition. You guessed it, elephants can’t jump. Weighing in at as much as 5.5 tons, it’s not too surprising that getting airborne just isn’t on the agenda for pachyderms.
Did you know the elephant life cycle is similar to that of humans?
After their long gestation, calves are nursed by their mothers for the first three years (the same World Health Organisation breastfeeding advice for humans) and cows (female elephants) will tend not to give birth again for around 4 years. Babies even lose their first set of teeth, just like we do – more on that later!
Calves go on to reach adulthood at 17 years old but reach sexual maturity between 10 and 15 years old. While male elephants, or bulls, tend to be solitary, females will continue to live in the herd. This matriarchal hierarchy is relatively unique in the animal kingdom.
Did you know that elephant teeth are VERY unusual?
Elephants have 26 teeth: 12 premolars, 12 molars and 2 incisors, which we refer to as tusks. That’s right, an elephant’s tusks aren’t comparable to horns or antlers, they’re teeth! Not only that, but elephants have 6 sets of teeth that they’ll lose in their lifetime.
As their molars get worn down, a new larger set replaces them, but not vertically like in most mammals. An elephant is a polyphyodont, which means that the teeth push through horizontally from the back of the mouth. By the time an elephant is on its final set of molars, they measure around 8 inches, or 21 cms long!
Can you guess the age of the world’s oldest elephant?
Born in 1917, Lin Wang lived in a Taiwanese zoo and made it to the ripe old age of 86. But while Asian elephants can survive in captivity until around 80 years old, that number is usually closer to 60 years in the wild due to predators, illness and food shortages. There is a long history of domesticated elephants in Thailand, mainly due to deforestation.
It’s also worth noting that elephants which live in captivity away from their place of origin have a much shorter life expectancy, with those in European zoos averaging a life span of just 20 years. While it’s believed a number of factors contribute to this phenomenon, the main reasons seem to be obesity and stress.
Elephants are healthy animals; they’re the largest vegetarian in the animal kingdom and have been known to walk as far as 195 km in a single day, though they usually average 25km.
Did you know these 3 ways to tell an Asian elephant from an African one?
You may already know the old trick of identifying an elephant by its ears: While an African elephant has large ears which resemble the shape of Africa, Asian elephants have smaller ears, often around half the length of their head.
You may even already know that there is a size difference between African and Asian elephants, with the former measuring up to 4 metres compared to the latter’s 3.5 metres.
But here’s an interesting elephant fact – have you ever noticed that the two species also have different head shapes? Looking at an elephant front-on, the African genus have fuller, more rounded heads, while the Asian elephants have more of an ‘m’ shaped head, domed on either side with an indentation down the middle.
In fact, the African and Asian elephants are such different species that they can’t interbreed.
Did you know that an elephants’ trunk is incredibly complex?
We couldn’t create this list without marvelling at an elephants most amazing asset – its trunk. More than just a nose, an elephants trunk contains over 40,000 muscles, which is more than 60x as many as in the whole of a human body! An adult elephant’s trunk is strong enough to rip branches from trees and delicate enough to pick up a blade of grass.
Did you know that there are multiple types of Asian elephant?
The term Asian elephant is actually an umbrella category that includes various subspecies of elephants that live within the Asiatic continent. Asian elephants can be found in 13 countries which include: Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam.
There are subtle changes in the appearance of individuals across these countries, which result in a number of locally recognised variations but the official range of subspecies is differentiated by their size and colour.
Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus)
The largest subspecies of Asian elephant, E. m. maximum live predominantly in Sri Lanka and Southern India. They are darker than their counterparts, have larger ears and are more prone to depigmentation resulting in a pink, speckled complexion on their face, trunk and ears.
Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus)
The most dispersed of the subspecies, E. m. indicus can be found in 12 of the 13 countries that Asian elephants inhabitate. Indian elephants are the variety you will discover during a soft adventure tour at Elephant Hills.
Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatrensis)
The smallest and lightest skinned of the Asian elephant subspecies, E. m. sumatrensis also have an extra pair of ribs and their ears are larger proportionally to the size of their body.
Borneo elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis)
The newest group of elephants to be named as part of the Elephas maximus family, the Borneensis is a pygmy elephant, growing to less than 2.5 metres.
Did you know elephants make sounds that humans can’t hear?
We’re all aware that elephants make a loud, trumpeting noise, but did you also know that elephants have been found capable of communicating in a low rumbling sound that is below the range of human hearing? This infrasonic communication travels over a longer distance than high-frequency sounds, allowing elephants to communicate over distances of several kilometres.
What is your favourite elephant fact? Is there one that we missed? Let us know on our Facebook page.
If you’d like to see one of these amazing creatures up close, why not visit us at Elephant Hills and take part in our ethical Elephant Experience?