The African Elephant “Loxodonta africana”

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An adult elephant has only one predator, and that predator is man.

Elephants are remarkably well designed to survive in the wilds of Africa. Nomadic by nature they live in family groups or larger herds and look out for one another. Sadly they have very few skills to protect themselves from exploitation by man.

So long as there is a demand for ivory, poachers will hunt, maim or kill elephants for their tusks.

Please say no to anything made from ivory. Ivory is only beautiful on elephants.

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In tourism, sadly there is a thriving “Elephant Industry”.

Education makes it easy to refuse an opportunity to ride, feed or walk with elephants.

Any human interaction with a paying public must be able to ensure that the elephant will obey instructions and can be controlled at all times. This can only be achieved by breaking down an elephant’s independent will.

This is usually done by chaining the animals, beating them and depriving them of social interaction. The process of being captured, restrained and transported is hugely traumatic in itself, but the separation from their families, especially a young one from it’s mother, is devastating.

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Let’s take a closer look at these giants who are classified as a threatened species.

ELEPHANTS BY NUMBER.

HEIGHT:    3 – 4 meters.

WEIGHT:   3000 to 6000 kg.

EAT:   Up to 150 kg per day.

DRINK:   About 150 litres per day. An adult bull can drink 220 litres in one session.

EXCRETE:  Produces about 140 kg of dung in 24 hours.

SPEED:   Can run at speeds of up to 40 km /ph

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ANATOMY OF AN ELEPHANT.

THE SKIN

The skin is grey in colour, very wrinkled and has a sparse covering of course hair. It can be as thick as 3 – 4 cm in places.  The elephant uses it’s trunk to throw sand and water over its body which forms mud. The mud settles into the wrinkles where it stays moist and helps to keep the elephant cool. The mud also protects the skin from biting flies and other insects.

THE TRUNK

The trunk is a very long nose with an acute sense of smell. By continually raising the trunk up into the air, it can detect danger or sniff out food as far as 2 km away. The trunk also functions as an arm, and is used for picking up food from the ground, plucking leaves off of trees, and guiding, hugging or smacking a young one.  When drinking, the trunk acts as a giant straw, sucking up litres of water to squirt into its mouth. When required, it can be a snorkel. The elephant can cross a river, walking on the river bed, fully submerged, extending it’s trunk to take in air. The trunk is made up of about 100 000 muscles.

THE  EARS

Elephants have excellent hearing, and so they should with ears that account for about 20% of their size. The ears are used as cooling fans when flapped to create a breeze. The also have an intense network of blood vessels close to the surface of the skin. These blood vessels facilitate the flow of 15 to 20 litres of blood per minute which also aids in keeping the elephant cool.

THE TUSKS

Tusks are actually giant incisor teeth. They double up as handy  tools for digging out roots and tubers to eat. Tusks are strong enough to split a tree before the elephant uses its body weight to knock it to the ground. Often this destructive tree felling is done for just a few mouthfuls of the juiciest, sweetest leaves at the top of the tree. Elephants are right or left -handed regarding their tusks. This is why the tusks vary in size, and the degree of wear and tear, as one tusk is favoured.

THE FEET

These are large, round and have very spongy soles.  A thick layer of cartilage acts as a much-needed  shock absorber. Elephant tracks can be as big as half a meter. In muddy conditions each foot can leave a hole that would be knee-deep to an adult human. The spongy soles allow the elephant to move in stealth mode. If required it can walk across dried leaves and not make a sound.

THE EYES

An elephant’s eyes are quite small but their eyesight is said to be fairly good in dull light, but not so great is bright, more glaring conditions.

THE BRAIN

An elephant’s brain weighs between 4 and 5 kg, perhaps this is why it is said they have good memories. The most experienced in the herd usually guides the group to remembered watering holes and sources of food.

Scientific observations indicate a certain level of intelligence and logical thought. Elephants have been seen picking up rocks to throw at other animals displaying threatening behaviour, using logs to de-activate electric fences and using sticks and leafy branches to remove ticks and to keep flies at bay.

Elephants have a complex system of communication that includes a variety of sounds, eye contact, gestures, body language and touch.

Strong familial bonds are formed for life. All members of the herd are fiercely protective of the calves, and when needed will play an active role in feeding and teaching the little ones. Elephants seem to be compassionate creatures and will assist other elephants and sometimes other animals who are distressed, injured or stuck. They will instinctively comfort the distressed or orphaned calves.

The death of an elephant is acknowledged by the herd and a grieving of sorts occurs. They will often linger in the area as though paying their last respects.In some cases they will attempt to lift, cover or bury the deceased.

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AN AVERAGE DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN ELEPHANT.

Their mission each day is to find food, water and shade.

About twelve out of every twenty-four hours is spent foraging and grazing to eat their fill, and then finding water to wash it down with. This can require them to cover move across vast areas and they walk as a group.They graze on grass and roots, and pluck leaves, seed pods,and berries from trees. They will even strip tree bark to get at the soft inner layer of pulp. Anything vegetable is food for them.

Elephants are active by day and by night, often resting in the shade during the heat of the day.  They love water, and after vital grooming has been done, they will play, rolling in the water or mud, spraying water with their trunks and splashing, chasing one another and even swimming.

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HOW THE HERD FUNCTIONS.

The herds are matriarchal, with the an experienced female as the leader. Other cows, babies and young males under about ten years old make up the rest of the family. Males leave the herd when they reach sexual maturity and join bachelor groups, only  rejoining the herd when a female is in oestrus.  As the gestation period is a very long 22 months, a cow will generally give birth  to a single calf every  4 years or so. A 627new-born calf weigh in at around 120 kg’s.

Elephants are very tactile, even when walking they will often be close together, rubbing up against one another.

Very young elephant will walk underneath their mother when the heard is on the move. Slightly older ones walk just behind the mum, holding her tail with their trunk.

The babies require a high level of care from their mothers until they are 4 – 5 years old.

The mother and other females in the heard all play a role in teaching the young how to get food, use their trunks, identify danger and protect themselves.

Elephants can live for 70 years if they manage to avoid poachers or capture for human entertainment.

Elephants are magnificent when viewed in the wild, respected and free.

Please share the knowledge of why animal interactions are cruel and unnecessary.

Do it for the ellies on #WorldElephantDay.

 

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