From the continent of Africa, weighing 6 tons or more, the African elephant is one of the largest land mammals on earth. In the wild and captivity, they are highly social animals, living in large herds.
Compared to other animal cultures, elephants do not live under male-dominant headship. Elephants live in matriarchal societies. This means that the females take the lead in caring for members of the herd. Herds are made up of sisters, aunts, mothers, and grandmothers. These all have a part in raising and watching over the young in the group. Elephant families must stick close to each other on the African plains for their safety.
Predators such as lions and hyenas pose a serious threat to a young and defenseless elephant calf. This is why calves must be supervised at all times. Elephants do not shy away from relying on the strength of their family. If they encounter predators, the adults will surround the youngest members of the herd, trumpeting, and charging towards the enemy until the danger has passed. Their sheer size alone can serve as an excellent deterrent to predators.
When it comes to finding food and water in harsh conditions, the oldest females take the lead because of their knowledge of paths many elephants have taken over the years to find water.
When males elephants, called bulls, reach adulthood, they separate from their herd and travel with other groups of males. As they wander together, they will mate with other females. The males tend to grow taller than females, reaching 10 to 12 feet tall. Their tusks can also grow larger than a female's.
When it is time for a bull to mate, they go into a state of heightened aggression called musth. During this time the bull undergoes some physical changes. It's head swells and the sound of it's trumpeting becomes much deeper. Among other things, the elephant becomes very irritable, easily provoked at times. This is also the time when males engage in combat with one another. They aggressively battle each other for mating rights. They use their tusks to push and possibly gore an opponent if the battle becomes fierce enough.
The most unique feature of the African elephant is its trunk. This long nose serves multiple purposes for everyday living. Food that is out of reach to many animals is easy pickings for the elephant. Like a person using his arm to reach for something on a tall shelf, the elephant can reach and pick fruit and vegetation from trees with ease. One of the most famous uses of their trunk is for drinking water. They can suck up to 2 gallons of water in their trunk and release it into their mouth. It is also extremely powerful. With 40,000 muscles, their trunk can lift an adult man off the ground with ease.
With all of the power within their trunk, it can be used very delicately. The end of their trunk has two finger-like tips that allow it to pick up something as fragile as a flower. Of course, their sense of smell is phenomenal. They can smell a water source from miles away.
An Endangered Species
Despite their beauty and amazing abilities, African elephants are hunted for the illegal ivory trade. Their tusks are used for decorations and trinkets. Many will pay a huge amount of money for ivory. This high price fuels poachers to hunt them for the precious ivory. Awareness is a powerful ally in helping the elephants. Rangers and conservationists do their best when it comes to protecting these powerful ancient animals.