Although we know more about them and ecological importance than ever before, humans have only become more cruel to elephants. Last year was one of the toughest on record for these gentle giants. “Conservationists warned that Africa could lose one-fifth of its elephants unless something is done to halt poachers and that elephants could disappear in the wild in Africa by 2025,” wrote Care2′s Kristina Chew.
Very few of us ever get the chance see an elephant up close and personal, in its own habitat. This lack of experience makes it difficult to grasp the gravity of the situation, and how much we stand to lose if elephants are driven into extinction. So here are seven amazing things you might not have known about this fascinating animal–seven facts that make hunting them for their teeth, or keeping them captive, even more absurd.
7 Amazing Facts About Elephants That Make Poaching Even Worse
1. The elephant is the largest land animal on the planet. The African species stands between 8 and 13 feet tall and weighs 5,000 to 14,000 pounds. The Asian elephant stands about 6.6 to 9.8 feet tall and weighs 4,960 to 12,125 pounds. The largest elephant on record weighed about 24,000 pounds and stood 13 feet tall. Even baby elephants are quite imposing, entering the world at 3 feet tall and about 200 pounds.
2. Elephants hire babysitters. After carrying their unborn young for around 22 months, it’s no wonder that mother elephants sometimes need a break. Elephant culture embodies the “it takes a village” mindset, with mothers appointing several babysitters to care for her baby so that she has time to eat enough to produce sufficient milk for it.
3. Elephants use their trunks as a snorkel (not a straw!). Many people believe the myth that elephants drink water through their nose. While it’s true that elephants can draw up to two gallons of water into their seven foot-long nose, they only hold it there before shooting it into their mouth. They can also use their trunks as snorkels when they wade in deep water.
4. Elephants use their ears for air conditioning. Filled with hundreds of tiny, intersecting veins, elephant ears act like an onboard cooling system. “As they flap their wet ears the blood in these veins is cooled, and the cooled blood is circulated around the elephant’s body,” explains Live Science. And yes, those massive ears to allow the elephant to hear exceptionally well, but African elephants can also ” hear” with their feet thanks to sensory cells that detect vibrations.
5. Elephants speak more languages than you. Turns out elephants have been using their massive brains to listen in on human conversation, which helps them avoid danger. “[N]ew research has demonstrated they’re even more sophisticated than we thought and have learned to differentiate between different languages, ages and genders among humans and determine who poses a threat to them,” writes Alicia Graef for Care2.
6. Elephants care for their sick. Worrying about a loved one who is sick or injured isn’t limited to humankind. Elephants are extremely social creatures. If an elephant becomes sick, herd members will bring it food and help it stand up if it’s weak. Elephants will also “hug” by wrapping their trunks together in displays of greeting and affection.
7. Elephants have funerals. Learning how much elephants love and care for each other makes this no surprise. When a member of the herd can’t be nursed back to health, elephants engage in death rituals and mourning. They are one of the only known mammals besides humans to do this.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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