I am in love with elephants. That said, I’d like to tell you a bit about these extraordinary creatures, specifically the African elephant. I believe I know what captivates most of us about elephants. They exhibit some of the best human characteristics and in this way, we feel a oneness with them that can’t be found with others of the mammalian species.
African elephants are extremely social creatures, wrapping their trunks together in displays of greeting and affection, using them to help lift an elephant calf over an obstacle or to rescue a fellow elephant stuck in the mud, or to gently raise a newborn elephant to its feet. And just as a human baby sucks its thumb, an elephant calf often sucks its trunk for comfort!
The social lives of male and female elephants are very different. The females spend their entire lives in tightly knit family groups made up of mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts, led by the eldest female. But as the male elephant gets older, he begins to spend more time at the edge of the herd, gradually going off on his own for hours or days at a time, and eventually, somewhere around the age of fourteen, the mature male sets out from his natal group for good.
The males will occasionally form loose associations with other males, called “bachelor herds”, spending much more time than the females fighting for dominance with each other. Only the most dominant males will be permitted to breed with cycling females, and usually the older bulls, forty to fifty years old, do most of the breeding.
With a mass of over 11 pounds, elephant brains are larger than those of any other land animal. A wide variety of behaviors associated with intelligence have been attributed to elephants, including those associated with grief, making music and art, altruism, play, use of tools, compassion, and self awareness. And the elephant’s brain is similar to that of humans in terms of structure and complexity.
Elephants have an exceptional sense of hearing and smell, with hearing receptors in their ears, trunks, and most significantly in their feet. They communicate by sound over large distances partly through the ground, which is important for their social lives. Elephants have been observed listening by putting trunks on the ground and carefully positioning their feet.
Certain studies have shown that elephants manifest abilities that are considered the basis for empathy, altruism and higher social interactions also demonstrated in humans, apes, bottlenose dolphins and magpies.
Because of their size, adult African elephants have no enemies other than people. Calves, however, may fall prey to lions, crocodiles, and other meat-eaters. The very short video below shows what I’m talking about. I received it from a wonderful woman who read this blog today and I had to add it.