Elephant
Overview
Elephants are large land mammal
Mammal
Mammals are members of a class of air-breathing vertebrate animals characterised by the possession of endothermy, hair, three middle ear bones, and mammary glands functional in mothers with young...

s in two extant genera
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 of the family
Family (biology)
In biological classification, family is* a taxonomic rank. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, and species, with family fitting between order and genus. As for the other well-known ranks, there is the option of an immediately lower rank, indicated by the...

 Elephantidae
Elephantidae
Elephantidae is a taxonomic family, collectively elephants and mammoths. These are terrestrial large mammals with a trunk and tusks. Most genera and species in the family are extinct...

: Elephas
Elephas
Elephas is one of two surviving genera in the order of elephants, Proboscidea. The genus has one surviving species, the Asian elephant Elephas maximus....

 and Loxodonta
Loxodonta
African elephants are the species of elephants in the genus Loxodonta , one of the two existing genera in Elephantidae. Although it is commonly believed that the genus was named by Georges Cuvier in 1825, Cuvier spelled it Loxodonte...

, with the third genus Mammuthus
Mammoth
A mammoth is any species of the extinct genus Mammuthus. These proboscideans are members of Elephantidae, the family of elephants and mammoths, and close relatives of modern elephants. They were often equipped with long curved tusks and, in northern species, a covering of long hair...

 extinct. Three species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 of elephant are recognized: the African bush elephant
African Bush Elephant
The African Bush Elephant or African Savanna Elephant is the larger of the two species of African elephant. Both it and the African Forest Elephant have usually been classified as a single species, known simply as the African Elephant...

, the African forest elephant
African Forest Elephant
The African Forest Elephant is a forest dwelling elephant of the Congo Basin. Formerly considered either a synonym or a subspecies of the African Savanna Elephant , a 2010 study established that the two are distinct species...

 and the Indian or Asian elephant
Asian Elephant
The Asian or Asiatic elephant is the only living species of the genus Elephas and distributed in Southeast Asia from India in the west to Borneo in the east. Three subspecies are recognized — Elephas maximus maximus from Sri Lanka, the Indian elephant or E. m. indicus from mainland Asia, and E. m....

; although some group the two African species into one and some researchers also postulate the existence of a fourth species in West Africa. All other species and genera of Elephantidae are extinct
Extinction
In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms , normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point...

. Most have been extinct since the last ice age
Ice age
An ice age or, more precisely, glacial age, is a generic geological period of long-term reduction in the temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental ice sheets, polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers...

, although dwarf forms of mammoth
Mammoth
A mammoth is any species of the extinct genus Mammuthus. These proboscideans are members of Elephantidae, the family of elephants and mammoths, and close relatives of modern elephants. They were often equipped with long curved tusks and, in northern species, a covering of long hair...

s might have survived as late as 2,000 BCE.
Encyclopedia
Elephants are large land mammal
Mammal
Mammals are members of a class of air-breathing vertebrate animals characterised by the possession of endothermy, hair, three middle ear bones, and mammary glands functional in mothers with young...

s in two extant genera
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 of the family
Family (biology)
In biological classification, family is* a taxonomic rank. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, and species, with family fitting between order and genus. As for the other well-known ranks, there is the option of an immediately lower rank, indicated by the...

 Elephantidae
Elephantidae
Elephantidae is a taxonomic family, collectively elephants and mammoths. These are terrestrial large mammals with a trunk and tusks. Most genera and species in the family are extinct...

: Elephas
Elephas
Elephas is one of two surviving genera in the order of elephants, Proboscidea. The genus has one surviving species, the Asian elephant Elephas maximus....

 and Loxodonta
Loxodonta
African elephants are the species of elephants in the genus Loxodonta , one of the two existing genera in Elephantidae. Although it is commonly believed that the genus was named by Georges Cuvier in 1825, Cuvier spelled it Loxodonte...

, with the third genus Mammuthus
Mammoth
A mammoth is any species of the extinct genus Mammuthus. These proboscideans are members of Elephantidae, the family of elephants and mammoths, and close relatives of modern elephants. They were often equipped with long curved tusks and, in northern species, a covering of long hair...

 extinct. Three species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 of elephant are recognized: the African bush elephant
African Bush Elephant
The African Bush Elephant or African Savanna Elephant is the larger of the two species of African elephant. Both it and the African Forest Elephant have usually been classified as a single species, known simply as the African Elephant...

, the African forest elephant
African Forest Elephant
The African Forest Elephant is a forest dwelling elephant of the Congo Basin. Formerly considered either a synonym or a subspecies of the African Savanna Elephant , a 2010 study established that the two are distinct species...

 and the Indian or Asian elephant
Asian Elephant
The Asian or Asiatic elephant is the only living species of the genus Elephas and distributed in Southeast Asia from India in the west to Borneo in the east. Three subspecies are recognized — Elephas maximus maximus from Sri Lanka, the Indian elephant or E. m. indicus from mainland Asia, and E. m....

; although some group the two African species into one and some researchers also postulate the existence of a fourth species in West Africa. All other species and genera of Elephantidae are extinct
Extinction
In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms , normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point...

. Most have been extinct since the last ice age
Ice age
An ice age or, more precisely, glacial age, is a generic geological period of long-term reduction in the temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental ice sheets, polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers...

, although dwarf forms of mammoth
Mammoth
A mammoth is any species of the extinct genus Mammuthus. These proboscideans are members of Elephantidae, the family of elephants and mammoths, and close relatives of modern elephants. They were often equipped with long curved tusks and, in northern species, a covering of long hair...

s might have survived as late as 2,000 BCE. Elephants and other Elephantidae were once classified with other thick-skinned animals in a now invalid order
Order (biology)
In scientific classification used in biology, the order is# a taxonomic rank used in the classification of organisms. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, family, genus, and species, with order fitting in between class and family...

, Pachydermata
Pachydermata
Pachydermata is an obsolete order of mammals described by Gottlieb Storr, Georges Cuvier and others, at one time recognized by many systematists...

.

Elephants are the largest living land animals on Earth today. The elephant's gestation
Gestation
Gestation is the carrying of an embryo or fetus inside a female viviparous animal. Mammals during pregnancy can have one or more gestations at the same time ....

 period is 22 months, the longest of any land animal. At birth, an elephant calf typically weighs 105 kilograms (231.5 lb). They typically live for 50 to 70 years, but the oldest recorded elephant lived for 82 years. The largest elephant ever recorded was shot in Angola
Angola
Angola, officially the Republic of Angola , is a country in south-central Africa bordered by Namibia on the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the north, and Zambia on the east; its west coast is on the Atlantic Ocean with Luanda as its capital city...

 in 1955. This male weighed about 24000 lb (10,886.2 kg), with a shoulder height of 3.96 metres (13 ft), a metre (yard) taller than the average male African elephant. The smallest elephants, about the size of a calf or a large pig, were a prehistoric species that lived on the island of Crete
Crete
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

 during the Pleistocene
Pleistocene
The Pleistocene is the epoch from 2,588,000 to 11,700 years BP that spans the world's recent period of repeated glaciations. The name pleistocene is derived from the Greek and ....

 epoch.

Elephants are a symbol of wisdom
Wisdom
Wisdom is a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding. It often requires control of one's emotional reactions so that universal principles, reason and...

 in Asian cultures and are famed for their memory and intelligence
Animal cognition
Animal cognition is the title given to the study of the mental capacities of non-human animals. It has developed out of comparative psychology, but has also been strongly influenced by the approach of ethology, behavioral ecology, and evolutionary psychology...

, where their intelligence level is thought to be equal to that of dolphins and primate
Primate
A primate is a mammal of the order Primates , which contains prosimians and simians. Primates arose from ancestors that lived in the trees of tropical forests; many primate characteristics represent adaptations to life in this challenging three-dimensional environment...

s. Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 once said the elephant was "the beast which passeth all others in wit and mind." The word "elephant" has its origins in the Greek , meaning "ivory" or "elephant".

According to observations, healthy adult elephants have no natural predators, although lion
Lion
The lion is one of the four big cats in the genus Panthera, and a member of the family Felidae. With some males exceeding 250 kg in weight, it is the second-largest living cat after the tiger...

s may take calves or weak individuals. They are, however, threatened by human intrusion and poaching.

Etymology

Olifant and its variations (ex. oliphant, olyphant) are archaic spellings of elephant. Aside from elephants, the word has been used to refer to ivory
Ivory
Ivory is a term for dentine, which constitutes the bulk of the teeth and tusks of animals, when used as a material for art or manufacturing. Ivory has been important since ancient times for making a range of items, from ivory carvings to false teeth, fans, dominoes, joint tubes, piano keys and...

, elephant tusks, musical horns
Olifant (instrument)
Olifant was the name applied in the Middle Ages to ivory hunting horns made from elephants' tusks. One of the most famous olifants belonged to the legendary Frankish knight Roland, protagonist of The Song of Roland.In The Song of Roland, Roland carries his olifant while serving on the rearguard of...

 made of elephant tusks, or a musical instrument resembling such horns.

It appears in Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 as olifant or olifaunt, and was borrowed from Medieval French olifanz. The French word owes something to both Old High German
Old High German
The term Old High German refers to the earliest stage of the German language and it conventionally covers the period from around 500 to 1050. Coherent written texts do not appear until the second half of the 8th century, and some treat the period before 750 as 'prehistoric' and date the start of...

 olbenta "camel", and to Latin elephantus "elephant", a word of Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 origin. OHG olbenta is a word of old Germanic
Germanic languages
The Germanic languages constitute a sub-branch of the Indo-European language family. The common ancestor of all of the languages in this branch is called Proto-Germanic , which was spoken in approximately the mid-1st millennium BC in Iron Age northern Europe...

 origin; cf. Gothic
Gothic language
Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable Text corpus...

 ulbandus also meaning "camel". But the form of the OHG and Gothic words suggests it is also a borrowing, perhaps indeed directly or indirectly from Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 "ἐλέφας" (elephas), which in Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

 only meant "ivory", but from Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 on the word also referred to the animal. The earliest attested form of the word is the Mycenaean Greek e-re-pa-to, written in Linear B
Linear B
Linear B is a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, an early form of Greek. It pre-dated the Greek alphabet by several centuries and seems to have died out with the fall of Mycenaean civilization...

 syllabic script.

Taxonomy and evolution

The African elephant genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 contains two or, arguably, three living species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

; whereas the Asian elephant
Asian Elephant
The Asian or Asiatic elephant is the only living species of the genus Elephas and distributed in Southeast Asia from India in the west to Borneo in the east. Three subspecies are recognized — Elephas maximus maximus from Sri Lanka, the Indian elephant or E. m. indicus from mainland Asia, and E. m....

 species is the only surviving member of the Asian elephant
Asian Elephant
The Asian or Asiatic elephant is the only living species of the genus Elephas and distributed in Southeast Asia from India in the west to Borneo in the east. Three subspecies are recognized — Elephas maximus maximus from Sri Lanka, the Indian elephant or E. m. indicus from mainland Asia, and E. m....

 genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

, but can be divided into four subspecies
Subspecies
Subspecies in biological classification, is either a taxonomic rank subordinate to species, ora taxonomic unit in that rank . A subspecies cannot be recognized in isolation: a species will either be recognized as having no subspecies at all or two or more, never just one...

. The African and the Asian elephants diverged from a common ancestor some 7.6 million years ago.

African elephant

The elephants of the genus Loxodonta, known collectively as African elephants, are currently found in 37 countries in Africa.

African elephants are distinguished from Asian elephants in several ways, the most noticeable being their much larger ears. Also, the African elephant is typically larger than the Asian elephant and has a concave back. In Asian elephants, only males have tusks, but both males and females of African elephants have tusks and are usually less hairy than their Asian cousins.

African elephants have traditionally been classified as a single species comprising two distinct subspecies, namely the savanna
Savanna
A savanna, or savannah, is a grassland ecosystem characterized by the trees being sufficiently small or widely spaced so that the canopy does not close. The open canopy allows sufficient light to reach the ground to support an unbroken herbaceous layer consisting primarily of C4 grasses.Some...

 elephant (Loxodonta africana africana) and the forest elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis), but recent DNA analysis suggests that these may actually constitute distinct species. This split is not universally accepted by experts. A third species of African elephant has also been proposed.

The authors of an analysis of nuclear DNA extracted from "African savanna elephant, African forest elephant, Asian elephant, the extinct American mastodon, and the woolly mammoth" concluded in 2010 that African savanna and forest elephants are indeed separate species:
We unequivocally establish that the Asian elephant is the sister species to the woolly mammoth. A surprising finding from our study is that the divergence of African savanna and forest elephants—which some have argued to be two populations of the same species—is about as ancient as the divergence of Asian elephants and mammoths. Given their ancient divergence, we conclude that African savanna and forest elephants should be classified as two distinct species.


This reclassification has implications for conservation
Conservation biology
Conservation biology is the scientific study of the nature and status of Earth's biodiversity with the aim of protecting species, their habitats, and ecosystems from excessive rates of extinction...

. If there are two separate species, each will be less abundant (particularly the rarer) and could be more endangered than a more numerous and wide-ranging single species. There is also a potential danger that if the forest elephant is not explicitly listed as an endangered species, poachers
Poaching
Poaching is the illegal taking of wild plants or animals contrary to local and international conservation and wildlife management laws. Violations of hunting laws and regulations are normally punishable by law and, collectively, such violations are known as poaching.It may be illegal and in...

 and smugglers might be able to evade the law forbidding trade in endangered animals and their products.

The forest elephant and the savanna elephant can hybridize (interbreed), though their preferences for different terrains reduce such opportunities. As the African elephant has only recently been recognized to comprise two separate species, groups of captive elephants have not been comprehensively classified and some could well be hybrids.

Under the new two species classification, Loxodonta africana refers specifically to the savanna elephant, the largest of all elephants. It is the largest land animal, with males standing 3.2 metres (10.5 ft) to 4 metres (13.1 ft) at the shoulder and weighing 3500 kilograms (7,716.2 lb) up to a reported 12000 kilograms (26,455.5 lb). The female is smaller, standing about 3 metres (9.8 ft) at the shoulder. Most often, savanna elephants are found in open grassland
Grassland
Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses and other herbaceous plants . However, sedge and rush families can also be found. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica...

s, marsh
Marsh
In geography, a marsh, or morass, is a type of wetland that is subject to frequent or continuous flood. Typically the water is shallow and features grasses, rushes, reeds, typhas, sedges, other herbaceous plants, and moss....

es, and lakeshores. They range over much of the savanna zone south of the Sahara
Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa as a geographical term refers to the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara. A political definition of Sub-Saharan Africa, instead, covers all African countries which are fully or partially located south of the Sahara...

.

The other putative species, the forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), is usually smaller and rounder, and its tusks thinner and straighter compared with the savanna elephant. The forest elephant can weigh up to 4500 kilograms (9,920.8 lb) and stand about 3 metres (10 ft) tall. Much less is known about these animals than their savanna cousins, because environmental and political obstacles make them difficult to study. Normally, they inhabit the dense African rain forests of central and western Africa, although occasionally they roam the edges of forests, thus overlapping the savanna elephant home ranges and hybridizing. In 1979, Iain Douglas-Hamilton
Iain Douglas-Hamilton
Iain Douglas-Hamilton, OBE, is a zoologist known for his study of elephants.He earned both a B.Sc. and a D.Phil. in zoology from Oriel College, Oxford, and he is the recipient of the 2010 Indianapolis Prize for his work on elephant conservation.His chief research interest is to understand elephant...

 estimated the continental population of African elephants at around 1.3 million animals. This estimate is controversial and is believed to be a gross overestimate, but it is very widely cited and has become a de facto baseline that continues to be incorrectly used to quantify downward population trends in the species. Through the 1980s, Loxodonta received worldwide attention due to the dwindling numbers of major populations in East Africa, largely as a result of poaching. According to IUCN’s African Elephant Status Report 2007,
there are between 470,000 and 690,000 African elephants in the wild. Although this estimate only covers about half of the total elephant range, experts do not believe the true figure to be much higher, as it is unlikely that large populations remain to be discovered. By far, the largest populations are now found in southern and eastern Africa, which together account for the majority of the continental population. According to a recent analysis by IUCN experts, most major populations in eastern and southern Africa are stable or have been steadily increasing since the mid-1990s, at an average rate of 4.5% per year.

Elephant populations in West Africa
West Africa
West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of the African continent. Geopolitically, the UN definition of Western Africa includes the following 16 countries and an area of approximately 5 million square km:-Flags of West Africa:...

, on the other hand, are generally small and fragmented, and only account for a small proportion of the continental total.
Much uncertainty remains as to the size of the elephant population in central Africa, where the prevalence of forest makes population surveys difficult, but poaching for ivory and bushmeat is believed to be intense through much of the region.
South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

n elephant population more than doubled, rising from 8,000 to over 20,000, in the thirteen years after a 1995 ban on the trade in elephant ivory. The ban on the ivory trade
Ivory trade
The ivory trade is the commercial, often illegal trade in the ivory tusks of the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, mammoth, and most commonly, Asian and African elephants....

 in southern Africa (but not elsewhere) was lifted in February 2008, sparking controversy among environmental groups.

Asian elephant

The Asian elephant, Elephas maximus, is smaller than the African. It has smaller ears, and typically, only the males have large external tusks.

The world population of Asian elephants—also called Indian elephants—is estimated to be around 60,000, about a tenth of the number of African elephants. More precisely, it is estimated that there are between 38,000 and 53,000 wild elephants and between 14,500 and 15,300 domesticated elephants in Asia, with perhaps another 1,000 scattered around zoos in the rest of the world. The Asian elephants' decline has possibly been more gradual than the African and caused primarily by poaching and habitat destruction by human encroachment.

Several subspecies of Elephas maximus have been identified, using morphometric data and molecular markers. Elephas maximus maximus (Sri Lankan elephant
Sri Lankan Elephant
The Sri Lankan Elephant is one of three recognized subspecies of the Asian Elephant, and native to Sri Lanka. Since 1986, Elephas maximus has been listed as endangered by IUCN as the population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations, estimated to be 60–75 years...

) is found only on the island of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

. It is the largest of the Asians. There are an estimated 3,000–4,500 members of this subspecies left today in the wild, although no accurate census has been carried out recently. Large males can weigh upward to 5,400 kg (12,000 lb) and stand over 3.4 m (11 ft) tall. Sri Lankan males have very large cranial bulges, and both sexes have more areas of depigmentation than other Asians. Typically, their ears, face, trunk, and belly have large concentrations of pink-speckled skin. There is an orphanage
Orphanage
An orphanage is a residential institution devoted to the care of orphans – children whose parents are deceased or otherwise unable or unwilling to care for them...

 for elephants in Pinnawala
Pinnawala
Pinnawala is a village in Kegalle District of Sri Lanka and is around 90 km from the capital, Colombo. It is well known for its elephant orphanage.-Elephant Orphanage:...

, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

, which plays a large role in protecting the Sri Lankan elephant from extinction
Extinction
In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms , normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point...

.

Elephas maximus indicus (Indian elephant
Indian Elephant
The Indian Elephant is one of three recognized subspecies of the Asian elephant, and native to mainland Asia. Since 1986, Elephas maximus has been listed as endangered by IUCN as the population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations, estimated to be 60–75 years...

) makes up the bulk of the Asian elephant population. Numbering approximately 36,000, these elephants are lighter grey in colour, with depigmentation only on the ears and trunk. Large males will ordinarily weigh only about 5,000 kg (11,000 lb), but are as tall as the Sri Lankan. The mainland Asian can be found in 11 Asian countries, from India to Indonesia. They prefer forested areas and transitional zones, between forests and grasslands, where greater food variety is available.

The Sumatran elephant
Sumatran Elephant
The Sumatran Elephant is one of three recognized subspecies of the Asian Elephant, and native to Sumatra island of Indonesia. Since 1986, Elephas maximus has been listed as endangered by IUCN as the population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations, estimated to be 60–75 years...

, Elephas maximus sumatranus, found only on Sumatra
Sumatra
Sumatra is an island in western Indonesia, westernmost of the Sunda Islands. It is the largest island entirely in Indonesia , and the sixth largest island in the world at 473,481 km2 with a population of 50,365,538...

, is smaller than the Indian elephant. Population estimates for this group range from 2,100 to 3,000 individuals. It is very light grey in colour and has less depigmentation than the other Asians, with pink spots only on the ears. Mature Sumatrans will usually only measure 1.7–2.6 m (5.6–8.5 ft) at the shoulder and weigh less than 3,000 kg (6,600 lb). It is considerably smaller than its other Asian (and African) cousins and exists only on the island of Sumatra, usually in forested regions and partially wooded habitats.

In 2003, a further subspecies was identified on Borneo
Borneo
Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is located north of Java Island, Indonesia, at the geographic centre of Maritime Southeast Asia....

. Named the Borneo pygmy elephant, it is smaller and tamer than any other Asian elephants. It also has relatively larger ears, longer tail and straighter tusks.

Trunk

The proboscis
Proboscis
A proboscis is an elongated appendage from the head of an animal, either a vertebrate or an invertebrate. In simpler terms, a proboscis is the straw-like mouth found in several varieties of species.-Etymology:...

, or trunk, is a fusion of the nose and upper lip, elongated and specialized to become the elephant's most important and versatile appendage. African elephants are equipped with two fingerlike projections at the tip of their trunk, while Asians have only one. The elephant's trunk is sensitive enough to pick up a single blade of grass, yet strong enough to rip the branches off a tree.

Most herbivores (plant eaters, like the elephant) possess teeth adapted for cutting and tearing off plant materials. However, except for the very young or infirm, elephants always use their trunks to tear up their food and then place it in their mouths. They will graze on grass or reach up into trees to grasp leaves, fruit, or entire branches. If the desired food item is too high up, the elephant will wrap its trunk around the tree or branch and shake its food loose or sometimes simply knock the tree down altogether.

The trunk is also used for drinking. Elephants suck water up into the trunk—up to 14 litres (15 quarts) at a time—and then blow it into their mouths. Elephants also suck up water to spray on their bodies during bathing. On top of this watery coating, the animals will then spray dirt and mud, which dries and acts as a protective sunscreen. When swimming, the trunk makes an excellent snorkel.

This appendage also plays a key role in many social interactions. Familiar elephants will greet each other by entwining their trunks, much like a handshake. They also use them while play-wrestling, caressing during courtship and mother-child interactions, and for dominance displays; a raised trunk can be a warning or threat, while a lowered trunk can be a sign of submission. Elephants can defend themselves very well by flailing their trunks at unwanted intruders or by grasping and flinging them.

An elephant also relies on its trunk for its highly developed sense of smell. By raising the trunk up in the air and swiveling it from side to side, like a periscope, it can determine the location of friends, enemies, and food sources.

Some elephants have been afflicted by floppy trunk syndrome
Floppy trunk syndrome
Floppy trunk syndrome is a condition that causes trunk paralysis in elephants. The paralysis is caused by degeneration of peripheral nerves, which begins at the base of the trunk. FTS has been observed in the northwest of Zimbabwe, the Satara area of Kruger National Park, and Forthergill in Lake...

.

Tusks

The tusk
Tusk
Tusks are elongated, continuously growing front teeth, usually but not always in pairs, that protrude well beyond the mouth of certain mammal species. They are most commonly canines, as with warthogs, wild boar, and walruses, or, in the case of elephants and narwhals, elongated incisors...

s of an elephant are its second upper incisor
Incisor
Incisors are the first kind of tooth in heterodont mammals. They are located in the premaxilla above and mandible below.-Function:...

s. Tusks grow continuously; an adult male's tusks grow about 18 cm (7 in) a year. Tusks are used to dig for water, salt, and roots; to debark trees to eat the bark; to dig into baobab
Baobab
Adansonia is a genus of eight species of tree, six native to Madagascar, one native to mainland Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and one to Australia. The mainland African species also occurs on Madagascar, but it is not a native of that island....

 trees to get at the pulp inside; and to move trees and branches when clearing a path. In addition, they are used for marking trees to establish territory, and occasionally as weapons.

Like humans who are typically right- or left-handed
Handedness
Handedness is a human attribute defined by unequal distribution of fine motor skills between the left and right hands. An individual who is more dexterous with the right hand is called right-handed and one who is more skilled with the left is said to be left-handed...

, elephants are usually right- or left-tusked. The dominant tusk, called the master tusk, is generally shorter and more rounded at the tip from wear. Both male and female African elephants have large tusks that can reach over 3 m (10 ft) in length and weigh over 90 kg (200 lb). In the Asian species, only the males have large tusks. Female Asians have tusks which are very small or absent altogether. Asian males can have tusks as long as the much larger Africans, but they are usually much slimmer and lighter; the heaviest recorded is 39 kg (86 lb). The tusk of both species is mostly made of calcium phosphate
Calcium phosphate
Calcium phosphate is the name given to a family of minerals containing calcium ions together with orthophosphates , metaphosphates or pyrophosphates and occasionally hydrogen or hydroxide ions ....

 in the form of apatite
Apatite
Apatite is a group of phosphate minerals, usually referring to hydroxylapatite, fluorapatite, chlorapatite and bromapatite, named for high concentrations of OH−, F−, Cl− or Br− ions, respectively, in the crystal...

. As a piece of living tissue, it is relatively soft (compared with other minerals such as rock), and the tusk, also known as ivory
Ivory
Ivory is a term for dentine, which constitutes the bulk of the teeth and tusks of animals, when used as a material for art or manufacturing. Ivory has been important since ancient times for making a range of items, from ivory carvings to false teeth, fans, dominoes, joint tubes, piano keys and...

, is strongly favoured by artists for its carvability. The desire for elephant ivory has been one of the major factors in the reduction of the world's elephant population.

Some extinct relatives of elephants had tusks in their lower jaws in addition to their upper jaws, such as Gomphotherium
Gomphotherium
Gomphotherium is an extinct genus of proboscid which evolved in the Early Miocene of North America from 13.650—3.6 Ma, living about .The genus emigrated into Asia, Europe and Africa after a drop in sea level allowed them to cross over...

, or only in their lower jaws, such as Deinotherium
Deinotherium
Deinotherium , also called the Hoe tusker, was a large prehistoric relative of modern-day elephants that appeared in the Middle Miocene and continued until the Early Pleistocene. During that time it changed very little...

.

Teeth

Elephants' teeth
Tooth
Teeth are small, calcified, whitish structures found in the jaws of many vertebrates that are used to break down food. Some animals, particularly carnivores, also use teeth for hunting or for defensive purposes. The roots of teeth are embedded in the Mandible bone or the Maxillary bone and are...

 are very different from those of most other mammals. Over their lives they usually have 28 teeth. These are:
  • The two upper second incisors: these are the tusk
    Tusk
    Tusks are elongated, continuously growing front teeth, usually but not always in pairs, that protrude well beyond the mouth of certain mammal species. They are most commonly canines, as with warthogs, wild boar, and walruses, or, in the case of elephants and narwhals, elongated incisors...

    s.
  • The milk precursors
    Deciduous teeth
    Deciduous teeth, otherwise known as reborner teeth, baby teeth, temporary teeth and primary teeth, are the first set of teeth in the growth development of humans and many other mammals. In some Asian countries they are referred to as fall teeth as they will eventually fall out, while in almost all...

     of the tusks.
  • 12 premolar
    Premolar
    The premolar teeth or bicuspids are transitional teeth located between the canine and molar teeth. In humans, there are two premolars per quadrant, making eight premolars total in the mouth. They have at least two cusps. Premolars can be considered as a 'transitional tooth' during chewing, or...

    s, 3 in each side of each jaw.
  • 12 molar
    Molar (tooth)
    Molars are the rearmost and most complicated kind of tooth in most mammals. In many mammals they grind food; hence the Latin name mola, "millstone"....

    s, 3 in each side of each jaw.

This gives elephants a dental formula
Dentition
Dentition pertains to the development of teeth and their arrangement in the mouth. In particular, the characteristic arrangement, kind, and number of teeth in a given species at a given age...

 of:

Unlike most mammals, which grow
Tooth development
Tooth development or odontogenesis is the complex process by which teeth form from embryonic cells, grow, and erupt into the mouth. Although many diverse species have teeth, non-human tooth development is largely the same as in humans...

 baby teeth and then replace them with a permanent set of adult teeth, elephants have cycles of tooth rotation throughout their entire lives. The tusks have milk precursors, which fall out quickly and the adult tusks are in place by one year of age, but the chewing teeth are replaced five or, very rarely, six times in an elephant's lifetime.

Only four chewing teeth (premolars and/or molars), one on each side of each jaw, are in primary use at any given time (or two, as one replaces the other at each location). Adult teeth do not replace milk teeth by emerging from the jaws vertically as human teeth do. Instead, new teeth grow in at the back of the mouth, pushing older teeth toward the front, where the latter break off in pieces until they are gone. In African elephants, the first two sets of chewing teeth (premolars) are in place when an elephant is born. The first chewing tooth on each side in each jaw falls out when the elephant is about two years old. The second set of chewing teeth falls out when the elephant is about six years old. The third set is lost at 13 to 15 years of age, and set four lasts to approximately 28 years of age. The fifth set of chewing teeth (molars) lasts until the elephant is in its early 40s. The sixth (and usually final) set must last the elephant the rest of its life. If an elephant lives to more than 60 years of age, the last set of molars is worn to stumps, and it can no longer feed properly. Moss reports a female elephant in its sixties whose final set of molars were worn smooth and about one-quarter of their original size and who survived "with extra chewing and longer feeding bouts." Abscesses of chewing teeth, as well as of tusks and jaws, are common in elephants, and may lead to premature death.

Tusks in the lower jaw are also second incisors. These grew out large in Deinotherium
Deinotherium
Deinotherium , also called the Hoe tusker, was a large prehistoric relative of modern-day elephants that appeared in the Middle Miocene and continued until the Early Pleistocene. During that time it changed very little...

 and some mastodon
Mastodon
Mastodons were large tusked mammal species of the extinct genus Mammut which inhabited Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and Central America from the Oligocene through Pleistocene, 33.9 mya to 11,000 years ago. The American mastodon is the most recent and best known species of the group...

s, but in modern elephants they disappear early without erupting.

Skin

Elephants are colloquially called pachyderms (from their original scientific classification), which means thick-skinned animals. An elephant's skin is extremely tough around most parts of its body and measures about 2.5 centimetre (0.984251968503937 in) thick. However, the skin around the mouth and inside of the ear is considerably thinner. Normally, the skin of an Asian is covered with more hair than its African counterpart. This is most noticeable in the young. Asian calves are usually covered with a thick coat of brownish red fuzz. As they get older, this hair darkens and becomes more sparse, but it will always remain on their heads and tails.

The species of elephants are typically greyish in colour, but the Africans very often appear brown or reddish from wallowing in mud holes of colored soil. Wallowing is an important behaviour in elephant society. Not only is it important for socialization, but the mud acts as a sunscreen, protecting its skin from harsh ultraviolet radiation. Although tough, an elephant's skin is very sensitive. Without regular mud baths to protect it from burning, as well as from insect bites and moisture loss, an elephant's skin would suffer serious damage. After bathing, the elephant will usually use its trunk to blow soil on its body to help dry and bake on its new protective coat. As elephants are limited to smaller and smaller areas, there is less water available, and local herds will often come too close over the right to use these limited resources.

Wallowing also aids the skin in regulating body temperatures. Elephants have difficulty in releasing heat through the skin because, in proportion to their body size, they have very little of it. The ratio of an elephant's mass to the surface area of its skin is many times that of a human. Elephants have even been observed lifting up their legs to expose the soles of their feet, presumably in an effort to expose more skin to the air. Since wild elephants live in very hot climates, they must have other means of getting rid of excess heat.

Legs and feet

An elephant's legs are roughly shaped like columns or pillars, as they must be to support its bulk. The elephant needs less muscular power to stand because of its straight legs and large padded feet. For this reason, an elephant can stand for very long periods of time without tiring. In fact, African elephants rarely lie down unless they are sick or wounded. Indian elephants, in contrast, lie down frequently.

The feet of an elephant are nearly round. African elephants have three nails on each hind foot, and four on each front foot. Indian elephants have four nails on each hind foot and five on each front foot. Beneath the bones of the foot is a tough, gelatinous material that acts as a cushion or shock absorber. Under the elephant's weight, the foot swells, but it gets smaller when the weight is removed. An elephant can sink deep into mud, but can pull its legs out readily because its feet become smaller when they are lifted.

Elephants swim well, but cannot trot
Trot (horse gait)
The trot is a two-beat diagonal gait of the horse, where the diagonal pairs of legs move forward at the same time. There is a moment of suspension between each beat....

, jump
Jumping
Jumping or leaping is a form of locomotion or movement in which an organism or non-living mechanical system propels itself through the air along a ballistic trajectory...

, or gallop. They do have two gaits: a walk and a faster gait that is similar to running.

In walking, the legs act as pendulums, with the hips and shoulders rising and falling while the foot is planted on the ground. With no "aerial phase", the faster gait does not meet all the criteria of running, as elephants always have at least one foot on the ground. However, an elephant moving fast uses its legs much like other running animals, with the hips and shoulders falling and then rising while the feet are on the ground. In this gait, an elephant will have three feet off the ground at one time. As both of the hind feet and both of the front feet are off the ground at the same time, this gait has been likened to the hind legs and the front legs taking turns running. Tests at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre are reported to show that fast-moving elephants 'run' with their front legs, but 'walk' with their hind legs.

Although they start this "run" at only 8 km/h, elephants have been reported to reach speeds up to 40 km/h (25 mph), all the while using the same gait. In tests at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre, the fastest elephants reached a top speed of 18 km/h (11 mph). At this speed, most other four-legged creatures
Quadruped
Quadrupedalism is a form of land animal locomotion using four limbs or legs. An animal or machine that usually moves in a quadrupedal manner is known as a quadruped, meaning "four feet"...

 are well into a gallop, even accounting for leg length. Spring-like kinetics could explain the difference between the motion of elephants and other animals.

Ears

The large flapping ears of an elephant are also very important for temperature regulation. Elephant ears are made of a very thin layer of skin stretched over cartilage and a rich network of blood vessels. On hot days, elephants will flap their ears constantly, creating a slight breeze. This breeze cools the surface blood vessels, and then the cooler blood gets circulated to the rest of the animal's body. The hot blood entering the ears can be cooled as much as 10 F-change before returning to the body. Differences in the ear sizes of African and Asian elephants can be explained, in part, by their geographical distribution. Africans originated and stayed near the equator, where it is warmer. Therefore, they have bigger ears. Asians live farther north, in slightly cooler climates, and thus have smaller ears.

The ears are also used in certain displays of aggression and during the males' mating period. If an elephant wants to intimidate a predator or rival, it will spread its ears out wide to make itself look more massive and imposing. During the breeding season, males give off an odor from the musth
Musth
Musth or must is a periodic condition in bull elephants, characterized by highly aggressive behavior, accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones - testosterone levels in an elephant in musth can be as much as 60 times greater than in the same elephant at other times...

 gland located behind their eyes. Joyce Poole, a well-known elephant researcher, has theorized that the males will fan their ears in an effort to help propel this "elephant cologne" great distances.

Biology and behavior

Evolution

The earliest known ancestors of modern-day elephants evolved about 60 million years ago. The ancestor of the elephants from 37 million years ago was aquatic and had a similar lifestyle to a hippopotamus
Hippopotamus
The hippopotamus , or hippo, from the ancient Greek for "river horse" , is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal in sub-Saharan Africa, and one of only two extant species in the family Hippopotamidae After the elephant and rhinoceros, the hippopotamus is the third largest land mammal and the heaviest...

.

Social behavior

Elephants live in a structured social order. 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. These groups are led by the eldest female, or matriarch. Adult males, on the other hand, live mostly solitary lives.

The social circle of the female elephant does not end with the small family unit. In addition to encountering the local males that live on the fringes of one or more groups, the female's life also involves interaction with other families, clans, and subpopulations. Most immediate family groups range from five to fifteen adults, as well as a number of immature males and females. When a group gets too big, a few of the elder daughters will break off and form their own small group. They remain very aware of which local herds are relatives and which are not.
The life of the adult male is very different. As he 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. Eventually, days become weeks, and somewhere around the age of fourteen, the mature male, or bull, sets out from his natal group for good. While males do live primarily solitary lives, they will occasionally form loose associations with other males. These groups are called bachelor herds. The males spend 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. The less dominant ones must wait their turns. It is usually the older bulls, forty to fifty years old, that do most of the breeding.

The dominance battles between males can look very fierce, but typically they inflict very little injury. Most of the bouts are in the form of aggressive displays and bluffs. Ordinarily, the smaller, younger, and less confident animal will back off before any real damage can be done. However, during the breeding season, the battles can get extremely aggressive, and the occasional elephant is injured. During this season, known as musth
Musth
Musth or must is a periodic condition in bull elephants, characterized by highly aggressive behavior, accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones - testosterone levels in an elephant in musth can be as much as 60 times greater than in the same elephant at other times...

, a bull will fight with almost any other male it encounters, and it will spend most of its time hovering around the female herds, trying to find a receptive mate.

In West with the Night
West With the Night
West With the Night is a 1942 memoir by Beryl Markham, chronicling her experiences growing up in Kenya , in the early 1900s, leading to a career as a bush pilot there...

, Kenyan Aviatrix Beryl Markham
Beryl Markham
Beryl Markham was a British-born Kenyan aviatrix, adventurer, and racehorse trainer. During the pioneer days of aviation, she became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west...

 suggests the matriarchal society of elephants may be a recent adaptation, since perhaps 1930, to the arrival of firearms. She describes elephant herds containing multiple adult males as well as females. She further describes how the females attempted to hide the males (hunted disproportionately for their tusks) from hunters.

Mating

The mating season is short and females are only able to conceive for a few days each year. She will detach herself from the herd. The scent of the female (cow) elephant in heat (or estrus) attracts the male and she also uses audible signals to attract the male. As the female can usually outrun the male, she does not have to mate with every male that approaches her.

The male initiates the courtship and the female ignores him for several minutes. He then stops and starts again. Elephants display a range of affectionate interactions, such as nuzzling, trunk intertwining, and placing their trunks in each other's mouths (image 2).

In a rarely observed display of his affection, he may drape his trunk outside of his tusks during the ritual (image 1). The interactions may last for 20–30 minutes and do not necessarily result in the male mounting the female, though he may demonstrate arousal during the ritual.

The female elephant is not passive in the ritual and uses the same techniques as the male.

African as well as Asiatic males will engage in same-sex bonding and mounting. The encounters are analogous to heterosexual bouts, one male often extending his trunk along the other's back and pushing forward with his tusks to signify his intention to mount. Unlike heterosexual relations, which are always of a fleeting nature, those between males result in a "companionship", consisting of an older individual and one or two younger, attendant males. Same-sex relations are common and frequent in both sexes, with Asiatic elephants in captivity devoting roughly 46% of sexual encounters to same-sex activity.

Intelligence

With a mass just over 5 kg (11 lb), elephant brains are larger than those of any other land animal. A wide variety of behaviours associated with intelligence have been attributed to elephants, including those associated with grief
Grief
Grief is a multi-faceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something to which a bond was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, and philosophical dimensions...

, making music, art
Art
Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging items in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect....

, altruism, allomothering
Allomothering
Allomothering, or non-maternal infant care, can be performed by males such as a child’s father, non-reproductive males in polyandrous systems, or older siblings interested in abetting their own genetic material via their siblings ....

, play, use of tools, compassion
Compassion
Compassion is a virtue — one in which the emotional capacities of empathy and sympathy are regarded as a part of love itself, and a cornerstone of greater social interconnection and humanism — foundational to the highest principles in philosophy, society, and personhood.There is an aspect of...

 and self-awareness
Self-awareness
Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection and the ability to reconcile oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals...

. Elephants are believed to rank equally in terms of intelligence with cetaceans and nonhuman primate
Primate
A primate is a mammal of the order Primates , which contains prosimians and simians. Primates arose from ancestors that lived in the trees of tropical forests; many primate characteristics represent adaptations to life in this challenging three-dimensional environment...

s. The elephant's brain is similar to that of humans in terms of structure and complexity; the elephant brain exhibits a gyral
Gyrus
A gyrus is a ridge on the cerebral cortex. It is generally surrounded by one or more sulci .-Notable gyri:* Superior frontal gyrus, lat. gyrus frontalis superior* Middle frontal gyrus, lat. gyrus frontalis medius...

 pattern more complex and with more numerous convolutes, or brain folds, than that of humans, primates or carnivores, but less complex than cetaceans. However, the cortex of the elephant brain is "thicker than that of cetaceans" and is believed to have as many cortical neurons (nerve cells) and cortical synapse
Synapse
In the nervous system, a synapse is a structure that permits a neuron to pass an electrical or chemical signal to another cell...

s as that of humans, which exceeds that of cetaceans.

Senses

Elephants have well innervated trunks, and an exceptional sense of hearing and smell. The hearing receptors reside not only in ears, but also in trunks that are sensitive to vibrations, and most significantly feet, which have special receptors for low frequency sound and are exceptionally well innervated. Elephants communicate by sound over large distances of several kilometers partly through the ground, which is important for their social lives. Elephants are observed listening by putting trunks on the ground and carefully positioning their feet.

The eyesight of elephants is relatively poor.

Self-awareness

Mirror self recognition
Mirror test
The mirror test is a measure of self-awareness, as animals either possess or lack the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror.The test was developed by Gordon Gallup Jr. in 1970, based in part on observations made by Charles Darwin. While visiting a zoo, Darwin held a mirror up to an orangutan...

 is a test of self-awareness and cognition used in animal studies. A mirror was provided and visible marks were made on the elephant. The elephants investigated these marks, which were visible only via the mirror. The tests also included invisible marks to rule out the possibility of their using other senses to detect these marks. This shows that elephants recognize the fact that the image in the mirror is their own self, and such abilities are considered the basis for empathy, altruism and higher social interactions. This ability has also been demonstrated in humans, apes, bottlenose dolphin
Bottlenose Dolphin
Bottlenose dolphins, the genus Tursiops, are the most common and well-known members of the family Delphinidae, the family of oceanic dolphins. Recent molecular studies show the genus contains two species, the common bottlenose dolphin and the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin , instead of one...

s, and magpies.

Communication

Elephants make a number of sounds when communicating. Elephants are famous for their trumpet calls, which are made when the animal blows through its nostrils. Trumpeting is usually made during excitement. Its use varies from startlement to a cry of help to rage. Elephants also make rumbling growls when greeting each other. The growl becomes a bellow when the mouth is open and a bellow becomes a moan when prolonged. This can escalate with a roar
Roar (animal)
A roar is a deep, bellowing outburst of sound forced through an open mouth. It is produced by animals of certain species. A roar is usually made using hyoid, a small bone which is not completely rigid in adults. Animals roar for various reasons, including territorial proclamation, communication...

 when threatening another elephant or another animal.

Elephants can communicate over long distances by producing and receiving low-frequency sound (infrasound
Infrasound
Infrasound is sound that is lower in frequency than 20 Hz or cycles per second, the "normal" limit of human hearing. Hearing becomes gradually less sensitive as frequency decreases, so for humans to perceive infrasound, the sound pressure must be sufficiently high...

), a sub-sonic rumbling, which can travel in the air and through the ground much farther than higher frequencies. These calls range in frequency from 15–35 Hz and can be as loud as 117 dB, allowing communication for many kilometres, with a possible maximum range of around 10 km. This sound can be felt by the sensitive skin of an elephant's feet and trunk, which pick up the resonant vibrations much as the flat skin on the head of a drum. To listen attentively, every member of the herd will lift one foreleg from the ground, and face the source of the sound, or often lay its trunk on the ground. The lifting presumably increases the ground contact and sensitivity of the remaining legs. This ability is thought also to aid their navigation by use of external sources of infrasound. Discovery of this new aspect of elephant social communication and perception came with breakthroughs in audio technology, which can pick up frequencies outside the range of the human ear. Pioneering research in elephant infrasound communication was done by Katy Payne, of the Elephant Listening Project, and is detailed in her book Silent Thunder. Though this research is still in its infancy, it is helping to solve many mysteries, such as how elephants can find distant potential mates, and how social groups are able to coordinate their movements over extensive range. Joyce Poole has also begun decoding elephant utterances that have been recorded over many years of observation, hoping to create a lexicon based on a systematic catalogue of elephant sounds.

Diet

Elephants are herbivore
Herbivore
Herbivores are organisms that are anatomically and physiologically adapted to eat plant-based foods. Herbivory is a form of consumption in which an organism principally eats autotrophs such as plants, algae and photosynthesizing bacteria. More generally, organisms that feed on autotrophs in...

s, and spend up to 16 hours a day eating plants. Their diets are highly variable, both seasonally and across habitats and regions. Elephants are primarily browsers, feeding on the leaves, bark, and fruits of trees and shrubs, but they may also eat considerable grasses and herbs. As is true for other nonruminant ungulates, elephants only digest approximately 40% of what they eat. They make up for their digestive systems' lack of efficiency in volume. An adult elephant consumes 140–270 kg (300–600 lb) of food a day.

Sleep

The average sleep time of an elephant is said to be only two plus hours per day. This is thought to be because they are so big they have to eat most of the time.

Elephant calves

Female elephant social life revolves around breeding and raising of the calves. A female will usually be ready to breed around the age of thirteen, when she comes into estrus
Estrous cycle
The estrous cycle comprises the recurring physiologic changes that are induced by reproductive hormones in most mammalian placental females. Estrous cycles start after puberty in sexually mature females and are interrupted by anestrous phases or pregnancies...

, a short phase of receptiveness lasting a couple of days, for the first time. Females announce their estrus with smell signals and special calls.
Females prefer bigger, stronger, and, most importantly, older males. Such a reproductive strategy tends to increase their offspring's chances of survival.

After a twenty-two-month pregnancy, the mother gives birth to a calf that weighs about 115 kg (250 lb) and stands over 75 cm (2.5 ft) tall. Elephants have a very long development. As is common with more intelligent species, they are born with fewer survival instincts than many other animals. Instead, they rely on their elders to teach them what they need to know. Today, however, the pressures humans have put on the wild elephant populations, from poaching to habitat destruction, mean that the elderly often die at a younger age, leaving fewer teachers for the young. The consequences of this for the next generation are not known.

A new calf is usually the center of attention for herd members. Adults and most of the other young will gather around the newborn, touching and caressing it with their trunks. The baby is born nearly blind and at first relies almost completely on its trunk to discover the world around it.

Elephants within a herd are usually related, and all members of the tightly-knit female group participate in the care and protection of the young. After the initial excitement, the mother will usually select several full-time baby-sitters, or "allomothers", from her group. An elephant is considered an allomother when she is not able to have her own calf. The more allomothers, the better the calf's chances of survival. A benefit of being an allomother is that she can gain experience or receive assistance when caring for her own calf. According to Cynthia Moss, a well known researcher, these allomothers will help in all aspects of raising the calf. They walk with the young as the herd travels, helping the calves along if they fall or get stuck in the mud. The more allomothers a calf has, the more free time its mother has to feed herself. Providing a calf with nutritious milk means the mother has to eat more nutritious food herself.

Effect on the environment

Elephants can have profound impacts on the ecosystems they occupy, and both positive and negative effects on other species especially with their foraging activities. By pulling down trees to eat leaves, breaking branches, and pulling out roots, they reduce woody cover, creating clearings in forests, converting forests to savannas, and converting savannas to grasslands. These changes tend to benefit grazers at the expense of browsers.

Dung beetle
Dung beetle
Dung beetles are beetles that feed partly or exclusively on feces. All of these species belong to the superfamily Scarabaeoidea; most of them to the subfamilies Scarabaeinae and Aphodiinae of the family Scarabaeidae. This beetle can also be referred to as the scarab beetle. As most species of...

s and termite
Termite
Termites are a group of eusocial insects that, until recently, were classified at the taxonomic rank of order Isoptera , but are now accepted as the epifamily Termitoidae, of the cockroach order Blattodea...

s both eat elephant feces. During the dry season, elephants use their tusks to dig into river beds to reach underground sources of water. These holes may then become essential sources of water
Water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

 for other species. Elephants make paths through their environment that are used by other animals. Some of these pathways have apparently been used by several generations of elephants, used by humans and eventually even been converted to roads.

Threats

Hunting

The threat to the African elephant presented by the ivory trade
Ivory trade
The ivory trade is the commercial, often illegal trade in the ivory tusks of the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, mammoth, and most commonly, Asian and African elephants....

 is unique to the species. Larger, long-lived, slow-breeding animals, like the elephant, are more susceptible to overhunting than other animals. They cannot hide, and it takes many years for an elephant to grow and reproduce. An elephant needs an average of 140 kg (300 lb) of vegetation a day to survive. As large predators are hunted, the local small grazer populations (the elephant's food competitors) find themselves on the rise. The increased number of herbivores ravage the local trees, shrubs, and grasses. Elephants themselves have few natural predators besides man and, occasionally, lions. However, many African governments legally allow limited hunting. The large amount of money that is charged for the necessary permits is often used to support conservation efforts, and the small number of permits issued (usually for older animals) ensure that populations are not depleted.

At the turn of the 20th century, it is estimated that elephants numbered between 5 and 10 million, but hunting and habitat destruction had reduced their numbers to 400,000 to 500,000 by the end of the century. In the ten years preceding 1990 the population more than halved from 1.3 million to around 600,000, largely caused by the ivory trade
Ivory trade
The ivory trade is the commercial, often illegal trade in the ivory tusks of the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, mammoth, and most commonly, Asian and African elephants....

, prompting an international ivory ban. While elephant populations are increasing in parts of southern and eastern Africa, other African nations report a decrease of their elephant populations by as much as two-thirds, and populations in even some protected areas are in danger of being eliminated Chad
Chad
Chad , officially known as the Republic of Chad, is a landlocked country in Central Africa. It is bordered by Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest, and Niger to the west...

 has a decades-old history of poaching of elephants, which has caused the elephant population of the region, which exceeded 300,000 in 1970, to drop to approximately 10,000 today. In Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park
The Virunga National Park , formerly named Albert National Park, is a 7800 square km National Park that stretches from the Virunga Mountains in the South, to the Rwenzori Mountains in the North, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, bordering Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Rwenzori...

, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the number of elephants living in the observable area of the park fell from 2,889 in 1951 to 348 in 2006.

Habitat loss

Another threat to elephants' survival in general is the ongoing cultivation of their habitats with increasing risk of conflicts of interest with human cohabitants. These conflicts kill 150 elephants and up to 100 people per year in Sri Lanka. The Asian elephants' demise can be attributed mostly to loss of its habitat.

As larger patches of forest disappear, the ecosystem is affected in profound ways. The trees are responsible for anchoring soil and absorbing water runoff. Floods and massive erosion are common results of deforestation. Elephants need massive tracts of land because, much like the slash-and-burn farmers, they are used to crashing through the forest, tearing down trees and shrubs for food and then cycling back later on, when the area has regrown. As forests are reduced to small pockets, elephants become part of the problem, quickly destroying all the vegetation in an area, eliminating all their resources.

National parks

Africa's first official reserve, Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It covers and extends from north to south and from east to west.To the west and south of the Kruger National Park are the two South African provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. In the north is Zimbabwe, and to the east is...

, eventually became one of the world's most famous and successful national parks. There are, however, many problems associated with the establishment of these reserves. For example, elephants range through a wide tract of land with little regard for national borders. Once a reserve is established and fences erected, many animals find themselves cut off from their winter feeding grounds or spring breeding areas. Some animals may die as a result, while others, like the elephants, may just trample over the fences, wreaking havoc in nearby fields. When confined to small territories, elephants can inflict an enormous amount of damage to the local landscapes.

Additionally, some reserves, such as Kruger National Park has, in the opinion of wildlife managers, suffered from elephant overcrowding, at the expense of other species of wildlife within the reserve. On 25 February 2008, the South Africa announced that they would reintroduce culling for the first time since 1994 to control elephant numbers although no cull has yet taken place. Nevertheless, as scientists learn more about nature and the environment, it becomes very clear that these parks may be the elephants' last hope against the rapidly changing world around them.

Fertilizer

At Bengkulu
Bengkulu
Bengkulu is a province of Indonesia. It is on the southwest coast of the island of Sumatra, and borders the provinces of West Sumatra, Jambi, South Sumatra and Lampung. The capital and largest city is Bengkulu city. It was formerly the site of a British garrison, which they called Bencoolen...

 province in Indonesia
Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

, four elephants died and based on the autopsy of one of them there was a high content of nitrogen in its body. The initial suspicion is the elephants had eaten fertilizer spread around trees in the plantation. The elephants may have been after the salt in the fertilizer and that would have led to their deaths.

Humans and elephants

Hunting

Elephant hunting, both legal and illegal, has had some unexpected consequences on elephant anatomy as well. African ivory hunters
Ivory trade
The ivory trade is the commercial, often illegal trade in the ivory tusks of the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, mammoth, and most commonly, Asian and African elephants....

, by killing only tusked elephants, have given a much larger chance of mating to elephants with small tusks or no tusks at all. The propagation of the absent-tusk gene has resulted in the birth of large numbers of tuskless elephants, now approaching 30% in some populations (compare with a rate of about 1% in 1930). Tusklessness, once a rare genetic abnormality, has become a widespread hereditary trait.

It is possible, if unlikely, that continued selection pressure could bring about a complete absence of tusks in African elephants. The effect of tuskless elephants on the environment, and on the elephants themselves, could be dramatic. Elephants use their tusks to root around in the ground for necessary minerals, tear apart vegetation, and spar with one another for mating rights. Without tusks, elephant behaviour could change dramatically.

Domestication and use

Elephants have been working animals used in various capacities by humans. Seals found in the Indus Valley suggest that the elephant was first domesticated in ancient India. However, elephants have never been truly domesticated: the male elephant in his periodic condition of musth
Musth
Musth or must is a periodic condition in bull elephants, characterized by highly aggressive behavior, accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones - testosterone levels in an elephant in musth can be as much as 60 times greater than in the same elephant at other times...

 is dangerous and difficult to control. Therefore, elephants used by humans have typically been female, war elephant
War elephant
A war elephant was an elephant trained and guided by humans for combat. Their main use was to charge the enemy, trampling them and breaking their ranks. A division of war elephants is known as elephantry....

s being an exception; as female elephants in battle will run from a male, only males could be used in war. It is generally more economical to capture wild young elephants and tame them than to breed them in captivity (see also elephant "crushing").
The Laotians
Laos
Laos Lao: ສາທາລະນະລັດ ປະຊາທິປະໄຕ ປະຊາຊົນລາວ Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west...

 have been domesticating elephants for centuries, and about 500 domesticated elephants are still employed, the majority of which work in the Xaignabouli
Xaignabouli
Sainyabuli, Xaignabouli or Xayaboury is the capital of Sainyabuli Province, Laos. It lies along Route 4 which along with Route 13 connects it to Luang Prabang, roughly 80 kilometres northeast by road and to the Thai border in the southwest. A passport control point is located in the area...

 province. These elephants are mainly employed in the logging industry, with ecotourism emerging as a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative. Elefantasia
Elefantasia
ElefantAsia is a non-profit organisation dedicated towards the protection of the Asian elephant, Elephas maximus. This organisation operates in Laos PDR where today there are only 1500 Asian elephants remaining, 560 of these domesticated and working with their mahouts.Created by Sebastien...

 is a local INGO aiming to reconvert logging elephants into ecotourism practices, thus allowing Asian elephants the ability to supply their mahouts with income while still allowing them to breed.

Elephants are also commonly exhibited in zoos and wild animal parks
Safari park
A safari park, sometimes known as a wildlife park, is a zoo-like commercial tourist attraction where visitors can drive in their own vehicles or ride in vehicles provided by the facility to observe freely roaming animals...

. About 1200 elephants are kept in western zoos. A study shows that the lifespan of elephants in European zoos is about half as long as those living in protected areas in Africa and Asia. , the oldest living African elephant in captivity is Ruaha (59) at Zoo Basel
Zoo Basel
Zoo Basel is a non-profit zoo located within the city of Basel, Switzerland. Its official name is Zoologischer Garten Basel — or in English: Basel Zoological Garden. Basel residents, however, call their zoo affectionately Zolli...

 .

Elephants are revered in India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 (and are worshipped in ceremonies such as the Aanayoottu
Aanayoottu
The Aanayoottu is a festival held in the precincts of the Vadakkunnathan temple in Thrissur city, in Kerala. The festival falls on the first day of the month of Karkkidakam , which coincides with the month of July...

).

Warfare

War elephants were used by armies in the India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

n subcontinent, the Warring States
Warring States Period
The Warring States Period , also known as the Era of Warring States, or the Warring Kingdoms period, covers the Iron Age period from about 475 BC to the reunification of China under the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC...

 of China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, and later by the Persian Empire. This use was adopted by Hellenistic armies after Alexander the Great experienced their worth against King Porus, notably in the Ptolemaic
Ptolemaic dynasty
The Ptolemaic dynasty, was a Macedonian Greek royal family which ruled the Ptolemaic Empire in Egypt during the Hellenistic period. Their rule lasted for 275 years, from 305 BC to 30 BC...

 and Seleucid diadoch empires. The Carthaginian
Carthage
Carthage , implying it was a 'new Tyre') is a major urban centre that has existed for nearly 3,000 years on the Gulf of Tunis, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC...

 general Hannibal
Hannibal Barca
Hannibal, son of Hamilcar Barca Hannibal's date of death is most commonly given as 183 BC, but there is a possibility it could have taken place in 182 BC. was a Carthaginian military commander and tactician. He is generally considered one of the greatest military commanders in history...

 took elephants across the Alps
Alps
The Alps is one of the great mountain range systems of Europe, stretching from Austria and Slovenia in the east through Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany to France in the west....

 when he was fighting the Romans
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

, but brought too few elephants to be of much military use, although his horse cavalry was quite successful; he probably used a now-extinct third African subspecies, the North African forest elephant, smaller than its two southern cousins, and presumably easier to domesticate. A large elephant in full charge could cause tremendous damage to infantry, and cavalry horses would be afraid of them (see Battle of Hydaspes).

In the Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia, South-East Asia, South East Asia or Southeastern Asia is a subregion of Asia, consisting of the countries that are geographically south of China, east of India, west of New Guinea and north of Australia. The region lies on the intersection of geological plates, with heavy seismic...

, the powerful Khmer Empire had come to regional dominance by the 9th century AD, drawing heavily on the use of war elephants. With the collapse of Khmer power in the 15th century, the successor region powers of Burma (now Myanmar) and Siam (now Thailand) also adopted the widespread use of war elephants. A notable example of a battle using elephants in Southeast Asia is Yuttahadhi.

Industry

Throughout Myanmar
Myanmar
Burma , officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar , is a country in Southeast Asia. Burma is bordered by China on the northeast, Laos on the east, Thailand on the southeast, Bangladesh on the west, India on the northwest, the Bay of Bengal to the southwest, and the Andaman Sea on the south....

 (Burma), Siam
Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

, India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, and most of South Asia, elephants were used in the military for heavy labour, especially for uprooting trees and moving logs, and were also commonly used as executioners to crush the condemned underfoot
Crushing by elephant
Execution by elephant was a common method of capital punishment in South and Southeast Asia, and particularly in India. Asian Elephants were used to crush, dismember, or torture captives in public executions. The animals were trained and versatile, both able to kill victims immediately or to...

.

Elephants have also been used as mounts for safari-type hunting
Hunting
Hunting is the practice of pursuing any living thing, usually wildlife, for food, recreation, or trade. In present-day use, the term refers to lawful hunting, as distinguished from poaching, which is the killing, trapping or capture of the hunted species contrary to applicable law...

, especially Indian shikar (mainly on tigers), and as ceremonial mounts for royal and religious occasions, while Asian elephants have been used for transport
Transport
Transport or transportation is the movement of people, cattle, animals and goods from one location to another. Modes of transport include air, rail, road, water, cable, pipeline, and space. The field can be divided into infrastructure, vehicles, and operations...

 and entertainment
Entertainment
Entertainment consists of any activity which provides a diversion or permits people to amuse themselves in their leisure time. Entertainment is generally passive, such as watching opera or a movie. Active forms of amusement, such as sports, are more often considered to be recreation...

.

Zoo and circuses

There is growing resistance against the capture, confinement, and use of wild elephants. Animal rights advocates allege elephants in zoos and circuses "suffer a life of chronic physical ailments, social deprivation, emotional starvation, and premature death". Zoos argue that standards for treatment of elephants are extremely high and minimum requirements for such things as minimum space requirements, enclosure design, nutrition, reproduction, enrichment and veterinary care are set to ensure the well-being of elephants in captivity. However, elephants in zoos have a reduced life-span and reproduction compared to working elephants in timber camps and in a survey of elephants in the UK, 54% of the elephants showed stereotypical
Stereotypy (non-human)
In animal behavior, stereotypy, stereotypical or stereotyped behavior has several meanings, leading to ambiguity in the scientific literature. The terms usually refer to Stereotypy, repetitive behaviors in captive animals, particularly those given inadequate mental stimulation...

 behaviour. Circuses continue to have a mixed record. Recently, the city of Los Angeles
Los Ángeles
Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...

 closed an elephant act with Circus Vazquez due to numerous instances of abuse and neglect (April 2008), and according to PETA
Peta
Peta can refer to:* peta-, an SI prefix denoting a factor of 1015* Peta, Greece, a town in Greece* Peta, the Pāli word for a Preta, or hungry ghost in Buddhism* Peta Wilson, an Australian actress and model* Peta Todd, English glamour model...

, 27 elephants owned by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is an American circus company. The company was started when the circus created by James Anthony Bailey and P. T. Barnum was merged with the Ringling Brothers Circus. The Ringling brothers purchased the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1907, but ran the circuses...

 have died since 1992.

Elephants have traditionally been a major part of circuses around the world, being intelligent enough to be trained in a variety of acts (see for example P.T. Barnum's Jumbo
Jumbo
Jumbo was a large African Bush Elephant, born 1861 in the French Sudan – present-day Mali – imported to a Paris zoo, transferred to the London Zoo in 1865, and sold in 1882 to P. T...

 and John L. Sullivan
John L. Sullivan (elephant)
John L. Sullivan, , was a tuskless, male Asian elephant, was a performer in the Adam Forepaugh Circus and, later, in the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus.-Biography:...

, the famous "Boxing Elephant"). However, conditions for circus elephants are unnatural (confinement in small pens or cages, restraints on their feet, lack of companionship of other elephants). Perhaps as a result, there are occasional instances of them turning on their keepers or handlers (examples include Black Diamond
Black Diamond (elephant)
-History:Weighing nine tons, he was believed to be the largest Indian elephant in captivity. A good worker but prone to fits of temper, he was generally kept chained to two calm female elephants during parades through the towns the circus visited. On October 12, 1929, while being unloaded in...

 and "Murderous Mary").

Elephants raised in captivity sometimes show "rocking behavior", a rhythmic and repetitive swaying which is unreported in free-ranging wild elephants. Thought to be symptomatic of stress disorders, and probably made worse by a barren environment, rocking behavior may be a precursor to aggressive behavior in captive elephants. This link is to an image of Devi (little princess), a 30-year-old Asian elephant raised in captivity at the San Diego Zoo showing "rocking behavior".

Hybrids

African and Asian elephant species have disjunct distributions, and do not hybridize in the wild. However, in 1978 at Chester Zoo
Chester Zoo
Chester Zoo is a zoological garden at Upton-by-Chester, in Cheshire, England. It was opened in 1931 by George Mottershead and his family, who used as a basis some animals reported to have come from an earlier zoo in Shavington. It is one of the UK's largest zoos at...

, an Asian elephant cow gave birth to a hybrid calf sired by an African elephant bull. "Motty
Motty
Motty was the only proven hybrid between an Asian and an African elephant. He was named after George Mottershead, who founded the Chester Zoo in 1931...

", the resulting hybrid male calf, had an African elephant's cheeks, ears (large with pointed lobes) and legs (longer and slimmer), but the toenail numbers, (5 for each front foot, 4 hind) and the single trunk finger of an Asian elephant. His wrinkled trunk was like that of an African elephant. His forehead was sloping with one dome and two smaller domes behind it. The body was African in type, but had an Asian-type center hump and an African-type rear hump. The calf died of infection 12 days later. It is preserved as a mounted specimen at the British Natural History Museum
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is one of three large museums on Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, England . Its main frontage is on Cromwell Road...

, London. There are unconfirmed rumors of three other hybrid elephants born in zoos or circuses; all are said to have been deformed and none survived.

Elephant aggression

Despite their popularity in zoos, and portrayal as gentle giants in fiction, elephants are among the world's most dangerous animals. They can crush and kill any other land animal, even the rhinoceros
Rhinoceros
Rhinoceros , also known as rhino, is a group of five extant species of odd-toed ungulates in the family Rhinocerotidae. Two of these species are native to Africa and three to southern Asia....

. They can experience bouts of rage, and engage in actions that have been interpreted as vindictive. In Africa, groups of young teenage elephants attacked human villages after culling
Culling
Culling is the process of removing animals from a group based on specific criteria. This is done either to reinforce certain desirable characteristics or to remove certain undesirable characteristics from the group...

s done in the 1970s and 80s. In India, male elephants attack villages at night, destroying homes and killing people regularly. In the Indian state of Jharkhand
Jharkhand
Jharkhand is a state in eastern India. It was carved out of the southern part of Bihar on 15 November 2000. Jharkhand shares its border with the states of Bihar to the north, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to the west, Orissa to the south, and West Bengal to the east...

, 300 people were killed by elephants between 2000 and 2004, and in Assam, 239 people were reported killed by elephants between 2001 and 2006.

Musth


Adult male elephants naturally periodically enter the state called musth
Musth
Musth or must is a periodic condition in bull elephants, characterized by highly aggressive behavior, accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones - testosterone levels in an elephant in musth can be as much as 60 times greater than in the same elephant at other times...

 (Hindi for "madness"), sometimes spelled "must" in English. Elephants in musth display highly aggressive behavior and elevated levels of reproductive hormones.

Other causes

Local people have reported their belief that some elephants were drunk during their attacks, although there is no confirmed evidence of this. In December 1998, a herd of elephants overran a village in India. Although locals reported that nearby elephants had recently been observed drinking beer which rendered them "unpredictable", officials considered it the least likely explanation for the attack. An attack on another Indian village occurred in October 1999, and again locals believed the reason was drunkenness, but again the theory was not widely accepted. Purportedly drunk elephants raided yet another Indian village again on December 2002, killing six people, which led to the killing of about 200 elephants by locals.

In popular culture

Elephants are ubiquitous in Western popular culture
Popular culture
Popular culture is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the...

 as emblems of the exotic
Exotic pet
An exotic pet is a rare or unusual animal pet, or an animal kept as a pet which is not commonly thought of as a pet.The definition is an evolving one; some rodents, reptiles, and amphibians have become firmly enough established in the world of animal fancy to no longer be considered exotic...

 because their unique appearance and size sets them apart from other animals and because, like other African animals such as the giraffe
Giraffe
The giraffe is an African even-toed ungulate mammal, the tallest of all extant land-living animal species, and the largest ruminant...

, rhinoceros
Rhinoceros
Rhinoceros , also known as rhino, is a group of five extant species of odd-toed ungulates in the family Rhinocerotidae. Two of these species are native to Africa and three to southern Asia....

, and hippopotamus
Hippopotamus
The hippopotamus , or hippo, from the ancient Greek for "river horse" , is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal in sub-Saharan Africa, and one of only two extant species in the family Hippopotamidae After the elephant and rhinoceros, the hippopotamus is the third largest land mammal and the heaviest...

, they are unfamiliar to Western audiences. Popular culture's stock references to elephants rely on this exotic uniqueness. For instance, a "white elephant
White elephant
A white elephant is an idiom for a valuable but burdensome possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth...

" is a byword for something expensive, useless and bizarre.

As characters, elephants are relegated largely to children's literature
Children's literature
Children's literature is for readers and listeners up to about age twelve; it is often defined in four different ways: books written by children, books written for children, books chosen by children, or books chosen for children. It is often illustrated. The term is used in senses which sometimes...

, in which they are generally cast as models of exemplary behaviour, but account for some of this branch of literature's most iconic characters. Many stories tell of isolated young elephants returning to a close-knit community, such as The Elephant’s Child from Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English poet, short-story writer, and novelist chiefly remembered for his celebration of British imperialism, tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children. Kipling received the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature...

's Just So Stories
Just So Stories
The Just So Stories for Little Children were written by British author Rudyard Kipling. They are highly fantasised origin stories and are among Kipling's best known works.-Description:...

 (1902), Dumbo
Dumbo
Dumbo is a 1941 American animated film produced by Walt Disney and released on October 23, 1941, by RKO Radio Pictures.The fourth film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, Dumbo is based upon the storyline written by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Pearl for the prototype of a...

 (1942) or The Saggy Baggy Elephant (1947). Other elephant heroes given human qualities include Laurent de Brunhoff
Laurent de Brunhoff
Laurent de Brunhoff is an author and illustrator, known primarily for continuing the Babar series of children's books, created by his father, Jean de Brunhoff....

's anthropomorphic Babar
Babar the Elephant
Babar the Elephant is a French children's fictional character who first appeared in Histoire de Babar by Jean de Brunhoff in 1931 and enjoyed immediate success. An English language version, entitled The Story of Babar, appeared in 1933 in Britain and also in the United States. The book is based on...

 (1935), David McKee
David McKee
David McKee is a British author and illustrator, chiefly of children's books and animations. He has used the pseudonym Violet Easton. He is frequently referenced as David McKee.-Biography:...

's Elmer
Elmer the Patchwork Elephant
Elmer the Patchwork Elephant is a children's picture book series by the British author David McKee. They are published in the United Kingdom by Andersen Press. Over 20 book titles have been created since 1989, and it has sold nearly 5 million copies in 40 languages around the world. The Japanese...

 (1989) and Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss
Theodor Seuss Geisel was an American writer, poet, and cartoonist most widely known for his children's books written under the pen names Dr. Seuss, Theo LeSieg and, in one case, Rosetta Stone....

's Horton
Horton the Elephant
Horton the Elephant is a fictional character from the books Horton Hatches the Egg and Horton Hears a Who!, both by Dr. Seuss. Horton is a kind, sweet-natured elephant who cares about other animals or people...

 (1940). More than other exotic animals, elephants in fiction are surrogates for human
Human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

s, with their concern for the community and each other depicted as something to aspire to.

The use of the elephant as a symbol of the Republican Party (United States)
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

 began with an 1874 cartoon by Thomas Nast
Thomas Nast
Thomas Nast was a German-born American caricaturist and editorial cartoonist who is considered to be the "Father of the American Cartoon". He was the scourge of Boss Tweed and the Tammany Hall machine...

.

The University of Alabama
University of Alabama
The University of Alabama is a public coeducational university located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, United States....

 has a mascot of an elephant named Big Al (mascot)
Big Al (mascot)
Big Al is the costumed mascot of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.The origin of the mascot dates back to 1930. On October 8, a sportswriter wrote about the previous weekend's Alabama-Ole Miss football game...

.

See also

  • Elephantidae
    Elephantidae
    Elephantidae is a taxonomic family, collectively elephants and mammoths. These are terrestrial large mammals with a trunk and tusks. Most genera and species in the family are extinct...

  • Elephants in Kerala culture
  • Elephant's graveyard
    Elephant's graveyard
    An elephant graveyard is a place where, according to legend, older elephants instinctively direct themselves when they reach a certain age. They then die there alone, far from the group....

  • Execution by elephant
  • History of elephants in Europe
    History of elephants in Europe
    The history of elephants in Europe dates back to the ice ages, when mammoths roamed the northern parts of the Earth, from Europe to North America There was also the dwarf elephant of Cyprus , Sicily-Malta and mainland The history of elephants in Europe dates back to the ice ages, when mammoths...

  • Mela shikar
    Mela shikar
    Mela shikar is a traditional method of capturing wild elephants for captive use. The process involves lassoing a wild elephant from the back of a trained one, called a koonki. This practice is prevalent in the north eastern part of India, especially in Assam and is one of the methods seen in...

  • Ivory trade
    Ivory trade
    The ivory trade is the commercial, often illegal trade in the ivory tusks of the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, mammoth, and most commonly, Asian and African elephants....

  • Year of the Elephant
    Year of the Elephant
    The Year of the Elephant is the name in Islamic history for the year approximately equating to 570 AD. According to Islamic tradition, it was in this year that Muhammad was born...

    /Al-Fil
  • List of elephants in mythology and religion
  • List of fictional elephants
  • List of historical elephants

Further reading

  • Wikisource: "The Blindmen and the Elephant" by John Godfrey Saxe
    John Godfrey Saxe
    John Godfrey Saxe I was an American poet perhaps best known for his re-telling of the Indian parable "The Blindmen and the Elephant", which introduced the story to a Western audience.-Biography:...


External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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