With their enormous, lumbering bodies; their kind, thoughtful eyes; and those long, silly trunks, elephants are skilled at capturing our hearts and imaginations. People around the world adore elephants. Yet humans are persistently the most harmful threat to the largest land mammals on Earth.
August 12 is World Elephant Day— a chance to celebrate elephants and bring attention to their fragile existence. If we don’t find ways to put a stop to the damage that people are doing to the elephant population, future generations will not have an opportunity to appreciate these beautiful creatures.
Discover Corps volunteers who join our Elephant Conservation Expedition have the opportunity to interact with Asian elephants in Northern Thailand. Deforestation has forced many Asian elephants out of their natural habitat, an issue that inspired a Thai family to build a place where elephants can live, surrounded by lush trees. Our volunteers experience the importance of elephants to the local people, and vice versa, while engaging with the elephants and the community that cares for them.
Elephants are fascinating creatures, so in honor of World Elephant Day, we’d like to dive into what makes them so interesting. Below you can read up on some fun elephant facts, and then visit WorldElephantDay.org to discover ways that you can help protect them.
20 Fascinating Facts About Elephants
1. All African elephants have tusks, but only some male Asian elephants have them. Female Asian elephants do not have tusks.
2. Just like people are typically “righties” or “lefties,” elephants will favor one tusk over the other for accomplishing tasks, from picking things up, stripping bark to eat from trees, defending themselves, and more. Due to wear and tear, their dominant tusk is shorter.
3. Adult male elephants often live in isolation, but female elephants organize themselves into complex social structuresthat include their calves. The matriarch, or female leader, is typically the oldest and largest female of the family.
4. Elephants love to play in the water, and it’s good for them, too! The buoyancy they experience when splashing around and swimming gives their joints a much needed break.
5. Their trunks are big and strong (weighing about 400 pounds and containing 100,000 different muscles). But they’re also very dexterous and capable of handling tiny tasks, like picking a single blade of grass.
6. Elephants are capable of producing several different types of sound, but the “trumpet” sound is the most recognizable. Elephants can hear each other trumpet from up to six miles away.
7. Touch is an important communication tool for elephants. Despite the thick, leathery feel of their skin, it’s packed with nerve endings and therefore very sensitive. When two elephants know one another, they will often say hello by wrapping their trunks together, or giving each other light, friendly taps on the body with their trunks.
8. Lin Wang was the oldest elephant ever recorded. He was an Asian elephant who died at 86.
9. Newborn elephants are born blind, but they stand up almost right away.
10. Elephant families are very democratic. Matriarchs are known to make many decisions for the rest of the group, but all members of the elephant family can contribute to the decision-making process.
11. Elephant moms can give birth until they’re about 50 years old.
12. According to recent research, elephants may have the most acute sense of smell among mammals.
13. Elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal, lasting 22 months.
14 An elephant’s tusk continues to grow throughout its lifetime. An adult male’s tusk will grow about 7 inches each year.
15. An elephant can suck about 14 liters of water into its trunk, and then blow it directly into its mouth. That is one efficient drinking straw!
16. The word “jumbo” has come to mean “huge,” thanks to the largest known elephant that has ever been recorded. Jumbo was his name, and the word is thought to have been derived from the Swahili word for “boss” or “chief.”
17. An elephant’s large ears are very handy in keeping them cool.
18. Baby elephants are known to suck their trunk for comfort, just as baby humans suck their thumbs.
19. Elephants throw sand on their backs to protect their skin from sunburn.
20. There have been several witnessed occurrences of elephants acting altruistically towards other animals, even when facing considerable danger to themselves.
Witnessing and interacting with elephants is a once in a lifetime opportunity. But the lifetimes of too many elephants are cut short. This World Elephant Day, let’s all do our part to raise awareness and help protect these gentle giants. –Britany Robinson
BIO: Britany Robinson is a freelance travel and culture writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her works appears in BBC Travel, Mashable, The Daily Dot and more. Her blog, Travel Write Away, shares advice and musings on travel writing. When she’s not planning her next big trip, she’s scoping out Portland craft beers and local hikes.