Natuca­tion: 7 Fun Facts About Elephants

Elephants are not only impressively giant but also extremely fascinating animals when it comes to intelligence and social behaviour. The following blog reveals more interesting details.


Nowadays, three species of elephant are distinguished: the African Savannah Elephant, the African Forest Elephant and the Asian Elephant.

What they all have in common: they are incredibly remarkable animals, which are not only characterized by an impressive body size, but also by high intelligence and complex social structures.

The following 7 fun facts reveal more about the fascinating gentle giants, focusing on the African representatives.

Elephants are the largest land mammals

Elephants are huge! More precisely, they are the largest mammal living on land.

They owe this record to their shoulder height of up to four metres (savannah elephant), an average length between four and five metres and a peak weight between four and seven tonnes.

Until the end of their lives, they gain little but steady body mass.


Elephants eat almost all day

African savannah elephants usually spend more than 17 hours a day feeding. During this time, they consume about one percent of their body weight in food.

In contrast, only 40 to 50 percent of the food consumed is utilised. Their diet consists lots of different grasses, leaves, roots, barks, fruits and seeds available depending on the season.

Drinking, on the other hand, is less constant – but as soon as they drink, elephants are quite committed: wherever possible, elephants drink once a day, consuming over 100 litres of water in one session. In drier areas, water absorption occurs only after two to three, sometimes even only after four days.


Elephants walk a lot and sleep little

The most active time for elephants is early morning, evening and around midnight. They move between feeding grounds, water holes and shady places.

Elephants often roam huge areas. In dry regions, elephants cover about 5 to 13 kilometres a day. Bulls in musth migrate about 10 to 17 kilometres a day. In the Namib Desert, elephants even cover distances of up to 70 kilometres to move between feeding grounds and watering places.

As African elephants spend most of their time feeding, they only sleep around noon and shortly after midnight. In total, they only sleep for about four hours a day.


Elephants have the longest gestation period among mammals

An elephant pregnancy takes about 640 to 660 days which equals around 22 months. An elephant cow is thus pregnant for almost two years – the longest gestation period among mammals.

Usually, only one calf is born which can already weigh 100 kilograms at birth. It is fully developed at birth and therefore quickly able to move with the herd.


Elephants are highly intelligent and emotional beings

Elephants have remarkable cognitive abilities and are considered to be emotional creatures with an amazing long-term memory. The brain of the African elephant is the largest of all land creatures living and ever lived on earth. Their intelligence and empathy is underlined by several examples:

  • Researchers found that elephants, when looking at themselves in the mirror, can recognize their own reflection.
  • In their search for food, the animals use their tusks and trunks as tools to remove bark from trees or dig up roots.
  • Elephants have been observed to feel grief, as evidenced by their handling of the mortal remains of other elephants: they touch their bones and hold a kind of wake.
  • Injured, helpless elephants are fed by the other herd members.

Elephants have a complex social structure

The social structure of African savannah elephants, especially the female ones, is one of the most complex in the animal kingdom.

Elephant cows and their youngsters typically form herds of about 10 individuals, each led by a matriarch which is usually the oldest female.

Several distantly related or familiar herds can in turn form communities of up to about 70 animal which alternately come together and separate.

If several different communities meet, it is called a clan meeting. This can include hundreds of elephants.

Herds and communities are characterized by a linear hierarchy – defined by the experience, size and social competence of each female - as well as by mutual support, protection from enemies and information exchange. If the mother of a calf dies, other females take care of it.

Male elephants leave their mothers and the herd as soon as they reach adulthood, and then live mostly solitary. Occasionally, however, young bulls form small hierarchical groups, especially during periods of sexual inactivity. However, the group formation is less strong than in female herds and many young bulls come and go on their own.

In sexually active phases, on the other hand, bulls separate from their group and go on their own in search of females willing to mate. Occasionally they join the herds of females for this purpose.


Elephants communicate a lot, in many different ways

Anyone who has such a distinctive social structure must also be able to communicate well. And that's what elephants do: for example by rumbling, roaring, grunting and trumpeting. Each sound has a different meaning, from partner or food search to warning other elephants.

For much of their communication, elephants also produce sounds that are in the infrasonic range. These sounds are below the range of human hearing and are therefore too low for us to perceive.

Other elephants can still hear the infrasonic sounds emitted from up to four kilometres away – and even from the ground. This is because the low-frequency sounds are not only transmitted through the air, but also via vibration waves. Elephants up to ten kilometres away can feel these seismic signals, the so-called substrate sound, again with their feet.

Elephants do not only communicate with sounds, though, but also with body language. Ears and trunk as well as varying head and body positions are important means of communication.

The trunk is used, among other things, for greeting, especially for palpation, while the ears are set to the side in case of danger, in order to appear larger and more threatening to the opponent. Ear waving, however, is probably only used for thermoregulation.


Protecting elephants with Natucate

When joining a volunteer project, a field course or a safari trip with Natucate, you can experience the fascinating mammals up close.

You have the chance to volunteer in Namibia, Zambia or Sri Lanka to become involved in elephant conservation, deepen your elephant knowledge during a field guide course in Africa or enjoy unforgettable encounters with the gentle giants when going on an Africa safari.

In our blog you can also find further information on elephants, their behaviour, characteristics and the challenges they face. Take a look at this:


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