17 Giraffe facts you need to know – Africa Geographic

The African elephant (Loxodonta africana) is the largest land mammal in the world and one of nature’s greatest ecosystem engineers, a major contributor to maintaining the balance between forested and grassy ecosystems.

Their beneficial impact on biodiversity in large unfenced ecosystems and their potentially negative impact on biodiversity in fenced environments make them a keystone species in Africa.

Here are 17 facts about African elephants that you need to know:

1. There are about 50,000 muscles in an elephant’s trunk, made up of six muscle groups, and no bones.

The closest thing we have to an elephant’s trunk is our tongue.

Elephants use their trunks to breathe, drink, eat, smell, dive, wrestle, communicate, touch, feel, hold, grab and pull.

For more information read our article Can elephants run or just walk faster?

3. Elephants are either left-handed or right-handed.

They are born not knowing how to use their trees and learn as they grow.

Like humans, they show a preference between grasping objects on the left or right.

You can tell which side the elephants prefer – the tusks are shorter on the preferred side (because they wear more on that side).

4. It is estimated that an elephant’s sense of smell is four times that of bloodshed or 160 times that of a human.

They can smell water from many kilometers away.

5. Many tree species rely on elephants to spread their seeds.

Many seeds are more likely to germinate after passing through an elephant’s gut.

Elephants transport these seeds many kilometers as they process their food, before depositing them in their dung – a vital fertilizer and moisture package for those seeds and the engine of life.

6. During the dry season, elephants provide access to water for other species.

They dig holes in dry riverbeds to reach deep water – opening the water to other species that are unable to dig.

They also enlarge and compact the mud which is rolled to form large bowls that fill with water – again providing water for other species.

7. Elephants are the heaviest land mammals, at 4 to 7 tons, and the second tallest land mammal (behind the giraffe) at 3.1 to 3.4 meters at the shoulder.

The largest recorded elephant weighed 10.9 tons and measured 3.9 meters at the shoulder.

8. Elephant herds are led by older cows (matriarchs), and young bulls form their own smaller herds after leaving the breeding herd.

Old bulls often wander alone, or with a few mates (often called askaris), meeting the breeding herds when the cows come into season.

9. Elephants live from 50 to 70 years.

Bulls begin to contribute to the genetic pool only at 35 to 40 years of age, and cows begin to reproduce at 12 to 14 years of age.

Cows go through the longest gestation period of all mammals – they are pregnant for 22 months.

Bull elephants occasionally go into urine, when testosterone levels are up to 60 times higher than normal.

Elephants mourn their dead and perform ritual greetings at old corpses – they cover the bodies of deceased elephants with plants and often visit old corpses to linger, gently touch and pick up bones.

Bull elephants have internal testicles, much like the rock hyrax – a rodent-like mammal closely related to the elephant.

Elephants can detect seismic signals through their feet, through their legs and shoulder bones, and into their middle ear.

Elephants starve to death when their teeth wear out.

They produce six sets of teeth in their lifetime, with each set pushing forward from the back of the jaw to replace worn teeth at the front.

After six such series, the elephants lose teeth, cannot chew food, lose fitness and either fall victim to disease or predators or die of starvation.

This is in contrast to humans, where one set of adult teeth is produced from the upper and lower jaws to replace the original set of baby teeth.

An adult elephant needs up to 300 kg of food and 160 liters of water per day.

African elephants are listed as CITES I (threatened with extinction) in all African countries except Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, where they are listed as CITES II (not necessarily endangered, but where trade must be controlled to avoid use incompatible with their survival).

On average, 96 elephants are poached each day for their ivory – out of an estimated total population of 350,000 savannah elephants.

The population of savannah elephants declined by 8% per year in the period from 2007 to 2014.

It is estimated that only 25 to 30 ‘tusks’ (bulls with tusks weighing over 45 kg on each side) remain, and poachers and trophy hunters threaten the remaining individual elephants.

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