African Elephants at the Okavango Delta.
African and Asian Elephants, the Two Remaining Species
Thousands of years ago elephants once inhabited many parts of the world including Europe and America. Their ancestors, the mammoths, could not adapt to earth's changing climate so only the elephants survived. Today, there are just two kinds of elephants, the African elephant and the Asian elephant. The Asian elephant is more commonly known as the Indian elephant even though they are found in Sri Lanka, Malaya, Burma, Thailand and Sumatra as well as India.
The elephant is the largest living land animal and can be as tall as 4 metres and weigh as much as 6,500 kgs. Even the baby elephants (calfs) can weigh as much as 100 kgs at birth. The skin of an adult elephant is a thick, rough grey colour and is almost hairless. All elephants legs are short and stocky as they need to be thick to support the weight of the elephant's body. They have two large floppy ears and two ivory tusks which stick out from the lower jaw. These tusks help the elephant to dig up roots for food and also serve as excellent weapons for defence. Elephants have small, weak eyes and a very small brain considering their huge size.
The trunk, which is really called a proboscis, dangles down from the elephant's head and is often considered to be the most remarkable part of its body. It is an extension of the nose and upper lip and is very flexible and strong, and is used as a hand or arm. The trunk also provides another useful weapon for defence. The main differences between the African elephant and the Asian elephant are size, ears and tusks. The African elephant is larger and has much bigger ears. It also has a more sensitive trunk and both the male and female usually have tusks whereas only the male Asian elephant has them.
Elephants drink by sucking up water with their trunk, curling it backwards and then squirting the water down the throat. When it wants a wash then the water is sucked up the trunk and squirted over the back. Elephants are very fond of water and like to wash themselves whenever they can. They are very good swimmers and can easily cross a deep river. The babies in the herd are guided across rivers by the females (cows) who use their trunks as a guide.
Elephants are very sociable creatures and usually travel in herds of up to 40. Each herd has a leader which is usually the oldest female who makes all the decisions and choices when they are on the move. When they are moving, she leads the way with the other females and babies following in single file and the males bringing up the rear. Elephants can only walk at their normal pace which is about twice as fast as a man. They are also patient and obedient animals so are easily trained for a variety of tasks.