The Big Five – Part 5 – The African Elephant

Today’s blog on elephants is the final in my five part series about The Big Five.  Elephants have always been on my personal list of favourite animals.  There is something about elephants that I find quite enchanting – I don’t really know why – perhaps its the way they look after each other and grieve like we do when they lose one of their own.  They are purported to be as intelligent and wise as dolphins.

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So why are they so dangerous and on the Big Five list?  Firstly, most wild animals are dangerous and should be treated with respect.  One as large as an elephant should demand a degree of respect proportionate to its size and weight.  That bulky body has the strength to crush a car or push over a tree, so it’s really not an animal that should be messed around with.  Not only have elephants been dangerous to hunters in the distant past, but they have pitted their strength against idiots in cars who assume that their metal shell will shield them against the wrath of a protective mother or belligerent bull elephant.  There are also urban legends about elephants taking their revenge on African villagers when poaching or killing of elephants has taken place.  Elephants are renowned for their long memories.

Close up at Etosha National Park

Like rhinos, elephants have assets that place them in immediate danger of slaughter by humans – their beautiful ivory tusks that are soft enough to carve and are prized by artists.  Both sexes are vulnerable as they both have long curved tusks, which in fact are extended front incisors.  Tusks are very useful as elephants use them to dig for water, roots and to chip at tree bark, either to eat or to uncover the pulpy contents of the tree.  They’re also useful when it comes to moving trees and opening up pathways as they walk.

African elephant at Kruger National Park

Unlike the Asian elephants that have small ears, African elephants have very large ears, which they put to good use.  When the weather is very hot, they flap their ears often to fan themselves and the blood vessels on the surface of the ears then send cooler blood to the rest of the body.  This is an effective way of regulating body temperature.  If an elephant feels threatened, it will extend and flap its ears to make it look larger and more aggressive.  This is also done during the mating period to warn off other males.

Making at splash

Elephants trunks deserve a special mention as they too are very versatile.  Inside they comprise many muscles that give them the strength to pick up heavy objects, push heavy objects and do delicate things like strip leaves from trees or pick up things off the ground.  By holding their trunks up in the air they are able to smell food, friends or foes from a long distance away.  Trunks are used for sucking up vast quantities of water, which they either put into their mouths for drinking, or spray over their backs to wash or cool themselves.  They use their trunks to show affection to each other and to pull their babies closer or push them to walk faster.

Baby elephant at Kruger National Park

Elephants are known as pachyderms, meaning thick-skinned animals and their scientific binomial is Loxodonta Africana.  It takes up to fourteen years for females to mature sexually and once mated, calves are born after a gestation period of twenty-two months.  Pregnancies only occur at five yearly intervals and only one calf is carried at a time.  It is usually born during the rainy season when food is plentiful.

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