Elephants are the largest land mammals. They are social animals and considered to be highly intelligent. Elephants are well known for their excellent memory and their structured family order. Although elephants do not have extraordinarily long lifespans, they do live longer than many other mammals. A pregnant elephant carries her offspring for almost two years.
Elephants once roamed the wild by the millions but their numbers have been dramatically decreased by loss of habitat, poaching and other factors. Elephants have been hunted and killed in large numbers for their tusks, captured to be used as beasts of burden, for circuses and for use in other capacities. Elephants require a large amount of space to roam and thrive which has been greatly reduced by human encroachment into the natural habitat of elephants. Although elephants are fairly long lived they do not grow and mature as quickly as most other mammals.
There are two types of elephants: African and Asian elephants. The African elephant has wrinkly skin and large ears. Both the male and female have tusks. Asian elephants have smaller ears and only the males have tusks. There is another distinguishing physical characteristic that identifies the African and Asian elephant which is the shape of the back. The Asian elephant has a rounded or dome shaped back. The African elephant's back is swayed.
A male African elephant can weight up to 15,000 pounds and stand 13 feet tall. The Asian elephant is smaller, weighing up to 11,000 pounds with height measuring between 8 and 9 feet. An African female may weight up to 8,000 pounds and stand about 8 feet tall, An Asian female may weigh up to 6,000 pounds and stand 6 to 7 feet tall. An elephant's skin is thick but is also sensitive. Elephants use their large ears to cool their bodies. By flapping their ears the blood flowing through the blood vessels in the ears is cooled and circulated through the body. Elephants have a keen sense of smell. They communicate with each other through rumbling sounds. An elephant's tusks are used mainly for digging and lifting but they can also be used to defend themselves. Elephants have a dominant tusk like people have a dominant hand that they use more easily. The dominant tusk may be shorter than the other because of constant use.
Elephants have large appetites. Elephants bark, leaves, grass and fruit. An elephant can consume up to 600 pounds of food each day. Elephants also drink about 30 to 50 gallons of water per day. Elephants do not easily digest their food and much of the food an elephant consumes leaves its body undigested.
Elephants usually reach maturity between 13 to 20 years of age. Females give birth to one calf after a gestation period of 22 months. The calf may weigh 250 pounds at birth and stand 2 1/2 feet tall. Calves grow slowly and remain with the mother for several years. Elephants form small family groups led by an older female. Male elephants leave the herd when they reach maturity.
Elephants can live in a wide variety of habitats as long as there is plenty of space and adequate food and water. Their range of habitat can exist from dense forest areas to plains, deserts and coastal regions. In their natural habitats elephants may be found in rain forests, savannas, grasslands and woodlands of Africa, Asia, India and Nepal. Although once abundant, there are only about 30,000 Asian elephants left in Southeast Asia.
Although elephants live 50 to 70 years they are slow to reproduce and develop. With the longest gestation rate in mammals and a slow growth rate, elephants do not reproduce as quickly as most other animals. With further human encroachment upon their habitat, more elephants die at younger ages decreasing the species. Elephants are an endangered species and are now protected worldwide.
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