Elephants are huge, and unless you have lived near a wildlife preserve, you probably have never seen elephants living in a natural environment. You might have heard that elephants have long memories, and English poet John Donne has said the elephant is “nature’s greatest masterpiece . . . the only harmless great thing.” But what do we really know about these majestic, noble beings?
1. It’s true that elephants have long memories. Elephants have longer memories than humans. They have been known to recognize other elephants and humans that they bonded with after being apart for decades.
2. Elephants are among the smartest animals and have the largest brains of any land mammal, 11 – 13 lbs to the human 3lbs. Their brains are also surprisingly similar to human brains. Such similarities allow them to be creative problem solvers. They even have a basic understanding of arithmetic and can keep track of quantities.
3. Elephants have an advanced social structure, with family bonds, love and loyalty. Females and the young live in groups of about 15, and they are led by one matriarch, who is usually the oldest. Males also live in herds or they may live alone.
4. Elephants are among the few animals that mourn their dead. When an elephant dies, other members of the herd will return repeatedly to the dead body, running their trunks over it as though they are paying their respects. They will even perform burial rituals, and if a herd member gets sick, others will care for it.
5. When famed conservationist Lawrence Anthony died, a herd of elephants came to his house to mourn him, much like they would mourn the loss of one of their own.
6. The elephant’s foot is made in such a way that the animal is practically walking on tiptoe.
7. The frame of an elephant allows the animal to stand upright on its back legs. When they stand on their hind legs, their kidneys are in the same position as in humans.
8. Elephants are pregnant for 22 months. How would you like that!
9. Elephants are one of the few animals that are able to recognize themselves in a mirror.
10. Like people, elephants are right or left “handed”; they will use one tusk almost all the time.
11. Their comprehension of syntax suggests that they have their own language and grammar.
12. Elephants can suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
13. The average speed of a charging elephant is about 25 miles/hour.
14. They are afraid of bees.
15. Elephants need up to 600 pounds of food every day. They spend up to 18-20 hours a day feeding and drinking, only leaving 4 hours a day for sleeping!