December 29, 2015
By Craig Boddington
Elephants are one of the mostly widely persecuted animals on earth. And while poaching across the elephants' range continues to negatively impact elephants in some areas, as Ivan Carter, host of Carter's War on the Outdoor Channel has experienced, certain countries have thriving populations, thanks to solid conservation efforts, many of which are funded by revenues produced by controlled sport hunting. Here are some elephant facts you may not be aware of.
1. Size Matters
The elephant is the largest terrestrial creature currently inhabiting the planet and is also the world's largest game animal. In Botswana, southern Angola, northern Namibia, and western Zimbabwe, a mature bull can exceed seven tons (14,000 pounds). That is nearly 30 times larger than an elk, and as much as 100 times larger than a human.
2. All In The Family
Although mature bulls are generally solitary or in the company of other bulls, elephants are herd animals in a matriarchal society. The basic unit is a family group, typically led by the grandmother and including her grown daughters and their offspring. This unit may range from 10 to a couple dozen, and they remain together almost constantly, rarely separated by more than 50 yards.
Two or three family groups may roam together in a looser association, and sometimes elephants will form into herds into the hundreds during migration or times of stress. Bulls will be seen in such large gatherings, but they rarely join a family group unless one or another female is in season. Large gatherings are temporary primarily because of requirements for food and water.
3. A Jumbo Appetite
An elephant must consume about six percent of its weight in forage daily over 500 pounds. Given a choice, they are highly selective feeders, but in hard times they will eat almost any plant material.
4. All About Breeding
Mating can occur at any time of the year. The gestation period is 22 months, with single calves the norm and twins possible. Longevity is based on tooth wear, but the average lifespan is into the 60s. Although elephants are slow breeders, they are steady producers. In the wild and absent unusual factors, an elephant herd can be expected to grow at four to five percent per year. Countries with herds in excess of 100,000 elephants can experience fairly dramatic growth in a relatively short time.
5. What's In The Trunk?
Although eyesight is poor, elephants have superb hearing and an unexcelled sense of smell. But the trunk isn't just for smelling! The tip has two prehensile "fingers" that can grip small objects. And the trunk is also used as a breathing tube while crossing deep water.
An elephant's tusk grows throughout its life but not at the oft-stated "one pound per year." Elephant ivory grows very slowly at first, and also slowly with age, but in his 20s and 30s, a bull can put on several pounds of ivory per year.
The heaviest known elephant tusks were taken on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in 1886. Still in the British Museum, they weigh 226 and 214 pounds. No other elephant is known to have exceeded 200 pounds on either tusk.
7. Elephants Are Not Endangered
Elephants are difficult to count across the vastness of Africa, but the most conservative estimates place total numbers at about 600,000. More generous estimates suggest as many as a million. Either way, although locally threatened in many areas, the African elephant is not and never was "endangered."
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