10 Fun Facts About African Elephants

Are you getting excited about Expedition Tanzania? We sure are! The Zoo’s new 7 acre expansion is well underway and is on target to open to the public in Spring 2012. In the mean time, here are 10 fun facts about African elephants to keep you busy.

Bigger is Better
In the world of elephants, bigger is definitely better, even if it means just looking big.  Male African elephants continue to grow throughout their lives, and can reach 7½  tons–more than two Hummers!

A Closer Look
The elephant’s foot is a spongy pad with four or five toes and toenails. The pad acts like a cushion with each step, absorbing the impact and taking some strain off the leg.

A Word About the Hair
The extinct wooly mammoth had loads of hair, suiting him to a cold environment, but African and Asian elephants have only sparse brown hair here and there on their bodies, with concentrated tufts on places like the mouth and tail.

The Head
Since an elephant head is so large, weighing hundreds of pounds, it is supported with extra muscles along the neck, and the skull has, like bird bones, many tiny air pockets to keep it light.

Elephants have four molars; each weighs about 11 pounds and measures about 12 inches long. As the front pair wears down and drops out in pieces, the back pair shifts forward, and two new molars emerge in the back of the mouth. Elephants replace their teeth six times.

And the Amazing Trunk
With estimated muscle counts ranging between 40,000 and 150,000, the trunk of an elephant is amazingly dexterous.
At once both gentle and strong, a trunk is capable of killing a lion–or caressing a frightened elephant calf.  It can pick leaves, pull bark off trees, and pick up objects as small as a coin.  It can suck up a gallon of water to squirt into a mouth or on a hot back. Elephants do not drink through their trunk, but use it to draw the liquid.

Social Structure
A typical elephant family is comprised of a group of related females (maybe 2, maybe 40) and their young, including males younger than about 14.  Different families sometimes meet and feed in the same area. The family is led by the oldest female, the “matriarch”, and the others follow her lead in every circumstance.  She decides when to stop, and when to move on, and where to go.

A female usually bears her first calf between 10 and 20 years old and bears again every 4-6 years.  It takes over a year and a half for an elephant embryo to develop, but at birth calves can stand within an hour, and swim soon after.

Elephants communicate a lot through touch, taste, and smell.  A mother may bat her calf with her tail to make sure he is still following behind her, or she may turn and shove him as discipline.  Two elephants who meet will “greet” with trunks outstretched, sniffing for clues about the other. Incidentally, some scientists say that excited behavior during greetings may suggest that elephants remember one another, even after being separated for many years.

Infrasonic Sounds
Amazingly, many elephant calls are too low (15 hertz) for human hearing ability (20 hertz).  These infrasonic sounds are capable of traveling long distances, and most occur in the early morning or evening hours, when ground air is cool enough to carry the frequency without interference.