The Amazing world of Elephants

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The Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus)
When you come across an elephant in the wild, or otherwise, you wonít need a book to tell you that it is the largest land mammal walking the earth in our era. Their height, weight and strength are almost legendary. Elephants were used by Asian Empires to gain battle superiority. The Kings used them as carriers of nobility. The common man used them for tasks requiring massive feats of strength, like transporting timber.

The elephant was, and to some extent still is, an integral part of this area, especially in India. Elephants have been around for almost 40 million years now. Although, their appearance has evolved to almost unrecognizable proportions in order to adapt to changing environment conditions. The original ancestor of the elephant, known to man, was the Moeritherium. It stood only around 3.5 feet tall and did not have a pronounced trunk like the one we immediately associate with the mention of an elephant. Due to migrations from one area, caused by adverse conditions created there, to other areas with more suitable but different conditions made the ancestors evolve over this long period of time to what we now recognize as the modern day elephant. In this transition stage, the more well known intermediate ascendants after the "little Moeritherium", were the mammoths and the mastodons. The main changes brought about in these species by evolution was in the over all size, the development of the proboscis (or trunk) and the increase in length of the seconds pair of teeth on the upper jaw (tusks). At this point of time, the elephant species is represented by two kinds. The Asian and The African.

The Asian and the African elephants are similar in general appearance but there are a few definite differences. A list of these differences is given below:

 

Asian Elephant

African Elephant

Height

Average 2 feet shorter (9-10 feet)

Average 2 feet taller (11-12 feet)

Weight

Average 2000 pounds lighter

Average 2000 pounds heavier

(can weigh over 8 tons)

Back

Rounded with slight hump in the middle

Have a dip in the middle

Ears

Smaller

Larger and in the shape of the African continent. A pair can weigh up to 110 pounds

Head

Consists of two domes

Consists of a single dome

Tusks

Developed only in males. Female tusks too small to be visible outside

Developed in both male and female

Legs

Shorter and stockier

Longer

Trunk

Has one "finger" at the tip

Has two "fingers" at the tip

Strength

Claimed to be stronger

Not as powerful as the Asian elephant, despite itís larger size.

General Appearance

Shorter and rounder

Taller and slimmer

The elephant is unique in a couple of characteristics. It is an animal that lives longer in captivity and is also the only domesticated animal, which preferably is taken from the wild for sounder temperament. The average life expectancy of an elephant in the wild is 60 Ė 70 years, whereas it is around 70 Ė 80 years in domesticated ones. In the final stages of itís life, the longevity of itís life depends on itís teeth. Elephants go through 6 sets of molars during their life span. The first set of teeth is pushed out by the new set at the age of 2. It is the fourth set at the age of 20 Ė 25 that is their first set of adult teeth. They get their last set around the age of 60. Once this last set wears out and the elephant can no longer eat, it dies.

Domesticating elephants is an expensive proposition because an elephant in the wild eats approximately 300 pounds of vegetation a day. Itís domesticated counter parts are known to eat even more. It consumes a whopping average of 300 liters of water a day, taking in approximately 60 to 80 liters in a single drink.

Another unique and amusing characteristic of elephants is that, despite their huge size and immense weight, their walk can be compared to the dance of a ballerina. Believe it or not but elephants walk on their toes! The heels are elevated with the five digits coming down at a steep angle. Under the heel is a larger cushioning pad of gristle, which other than relieving stress on the bones also allows the animal to be extremely surefooted and silent while walking. The entire "foot" is enclosed in a cylindrical shape and the external toenails are only superficial. It is possible for the number of nails to be different from the number of toes. It can also attain speeds up to 40 kilometers per hour on these feet.