Elephant, according to Webster's : a huge, thick-skinned, almost hairless mammal. the largest of extant four-footed animals, with a long, flexible snout (called a trunk) and two ivory tusks growing out of the upper jaw. And occasional movie star, elephant charachters were most recently seen in the film Jumangi, also in earlier films such as Operation: Dumbo Drop, Dumbo and The Jungle Book.
The elephant evolved from the even larger prehistoric mammoth which appeared millions of years ago. The mammoth roamed in great herds over Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. The oldest mammoth bones, found in India, are over 4 million years old. Mammoths became extinct following the Ice Age, from this group arose the elephants. They are in the order Proboscideans.
Elephants can be found in woodlands, grasslands, and forests in Africa and parts of Asia. They can live up to 70 years, weigh 5,000-14,000 pounds and stand 6-12 feet at the shoulder. In the wild, they spend most of their day looking for food, needing 400-600 pounds of food a day, of which only 40% is digested. The diet includes grass, tree foliage, bark, twigs, herbs, roots, and fruit. A herd averages 4 mph in their single file walking but can charge at 25 mph if angered or frightened.
The elephants usually travel in herds made up of females and their calves (led by an older female), herds of males or males may travel by themselves. The females are known as cows, the males as bulls and the babies as calves. Elephants are gregarious, and have been found in herds of several hundred, although around 20 individuals is more common. Elephant society is matriarchal, and is organized around a stable family unit. Nearly all the females are related. The males are driven out of the clan at puberty, 8-20 years old. Elephant pregnancy averages 22 months with the birth of a single calf weighing around 200 pounds. Twin births are rare. The female has a baby every 3-8 years and may nurse the baby until it is 2-4 years (occasionally, 6). The herd will wait for the youngster to be able to travel with the herd before they move on, usually 2-3 days.
The trunk is very useful for breathing through (two nostrils), picking up large and small objects (with finger-like tips), bringing food and water to the mouth, nudging calves and trumpeting warnings. The tusks are used for tools to dig up roots, pry bark off of trees, marking territory and fighting. Usually, one tusk is favored over the other and will be worn down shorter. Tusks are actually, upper incisor teeth (Asiatic females rarely have tusks).
There are two types of elephants, the Asiatic or Indian elephant, Elephas maximus and the African elephant, Loxodonta africana. The fastest way to differentiate the species is to look at the ears. The ears are said to reflect the geographical local from which they origniage. The Indian elephant has smaller ears, shaped like the Indian subcontinent. The African elephan has larger ears, reminiscent of the shape of the large African continent.
If one wants a more scientific description, the African elephant is bigger, with larger ears and tusks, darker grey skin and a longer and more wrinkled trunk. There are two finger-like processes on the end of their trunk. They have three nails on the hind foot, 21 pairs of ribs and a maximum of 26 caudal vertebrae. The highest point is the shoulder. The Asiatic elephant has only one finger-like process on the trunk, 4 nails on the hind foot, 19 pairs of ribs, and 33 caudal vertebrae. The highest point is the top of the head.
Elephants have been worker, warrior and circus performers. Asiatic elephants were probably domesticated more than 5000 years ago for use as beasts of burden, helpers in the lumber industry and for use in hunting and war. The Egyptions tamed the African elephants about 2500 years ago. Elephants have also been hunted by man for more than 20, 000 years, first for food, then for their ivory tusks. Today. the Asiatic elephant is classified as an endangered species as well as the African elephant. The present rate of elephants killed and death by natural causes exceeds the elephant's ability to reproduce and estimates suggest total extinction by 2010.