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History of Elephant

Elephant

By RilwanPublished 9 months ago 16 min read
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History of Elephant
Photo by Harshil Gudka on Unsplash

greatest threat to African elephants is poaching for the illegal ivory trade, while Asian elephant populations are most at risk from habitat loss and resulting human-elephant conflict.

WEIGHT

4-6 tons

LENGTH

18-24 ft.

Elephants are the largest land mammals on earth and have distinctly massive bodies, large ears, and long trunks. They use their trunks to pick up objects, trumpet warnings, greet other elephants, or suck up water for drinking or bathing, among other uses. Both male and female African elephants grow tusks and each individual can either be left- or right-tusked, and the one they use more is usually smaller because of wear and tear. Elephant tusks serve many purposes. These extended teeth can be used to protect the elephant's trunk, lift and move objects, gather food, and strip bark from trees. They can also be used for defense. During times of drought, elephants even use their tusks to dig holes to find water underground.

Two genetically different African species exist: the savanna elephant and the forest elephant, with a number of characteristics that differentiate them both. The African savanna elephant is the largest elephant species, while the Asian forest elephant and the African forest elephant are of a comparable, smaller size.

Asian elephants differ in several ways from their African relatives, with more than 10 distinct physical differences between them. For example, Asian elephants' ears are smaller compared to the large fan-shaped ears of the African species. Only some male Asian elephants have tusks, while both male and female African elephants grow tusks.

Led by a matriarch, elephants are organized into complex social structures of females and calves, while male elephants tend to live in isolation or in small bachelor groups. A single calf is born to a female once every four to five years and after a gestation period of 22 months—the longest of any mammal. Calves are cared for by the entire herd of related females. Female calves may stay with their maternal herd for the rest of their lives, while males leave the herd as they reach puberty. Forest elephants' social groups differ slightly and may be comprised of only an adult female and her offspring. However, they may congregate in larger groups in forest clearings where resources are more abundant.

Elephants need extensive land areas to survive and meet their ecological needs, which includes food, water, and space. On average, an elephant can feed up to 18 hours and consume hundreds of pounds of plant matter in a single day. As a result, as they lose habitat, they often come into conflict with people in competition for resources.

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Elephant

African Elephant

© Martin Harvey / WWF

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SPECIES

ELEPHANT

Top

Threats

FACTS

Once common throughout Africa and Asia, elephant populations have experienced significant declines over the last century. The greatest threat to African elephants is poaching for the illegal ivory trade, while Asian elephant populations are most at risk from habitat loss and resulting human-elephant conflict.

WEIGHT

4-6 tons

LENGTH

18-24 ft.

Elephants are the largest land mammals on earth and have distinctly massive bodies, large ears, and long trunks. They use their trunks to pick up objects, trumpet warnings, greet other elephants, or suck up water for drinking or bathing, among other uses. Both male and female African elephants grow tusks and each individual can either be left- or right-tusked, and the one they use more is usually smaller because of wear and tear. Elephant tusks serve many purposes. These extended teeth can be used to protect the elephant's trunk, lift and move objects, gather food, and strip bark from trees. They can also be used for defense. During times of drought, elephants even use their tusks to dig holes to find water underground.

Two genetically different African species exist: the savanna elephant and the forest elephant, with a number of characteristics that differentiate them both. The African savanna elephant is the largest elephant species, while the Asian forest elephant and the African forest elephant are of a comparable, smaller size.

Asian elephants differ in several ways from their African relatives, with more than 10 distinct physical differences between them. For example, Asian elephants' ears are smaller compared to the large fan-shaped ears of the African species. Only some male Asian elephants have tusks, while both male and female African elephants grow tusks.

Led by a matriarch, elephants are organized into complex social structures of females and calves, while male elephants tend to live in isolation or in small bachelor groups. A single calf is born to a female once every four to five years and after a gestation period of 22 months—the longest of any mammal. Calves are cared for by the entire herd of related females. Female calves may stay with their maternal herd for the rest of their lives, while males leave the herd as they reach puberty. Forest elephants' social groups differ slightly and may be comprised of only an adult female and her offspring. However, they may congregate in larger groups in forest clearings where resources are more abundant.

Elephants need extensive land areas to survive and meet their ecological needs, which includes food, water, and space. On average, an elephant can feed up to 18 hours and consume hundreds of pounds of plant matter in a single day. As a result, as they lose habitat, they often come into conflict with people in competition for resources.

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How wildlife help combat the climate crisis

Combatting climate change helps save wildlife populations around the globe, but the reverse is also true: Wildlife conservation plays an essential role in regulating our climate. By saving wildlife, we help save the planet, including ourselves.

CONTINUE READINGh MORE STORIESh

Sea otter closeup of face© WWF-US/KEITH ARNOLD

THE ELEPHANT FAMILY

AFRICAN ELEPHANT

ASIAN ELEPHANT

WHY THEY MATTER

Loxodonta africana cyclotis, Forest elephant (young)

© Martin Harvey / WWF

AFRICAN FOREST ELEPHANT (LOXODONTA AFRICANA CYCLOTIS)

The seeds of many plant species in central African and Asian forests are dependent on passing through an elephant's digestive tract before they can germinate. It is calculated that at least a third of tree species in central African forests rely on elephants in this way for distribution of seeds.

Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) in Kaziranga National park.

© Ola Jennersten / WWF-Sweden

ASIAN ELEPHANT (ELEPHAS MAXIMUS)

Elephants help maintain forest and savanna ecosystems for other species and are integrally tied to rich biodiversity. Elephants are important ecosystem engineers. They make pathways in dense forested habitat that allow passage for other animals. An elephant footprint can also enable a micro-ecosystem that, when filled with water, can provide a home for tadpoles and other organisms.

As keystone species, they help maintain biodiversity of the ecosystems they inhabit.

Elephas maximus bengalensis Indian elephant Corbett National Park India

© Martin Harvey / WWF

ASIAN ELEPHANT (ELEPHAS MAXIMUS BENGALENSIS)

Elephants play a pivotal role in shaping their habitat and directly influence forest composition and density, disperse seeds, and alter the broader landscape. In tropical forests, elephants create clearings and gaps in the canopy that encourage tree regeneration. In the savannas, they reduce bush cover to create an environment favorable to a mix of browsing and grazing animals.

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THREATS

Shelves of elephant tusks confiscated from poachers© WWF-Canon / Folke Wulf

African elephant populations have fallen from an estimated 12 million a century ago to some 400,000. In recent years, at least 20,000 elephants have been killed in Africa each year for their tusks. African forest elephants have been the worst hit. Their populations declined by 62% between 2002-2011 and they have lost 30% of their geographical range, with African savanna elephants declining by 30% between 2007-2014. This dramatic decline has continued and even accelerated with cumulative losses of up to 90% in some landscapes between 2011 and 2015. Today, the greatest threat to African elephants is wildlife crime, primarily poaching for the illegal ivory trade, while the greatest threat to Asian elephants is habitat loss, which results in human-elephant conflict. WWF has advocated for an end to commercial elephant ivory sales in the US and other major markets like China, Thailand, and Hong Kong as the most effective and efficient solution to end this illegal ivory trade.

HABITAT LOSS

Elephants are also losing their habitats and ancient migratory routes due to expanding human settlements into their habitat, agricultural development, and the construction of infrastructure such as roads, canals, and fences that fragment their habitat. As a result, human-elephant conflict is rising as more and more elephants come into close contact with humans. This often leads to elephants destroying crops and property, as well as occasional human casualties. These negative interactions can result in the retaliatory killing of elephants.

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STORIES

How wildlife help combat the climate crisis

Saving wildlife to help save the planet

Young elephant calf faces herd of adult elephants on savannah in Kenya elephant herd w© naturepl.com / Klein & Hubert / WWF

DATE:

November 29, 2022

AUTHOR:

Jocelyn Kreider

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Wildlife conservation and climate action are often considered as separate environmental issues, but the two are utterly intertwined. We know that combatting climate change helps save wildlife populations around the globe, but the reverse is also true: Wildlife conservation plays an essential role in regulating our climate. By saving wildlife, we help save the planet, including ourselves.

Biodiversity, ecosystems, & us

Today, the earth is experiencing its sixth mass extinction event, driven by human activity and subsequent rising global temperatures. The WWF Living Planet Report 2022 found that, in less than 50 years, the world has lost 69% of all mammal, fish, bird, reptile, and amphibian populations. The presence of an abundant variety of life on earth is critical for the health of our planet. With biodiversity, all species work together within their respective ecosystems to maintain a necessary balance and support life.

On the ground: Land animals

Many land animals promote healthy habitats that capture and store carbon to prevent further climate warming. Here are just a few

Elephants are scattered throughout sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia and are found in different habitats, including savannahs, forests, deserts, and marshes. They are herbivorous, and they stay near water when it is accessible. They are considered to be keystone species, due to their impact on their environments. Elephants have a fission–fusion society, in which multiple family groups come together to socialise. Females (cows) tend to live in family groups, which can consist of one female with her calves or several related females with offspring. The leader of a female group, usually the oldest cow, is known as the matriarch.

Males (bulls) leave their family groups when they reach puberty and may live alone or with other males. Adult bulls mostly interact with family groups when looking for a mate. They enter a state of increased testosterone and aggression known as musth, which helps them gain dominance over other males as well as reproductive success. Calves are the centre of attention in their family groups and rely on their mothers for as long as three years. Elephants can live up to 70 years in the wild. They communicate by touch, sight, smell, and sound; elephants use infrasound and seismic communication over long distances. Elephant intelligence has been compared with that of primates and cetaceans. They appear to have self-awareness, and possibly show concern for dying and dead individuals of their kind.

African bush elephants and Asian elephants are listed as endangered and African forest elephants as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). One of the biggest threats to elephant populations is the ivory trade, as the animals are poached for their ivory tusks. Other threats to wild elephants include habitat destruction and conflicts with local people. Elephants are used as working animals in Asia. In the past, they were used in war; today, they are often controversially put on display in zoos, or exploited for entertainment in circuses. Elephants have an iconic status in human culture and have been featured in art, folklore, religion, literature, and popular culture.

Elephants are scattered throughout sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia and are found in different habitats, including savannahs, forests, deserts, and marshes. They are herbivorous, and they stay near water when it is accessible. They are considered to be keystone species, due to their impact on their environments. Elephants have a fission–fusion society, in which multiple family groups come together to socialise. Females (cows) tend to live in family groups, which can consist of one female with her calves or several related females with offspring. The leader of a female group, usually the oldest cow, is known as the matriarch.

Males (bulls) leave their family groups when they reach puberty and may live alone or with other males. Adult bulls mostly interact with family groups when looking for a mate. They enter a state of increased testosterone and aggression known as musth, which helps them gain dominance over other males as well as reproductive success. Calves are the centre of attention in their family groups and rely on their mothers for as long as three years. Elephants can live up to 70 years in the wild. They communicate by touch, sight, smell, and sound; elephants use infrasound and seismic communication over long distances. Elephant intelligence has been compared with that of primates and cetaceans. They appear to have self-awareness, and possibly show concern for dying and dead individuals of their kind.

African bush elephants and Asian elephants are listed as endangered and African forest elephants as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). One of the biggest threats to elephant populations is the ivory trade, as the animals are poached for their ivory tusks. Other threats to wild elephants include habitat destruction and conflicts with local people. Elephants are used as working animals in Asia. In the past, they were used in war; today, they are often controversially put on display in zoos, or exploited for entertainment in circuses. Elephants have an iconic status in human culture and have been featured in art, folklore, religion, literature, and popular culture.

Elephants are herbivorous and will eat leaves, twigs, fruit, bark, grass and roots. African elephants mostly browse while Asian elephants mainly graze.[35] They can eat as much as 300 kg (660 lb) of food and drink 40 L (11 US gal) of water in a day. Elephants tend to stay near water sources.[35][83] They have morning, afternoon and nighttime feeding sessions. At midday, elephants rest under trees and may doze off while standing. Sleeping occurs at night while the animal is lying down.[83] Elephants average 3–4 hours of sleep per day.[84] Both males and family groups typically move no more than 20 km (12 mi) a day, but distances as far as 180 km (112 mi) have been recorded in the Etosha region of Namibia.[85] Elephants go on seasonal migrations in response to changes in environmental conditions.[86] In northern Botswana, they travel 325 km (202 mi) to the Chobe River after the local waterholes dry up in late August.[87]

Forest elephants digging for minerals to consume

Because of their large size, elephants have a huge impact on their environments and are considered keystone species. Their habit of uprooting trees and undergrowth can transform savannah into grasslands; when they dig for water during drought, they create waterholes that can be used by other animals. When they use waterholes, they end up making them bigger.[88] Smaller herbivores can access trees mowed down by elephants.[83] At Mount Elgon, elephants dig through caves and pave the way for ungulates, hyraxes, bats, birds and insects.[88] Elephants are important seed dispersers; African forest elephants consume and deposit many seeds over great distances, with either no effect or a positive effect on germination.[89] In Asian forests, large seeds require giant herbivores like elephants and rhinoceros for transport and dispersal. This ecological niche cannot be filled by the smaller Malayan tapir.[90] Because most of the food elephants eat goes undigested, their dung can provide food for other animals, such as dung beetles and monkeys.[88] Elephants can have a negative impact on ecosystems. At Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, elephants numbers have threatened several species of small birds that depend on woodlands. Their weight causes the soil to compress, leading to run off and erosion.[83]

Elephants typically coexist peacefully with other herbivores, which will usually stay out of their way. Some aggressive interactions between elephants and rhinoceros have been recorded.[83] The size of adult elephants makes them nearly invulnerable to predators.[36] Calves may be preyed on by lions, spotted hyenas, and wild dogs in Africa[91] and tigers in Asia.[36] The lions of Savuti, Botswana, have adapted to hunting elephants, mostly calves, juveniles or even sub-adults.[92][93] There are rare reports of adult Asian elephants falling prey to tigers.[94] Elephants tend to have high numbers of parasites, particularly nematodes, compared to many other mammals. This is due to them being largely immune to predators, which would otherwise kill off many of the individuals with significant parasite loads.[95]

Social organisation

A family of African bush elephants

Elephants are generally gregarious animals. African bush elephants in particular have a complex, stratified social structure.[96] Female elephants spend their entire lives in tight-knit matrilineal family groups.[97] They are led by the matriarch which is often the eldest female.[98] She remains leader of the group until death[91] or if she no longer has the energy for the role;[99] a study on zoo elephants found that the death of the matriarch led to greater stress in the surviving elephants.[100] When her tenure is over, the matriarch's eldest daughter takes her place instead of her sister (if present).[91] One study found that younger matriarchs take potential threats less seriously.[101] Large family groups may split if they cannot be supported by the local resources.[102]

At Amboseli National Park, Kenya, female groups may consist of around ten members, including four adults and their dependent offspring. Here, a female's life involves interaction with those outside her group. Two separate families may associate and bond with each other, forming what are known as bond groups. During the dry season, elephant families may aggregate together into clans. These may number around nine groups, which clans do not form strong bonds, but defend their dry-season ranges against other clans. The Amboseli elephant population is further divided into the "central" and "peripheral" subpopulations.[97]

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