Only in Africa will you find the largest land mammal on Earth. I’m talking about the African Elephant. I’ve just started a blog about some of the world’s greatest holiday destinations and have decided to focus specifically on safaris. As my first post to this blog I thought it would be perfect to start with one of the “Big Five”.
There are some very interesting facts about the Savannah African elephant which make it an extraordinary animal that not only dominates in size and stature but also in its longevity.
The two classes of elephant that we are all familiar with are the African and Asian (otherwise referred to as Indian). There are two types of the African variety – 1) Savannah or bush, and 2) the forest elephant. The most distinguishing feature between the two is in the size of the ears
Are The Ears Ventilators?
Isn’t it remarkable that the ears constitute one-sixth of the elephant’s overall body size? Do you know how big the ears of a Savannah elephant must be if the species reaches a height of 13 feet at the shoulder?
The size of the ears is approximately six feet from top to bottom and five feet in width, weighing in at as much as one hundred pounds each.
The primary reason for the large ears that make it different from the forest elephant and the Asian elephant is for relief. They actually rely on the large ears to radiate excess heat. Since they inhabit the grassy plains and bush lands of Africa they experience some of the most intense heat waves.
The surface area of the ears acts as a heat radiator which allows them to control their body temperature. The blood supply in hot weather is increased and when they flap their ears they relieve themselves of body heat.
When the blood supply is directed near to the surface of the skin, the elephant is able to release heat rapidly which allows them to fine-tune the internal temperature.
It isn’t only the heat-releasing blood vessels in the ears that facilitates cooling but also the size which acts as enormous fans which prove to be very effective. To the elephant it would be similar to stepping out of a cool shower and standing in front of a fan.
Not only does the flapping of the ears help move air across the body of the animal, it also cools the blood as it circulates through the veins in the ears.
As air permeates the skin of the ears, the blood is cooled and passes through a web of vessels before circulating back through the body. By doing this the core temperature of the elephant can be lowered by several degrees.
Researchers at universities in Vienna conducted studies and determined that there were “hot spots” scattered across the elephant’s body surface aside from the ears. Studies showed that these patches expand as the air temperature increases and more blood flows nearer to the skin surface.
It is believed by scientists and biologists that the big ears also funnel sound into the inner ear for more acute hearing ability.
Have you seen one of these giant creatures when they spread out their ears? It is majestic beyond what can be expressed in words but it is very intimidating at the same time. They do this to threaten and ward off other animals, or when they themselves feel threatened or angry.
Strange Digestive Habits – More Wind From Within
When it comes to passing wind, there are few that can beat the elephant. In a single day, one elephant can produce enough methane gas for a car to travel 20 miles (32 km). Since they are non-ruminant herbivores there is hindgut fermentation and they produce LOTS of gas.
An elephant’s diet consists of grasses, small plants, bushes, fruit, twigs, tree bark, and roots. A large African elephant can consume as much as 600 pounds of food per day. They can spend anything between 12-18 hours eating every day. Their diet is high in cellulose which means that they only digest approximately 45-50% of their intake.
You can imagine how much manure is produced with all this eating coupled with a digestive system that is not quite so efficient. A daily quantity of manure can come from one elephant totaling 220-250 pounds (112 kg). There’s a lot of eating and a lot of pooping which is on average between 12-15 times a day.
Although elephants have the capability of bringing large trees down to the ground to get at the foliage, they generally use their trunks to reach the top branches. In Botswana one of the favorite foods is the Mokolwane which is a palm tree that bears delicious palm fruits. The fruit is consumed whole and the pip in the centre is eventually passed and seeds are distributed across the Savannah producing more trees.
More Interesting Physical Features
The average male Savannah elephant weighs 13 200 pounds (6 000 kg). The heart is about 0.5% of the full body weight which means that this organ can be a hefty 66 pounds (30 kg).
Considering that the elephant is the largest mammal on Earth it comes as no surprise that they have the longest eyelashes, measuring 5 inches (12.5 cm).
If you look very carefully at the head you’ll notice that the male skull is slightly more rounded than the female whose head is more square. The skull is six inches thick in some areas and has several air spaces which makes the inside look similar to a honeycomb or a sponge. This unique feature has allowed the skull to develop to the large size that it is without too much weight.
The brain weighs between 8-12 pounds compared to the human brain which is about 3 pounds. Elephants are incredibly intelligent animals and there is considerable growth and development that takes place as the calf grows up into adulthood.
If you’ve looked closely at the skin of an elephant you would have seen how very wrinkled the skin is. This helps to retain moisture and keeps the skin in a healthy state. The wrinkly skin also means that there is more flexibility, particularly in the joint areas, and provides the required flexibility when in motion.
The natural color of the skin is a greyish-black but over time the skin will appear to be the same colour as the soil where the elephants habitat is. The reason that this occurs is due to the frequent mud-baths that they take as well as the dust that they roll in to condition and moisturize the skin. This dusting of the soil not only protects them against insects and to control their body temperature, but it helps protect them against sunburn.
As humans, we sweat to regulate our body temperature through glands that are located throughout the skin. Interestingly enough, elephants don’t have many sweat glands at all. The few that they do have are situated on the foot, near the cuticles. This of course means that the skin is dry to the touch yet soft and supple.
The glands that are visible can be found are the mammary glands and the temporal glands. They have one temporal gland on each side of the head between the eye and the ear. This gland is large and much like a sweat gland that sometimes produces a secretion that trickles down the side of the face.
The temporal gland in females can become active when she gets very excited. In males the activity happens when he is in “musth“. There will be thick secretions from their temporal glands, and they will continuously dribble urine. Testosterone levels are at a peak in “musth” males and probably regulate this extreme form of reproductive behavior.
Are Those Teeth? The Ivory Tusks
An elephant has four molars located in each jaw on either side. An African elephant can go through six sets of molars in a lifetime. In the later years, one molar can 10-12 inches long and weigh about 8 pounds (3.6 kg). The molars are wide and flat making it perfect for grinding.
While the ridges on the chewing surface of the molar in an Asian elephant run in parallel lines, the ridges on the surface of an African elephant’s molar forms a diamond shape. There is no actual tooth socket and as the molar is formed and used by the elephant it passes through the jaw from back to front just like a conveyor belt.
The tusks are used for digging and tearing down branches, as well as lifting objects, gathering food, and stripping bark from trees. In addition to this they are perfect for defense as well as offense.
Where Could You Go To See These Animals Live?
Savannah elephants can be found in eastern and southern Africa, with the highest number being found in Botswana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zambia, and South Africa.
The Addo Elephant National Park is situated north-east of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. It was established in 1931 in an attempt to save 11 elephants from extinction and is now the home of over 350. This is the third largest reserve in South Africa and with 120 000 hectares of land there is no shortage of game viewing and other exhilarating outdoor activities. It is open throughout the year.
Please leave a comment below and let me know if you have had the pleasure of experiencing these magnificent creatures in real life.