Episode 2: The gentle giants, the elephants
Elephants are the largest land mammal currently in existence. There are two main species of elephant:
- African elephant (Loxodonta Africana)
- Asian elephant (Elephant maximus)
Both species of elephant can trace their lineage back approximately 7 million years ago when they branched out from the mammoth to the two species we know today. Another ancient elephant-like species, the American mastodon, branched off the elephant family tree over 26 million years ago.
African elephants once roamed the entire African continent and number over 27 million. Today, the African elephant is isolated in small pockets in Central and Southern Africa and number less than 500,000.
Current Range of African Elephants
Asian elephants historically have had smaller populations, but once roamed most of Southern Asia. In 1900 it was estimated there were over 100,000 Asian elephants. Today, Asian elephants are isolated in small pockets within Southern Asia and number around 40,000 animals.
There are many physical differences between African and Asian elephants (see infographic).
Elephants are incredibly intelligent creatures. They have a wide range of emotions and their intellect is comparable to dolphins and primates other than humans. They have been documented in grieving for their dead, to showing joy, love, anger and other complex behaviors. Typically, elephants are found in a matriarchal society, or those dominated by females. Mature males typically are isolated or live in small bachelor groups and only venture into a family group during the breeding season.
Male elephants enter a periodic condition called musth. During this period, secretions are running down along the sides of the elephant’s head, out of their temporal glands, and is a time when the bull elephant is highly aggressive. The causes of musth are currently not known, and everyone should take extra cautious around an elephant in musth.
Male Asian Elephant in musth
A large male elephant can eat up to 150 lb (70 kg) of food per day. Both species are herbivores and eat a variety of plants, branches, leaves, and even tree bark. Tusks are used to help dig up roots are strip trees of their foliage. The elephant’s trunk has over 60,000 muscles and is used to help eat, drink, communicate, bathe, amongst other uses. Elephants are crucial for local ecosystems and have been known to spread seeds father than most any other animal.
Asian elephants are classified as endangered with a decreasing population. African elephants are listed as vulnerable and on their way to endangered status. Both species are under threat mainly from human encroachment. African elephants are under severe threat due to poaching and now almost 27,000 elephants are killed a year for their ivory tusks.
What can you do?
- Support the World Wildlife Fund https://www.worldwildlife.org/
- Never buy ivory. Never!
- Support our show, help spread the word https://www.patreon.com/allcreaturespod
Great read about Mr. Lawrence Anthony, the Elephant Whisperer mentioned at the end of the podcast here.
Black Ivory Coffee (if you dare)