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The African Elephant
Two distinct types of elephants exist: the African elephant (genus: Loxodonta) and their cousin the Asian elephant (genus: Elephas). Two species of African elephants are recognized: the savanna elephant (L. africana) and the forest elephant (L. cyclotis). Some genetic evidence suggests a third species may exist intermediate to these two: the west elephant. Below are interesting African elephant facts.
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African elephants, the largest land animals in the world, are slightly larger than Asian elephants. They stand (at shoulder height) up to 13 feet high and weigh up to 14,000 pounds. Females are smaller. The largest known African elephant, displayed at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, stands 13 feet high and weighs 22,000 pounds. They have long trunks which are actually their noses used for breathing, smelling and trumpeting, as well as for drinking, grabbing things and uprooting trees. Males and females have large tusks used to dig for food and strip bark from trees. Males use them to battle one another. Their ears are large and full of veins which help keep them cool in African heat and their wide, padded feet allow them to walk quietly despite their large size.
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Females (cows) and their young live in herds that can consist of up to 100 individuals. Males (bulls) tend to roam on their own and are with the herd only during mating. African elephants roam over great distances and do not sleep much. They can make a variety of vocal sounds, including whistles, trumpeting, grunts, bellows and purrs. Some low-frequency sounds can travel over a mile. They love the water and enjoy showering themselves by sucking up the water in their trunks and spraying it over their bodies. Afterwards, they often spray themselves with dust to protect their coats.
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The savanna elephants live in woodlands and savannas in countries south of the Sahara Desert. The forest elephants live in dense forests of west and central Africa. The suspected third species can be found living in both savanna and forests in west Africa.
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The reason African elephants do not sleep much is because they spend a lot of time eating. An adult elephant can eat 300 to 400 pounds of food each day. They are herbivores and their diet consists of all types of vegetation such as leaves, grasses, roots, bamboo, bark, fruits and vegetables. They can drink up to 50 gallons of water per day.
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Females become sexually mature at 10 to 11 years of age and males at 10 to 20 years. Mating season mostly occurs during the rainy season. The gestation period is longer than any other mammal, lasting about 22 months. She will give birth to one calf (twins are rare) about every four years. Calves will stand about 3 feet high and weigh roughly 200 pounds at birth. Their trunks have no muscle tone at birth so they will suckle through their mouths. It will take a few months before they gain full control of their trunks. The males will usually leave the family unit when they are 12 to 15 years of age. The female elephant is one of the few mammals who lives beyond her reproductive years. The reproductive period usually ends at the age of 50 years. When she is no longer able to give birth, she will assist with the care of other young.
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The following are more interesting African elephant facts:
- Their ears are somewhat shaped like the continent of Africa.
- They can hold up to 3 gallons of water in their trunks.
- Their trunks contain about 100,000 different muscles.
- They can not jump or run but they can walk up to 25 miles per hour and are very good swimmers.
- Their trunks are sometimes used as snorkels as they cross deep water.
- Eighty percent of the vocal sounds these elephants make are inaudible to human ears.
- Unlike the Asian elephants, African elephants are not easily domesticated.
- They are extremely intelligent animals with very good memories.
- They display signs of anger, joy, play and grief. Findings strongly suggest they mourn for their dead, a trait once thought to be unique to humans.
- There were a few million African elephants at the turn of the 20th century. Today, there are an estimated 450,000 to 700,000.
- They live up to 70 years in the wild.
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National Geographic: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/african-elephant/
Smithsonian National Zoological Park: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/AfricanSavanna/fact-afelephant.cfm
Switcheroo Zoo: http://www.switcheroozoo.com/profiles/africanelephant.htm
Animal Planet: Elephants Mourn Their Dead - http://animal.discovery.com/news/briefs/20051031/elephant.html