So you thought you knew everything there was to know about the majestic giants of Africa? Well think again! Elephants are a highly evolved species and are capable of far more than a lot of people give them credit for. The evolutionary path of elephants is fascinating and believe it or not the closest common ancestor they have with humans is an almost ancient form of tree shrew. However, the elephants most common ancestor isn’t even on land. Its is generally accepted that the elephants closest living relative are the manatee, hyraxes (also known as the Dassie) and the dugong. What is probably most surprising is the degree to which these groups are totally and utterly different. A quick look at each of these species will leave you scratching your head at exactly how they could be so closely related. But this is the wonder of nature.
Community plays a huge role in the life of an elephant and they are one of the most closely knit societies in the animal kingdom. Elephants can hear one another’s calls from as far away as 5miles or 8kms. Elephants will also have ‘funerals’ when a member of the heard passes away, much like humans and will even visit the site from from time to time to pay their respects. Even when a member of the herd gets sick, the other elephants will care for them and nurse them back to health. A famous ‘elephant whisperer’ by the name of Lawrence Anthony, known for his conservation efforts died in 2012 and his home on South Africa’s Thula Thula Game Reserve was visited by 2 separate herds of elephants only days after his death. Nobody can explain how the elephants knew he had died but they spent 2 days around the man’s home and then left and made their 12 hour journey back into the bush.
Elephants, despite their incredibly thick hides, are also susceptible to sunburn which is why they spray themselves with mud. Even more surprising with regards to their hides is that it is so sensitive that they can feel a fy landing on them. Elephants only sleep for 4 hours a day, they need an incredible amount of food. Elephants will eat up to 600 pounds or 300 kg of food per day and of course drink lots and lots water which they can detect from as far away as 12 miles and rain from as far as 150 miles away. To keep up with the sheer quantity of food and their substantial lifespans, elephants grow 6 sets of teeth in their lifetimes until old age catches up with them. They also have a gestation period of 2 years. A very surprising fact that has only recently been discovered by scientists is that elephants are very scared of bees. They will even go as far as to sound an alarm call if there are bees in the area. Elephants are so intelligent that they can tell the difference between men and women and even different ethnicities. Further to that point, elephants can even recognise themselves in the mirror.
So there you have it, hopefully this article has shed some light on some interesting things about elephants that you didn’t know previously. Think about these things the next time you see one and learn to appreciate just how special these gentle giants really are.