8 min read

10 Fascinating Facts About Elephants

Elephants are fascinating creatures with funny habits. So why not spend some time learning ten new things about the big fellows? Not only is the elephant a very intelligent creature, it's also an animal of mystery with loads of secrets yet to be uncovered. Did you know that they need sun cream just as much as we do?

Source: Frontier Botswana Wildlife Conservation Project

1. Elephant families are led by females

The elephant's social structure is quite different to other animals. The female elephants live in a family unit, also called a herd, of up to 25 elephants with a female elephant in the lead. There is a clear hierarchy usually based on age and experience, so the older the elephant is, the stronger their influence is in the herd. Male elephants, however, usually leave their family between the age of eight and 15. In other words, when they have become real teenage elephants. After this they wander around in small temporary herds whilst they search for females willing to make new "elephant babies."

2. They don't need much sleep

Source: Frontier Botswana Wildlife Conservation Project

While human beings require (on average) eight hours sleep for total functionality, elephants are way more flexible. They only sleep four hours per night and they even spend half of their sleep standing up. Deep sleep, however, requires a bit more effort and the elephant would usually lay on its side whilst snoring out loudly. Not so different from you and me, are they?

3. They are emotional creatures

Even though elephants can live for 60 years, they often die way before as a result of injury or decease. Elephants get emotional when they experience someone dying. They turn silent and take time to mourn the dead elephant, and sometimes they even cover dead relatives with grass or soil. It is also proven that the big animals are quite scared of ants and bees, which reveal that despite their big size, elephants are gentle.

4. Their memory is impressive

Elephants do not only have huge bodies, they also have a brain that weights five kilograms, so it's no surprise that they are very intelligent animals. With their large size and brain capacity, they can store information and remember things for years, not just skills necessary for their survival but social learning as well. Elephants remember other individuals and are able to recognize them when they meet them again, even several years later!

5. Elephants love a good shower

Source: Jessica Stern, Frontier South Africa Baboon Orphanage Adventure

A trunk is a very useful tool. Elephants use it to spray water on their bodies and they also use their trunks to spray mud and dust on their skin to remove parasites and prevent others from approaching.

6. They are creative communicators

Elephants have their own special way of communicating with others that makes use of all of their senses. They rub their bodies against each other, use their trunk to signify threat or defense and flap their ears to express joy. Furthermore, they make sounds that might seem low to us humans, but can be detected by other elephants from miles away. A greeting is also in place and whenever they meet another one from their family they will greet them with a quiet rumbling sound.

7. Sexual activity for bulls is called "Musth"

Source: Frontier Sri Lanka Elephant Experience

During a period called "Musth," bulls have heightened levels of testosterone and are very aggressive, especially toward other bulls. They will seek to dominate their surroundings and mate with females, a state that can last for up to a month or more. While Musth is associated with heightened sexual activity, although non-musth bulls also mate.

8. Elephants have record-long pregnancies

Imagine being pregnant for almost two years. Female elephants are only fertile for a few days per year, and during those days a lot of males will seek to mate with them. Elephants use courting rituals before actually mating, but if the female allows, she will be pregnant for 22 months.

9. Elephants can swim

Source: Frontier Sri Lanka Elephant Experience

Yes, we know. They do look way too big to just take a swim in the river, but actually elephants are good swimmers and use their trunk like a snorkel underwater. It's quite a trick.

10. They can easily get sunburned

No, we are not kidding. Elephants also get sunburned, which is why they make sure to be in the shade and often use their trunks to put sand on their backs.

by Caroline Edwards