11 Elephant Facts That Might Surprise You
Did you know elephants can be left-handed?
Elephants are pretty amazing. Did you know they’re super smart? Or that there are a few different types of elephants?
We put together a list of 11 fun elephant facts so you can learn even more.
11 elephant facts for kids and adults
1. Elephants (almost) never forget
Have you ever heard the phrase, “An elephant never forgets?” While that’s not entirely true, they do have amazing memory and recall abilities. Elephants have been known to recognize other elephants who they haven’t seen in years.
2. Elephants have a lot of feelings
Elephants have a wide range of emotions, including joy, love, grief, stress and anger. They even show altruistism and empathy and have been known to grieve for dead herd members.
3. Elephants are super smart
Not only do elephants have the largest brain of any land animal, but they’re also highly intelligent. Scientists rank elephants with dolphins and chimps, who are known to be some of the smartest animals. Elephants can even recognize themselves in a mirror, indicating they have self-awareness, which is something only certain other mammals are able to do (including humans, apes, bottlenose dolphins and orcas).
4. There are three species of elephants
There are currently three different species of elephants that are recognized: the African savanna (or bush) elephant, the African forest elephant and the Asian elephant.
These are some of the main differences between them so you can tell them apart:
- Ears: African elephants have large ears (shaped like the African continent), while Asian elephants have small, rounded ears.
- Head shape: African elephants have round heads, while Asian elephants have domed heads.
- Tusks: Male and female African elephants have tusks, but only male Asian elephants have them. (But not all elephants will develop tusks, regardless of species. Research has shown some elephants may have evolved to be tuskless due to ivory poaching.)
- Size: African elephants are larger than Asian ones, with the African savanna elephants being the biggest of them all.
5. Female elephants are more social than males
Female elephants live in herds with their calves (aka their babies) and relatives, while males usually live alone. Some males will live in bachelor herds made up of other males. Females tend to stick with their closest relatives, so their herd is made up of immediate family, with the wider social network including other females.
6. Female elephants are the leaders
Since there are no adult males in the herds, the females are the leaders (girl power!). The matriarch is typically the oldest and largest female. The rest of the herd will walk in a line behind the matriarch, and she makes the group decisions (and according to this study, the oldest leaders make the wisest decisions, likely because of previous life experiences).
7. Elephants can be left- or right-“handed”
By “handed,” we mean trunk-handedness. Elephants will have a preference for using their trunks to either the left or right side, and they develop this within three months of being born. But unlike with humans, who are more often right-handed, elephants are equally likely to be left- or right-trunked.
8. Elephants can do a lot when they’re born
Baby elephants are pretty advanced — they can stand and walk almost immediately after they’re born. While they’re capable of these things, they’re not fully independent until they reach around 6 months of age and no longer rely on their mothers to nurse.
9. Elephants are the only animals who can’t jump
No basketball playing for elephants — they can’t jump. It’s pretty much impossible for elephants to get all their body weight (on average, around 8,000 pounds or more) off the ground, but there’s actually another reason why they don’t jump. Most animals who do jump do it to get away from predators, but elephants’ large size and their herds help them stay safe, so there’s really no use for it.
10. Elephants are pregnant for a LONG time
Nine months might seem like a long time for people to be pregnant, but elephants are pregnant for even longer — an average of 22 months! This is the longest gestation period for any living mammal. Experts say the reason they’re pregnant for so long is because of their large size (they’re on average 200 pounds at birth!) and brains. A long gestation period allows elephants' brains (which are super advanced) to properly develop. And elephants usually only have one baby at a time (only about one percent of elephant births are twins).
11. Elephants are endangered
Elephants are classified as an endangered species. There are only around 415,000 elephants left in Africa and 40,000 to 50,000 left in Asia (for reference, in 1930, there were up to 10 million wild African elephants and 100,000 Asian elephants).
Elephants are victims of ivory poaching, trophy hunting and people killing them to protect themselves or their land. In fact, the biggest threat to healthy, adult elephants is humans. Animals like lions and hyenas prey on sick or young elephants, since they’re more vulnerable, but a healthy adult has few predators. Their habitats have also declined as humans continue to develop their land.
Here are some steps you can take to help elephants:
- Donate to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Save the Elephants or another wildlife conservation organization to help them in their conservation efforts.
- “Adopt” an elephant. By symbolically adopting an elephant, you’re donating to help support elephants.
- Don’t buy ivory products.
- Help educate others about conserving wildlife.
- Sign petitions to protect elephants.
- Don’t go to events where elephants are made to perform.
- Don’t support zoos that take elephants from the wild or from poachers.
As you can see, elephants are pretty amazing creatures. And for more fun animal facts, check out these other articles: