I was about 4 years old when I went to the zoo and saw elephants for the first time. I loved them immediately. I liked their size, their gentle manner, their ability to squirt water from their trunks. Back then, I did not know they were known for wisdom, memory and intelligence or that their uplifted trunks represented good luck. I did not know that they were social creatures who exhibited such cooperative group behaviors as babysitting and grieving. I do know those things now—which is probably why I am still fascinated by these gentle giants. Plus the fact that I met Nellie a few years ago; she’s a movie star elephant who lives in the Lancaster Hills.
In explaining my wonder of elephants to a friend, I was surprised by all the facts I have actually learned about these impressive animals:
• The elephant is the largest land animal, with the typical male standing 10-13 feet high and weighing close to 7,000 pounds.
• There are two basic types of elephants—African and Asian/Indian—but there are sub-types within each group depending on where they live (forest, savanna, etc.).
• The average elephant lives to between 50 and 70 years.
• Elephants are born after a 22-month gestation period, standing at birth at about 2.5 feet tall and weighing in at roughly 250 pounds.
• Elephants eat between 300 and 600 pounds of food a day, over a 16-hour period.
• Elephants travel at two speeds walk and fast-almost-a-run walk; typical speed has been estimated at about 5 mph, but the highest recorded speed was 25 mph.
• Elephants communicate verbally through loud trumpeting as well as low deep rumbles that can be measured at the sub-sonic level. The low rumbles can carry for miles and when recorded register at 117 dB.*
• An elephant named Ruby lives at the Phoenix Zoo and loves to paint—deliberately selecting the colors and textures she wishes to use on the canvas.
See? They really are impressive beasts. Too bad their only known predator—besides an occasional lion culling out the young or very old—is Man. The wild population is dwindling everyday through human encroachment such as loss of habitat and direct poaching. We really need to care for these gentle giants. The world would be a sadder place without them.
*For comparison, a library whisper registers at 30 dBs, a roaring motorcycle at 100 dBs, sand blasting or a loud concert at 115 dBs, and a jet engine at 140 dBs.