Fun facts about elephants

Known as “gentle giants”, elephants are fascinating creatures physically, mentally, and socially. Being the largest land mammals on Earth, they also possess the biggest brain and probably the biggest heart —not in mass, but in compassion. Everyone loves them, but how many elephant characteristics do we really know?

We’ve studied elephants extensively — but we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. From their remarkable long-term memory to their ability to distinguish and recognise different human languages, here are 10 interesting facts about elephants you need to know. We hope they'll make you appreciate their beauty, intelligence, and emotional capacity even more. 

Before we start, make sure to count how many of these elephants characteristics you already knew!

1. They have extremely versatile trunks

An elephant trunk has over 40,000 muscles and can weigh as much as 140kg (308 pounds). Their trunks can hold up to 12 litres of water and lift as much as 770 pounds of weight, but also pick up something as small as a grain of rice. Smelling, drinking, eating, breathing and communicating are all done through their trunk. And as if that wasn’t enough, these multifunctional tools can also be used as a snorkel when swimming.

Photo by Colin Watts

2. Elephants never forget

This is because their temporal lobe (the area of the brain in charge of the memory) is much larger and denser than ours — hence their remarkable recall power. Elephants live for a very long time, and it’s their long-term memory that helps them adapt to changing circumstances. They not only recognise other elephants and humans from their past, but they're also able to recall routes to food and water sources, across great distances. 

3. Elephants can’t jump

When you weigh between 4.000 and 7.000 kilograms, it seems only fair that you’d be unable to lift yourself up from the floor. In fact, when elephants run, they must always have at least one foot on the ground — even when going at full speed. 

4. But they can balance on two feet

It’s fairly common for wild elephants to balance on their back legs — for example, to reach a branch that’s out of trunk-range. However, elephants can also be trained to balance on their front legs. So, even though they might not be able to jump, they still have extraordinary balancing skills. 

Photo by Johanneke Kroesbergen-Kamps

5. They are one of the most compassionate and empathetic animals in the world

Elephants are highly emotional and social creatures, and they constantly demonstrate altruistic behaviour with their herd. They “hug” their trunks to greet each other, are known to make friends with other elephants and also grieve loved ones, even many years after their death. 

6. Elephants are terrified of bees

Yes. You read that right. A 3 meter animal is scared of a 2 cm insect. And actually, it should be. One bee’s sting won’t really hurt an elephant, but a swarm of African bees might — and will — sting an elephant on its most sensitive areas: trunk, eyes, ears, and mouth. 

There’s a bright side to this: farmers in Africa are using bee hives — instead of damaging electric fences — to prevent elephants from going near their crops. Elephants won’t dare to go near the farms, so farmers are less likely to wound or kill elephants trying to defend their crops. 

7. Elephants can distinguish between different human languages

Different studies have shown that these amazing creatures exhibit a deep understanding of human communication; being able to tell apart different languages and also identify whether a voice comes from a man, woman or child. This astonishing skill is what allows an elephant figure out who is a threat and who isn’t. 

Photo by David Heiling

8. Elephants eat all-day long

Elephants sleep for approximately 4 hours a day. They spend 16 of the remaining 20 hours feeding themselves. This means that elephants spend 80% of their day eating. Sounds like the life, huh?

9. They can communicate through vibrations

Elephants can communicate in a variety of ways— and one is through seismic vibrations. Foot stomping and low-frequency rumbles generate these seismic signals, which elephants are able to pick up through their feet. Thanks to this, the gentle giants are able to communicate from several miles away.

10. Elephants are endangered!

Both African and Asian elephants have been mainly wiped out in the last century, mostly because of the ivory trade. But that’s not the only reason: elephant habitat loss and fragmentation, captivity, overgrazing, and human-elephant conflict are also big threats to the world’s elephant population. 

The thought of what the future of these beautiful creatures will be is deeply troubling. But there’s still hope for elephants if we as humans act responsibly. 

Here’s how you can stop elephant extinction:

  • Don’t buy ivory.
  • Support organisations working for elephant preservation.
  • Educate yourself and others about the dangerous reality that elephants have been and are facing. 

Elephants are not the only ones who could use your help. Check out our United Action for Animal Rights and support the top-performing organisations fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves.

Written by Paulina Silva

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