“...I can watch elephants for hours at a time, for sooner or later the elephant will do something very strange such as mow grass with its toenails or draw the tusks from the rotted carcass of another elephant and carry them off into the bush. There is mystery behind that masked gray visage, and ancient life force, delicate and mighty, awesome and enchanted, commanding the silence ordinarily reserved for mountain peaks, great fires, and the sea.”
― Peter Matthiessen, The Tree Where Man Was Born
I read about elephants; watch shows about elephants. I go to the zoo, watch elephant cams online. I am an elephant watcher. Actually, it is more accurate to say I am an elephant dreamer. I want to do more than watch them. I dream of interacting with them, being friends with them, squirting them with the fire hose in the summer while they run around and play. I imagine a place where my friends would look for me every morning to say hello. If my family ever reads about a woman being arrested for sneaking into the elephant enclosure- they will know it is me.
Female elephants live together in a matriarchal society, with the oldest female elephant as Matriarch. They include females and calves. Although they are known to visit from time to time male elephants mostly live in isolation or small bachelor groups. The calves are cared for by all of the female elephants in their herd. Together they make memories and contribute to the world and our environment in many significant ways.
Five or six years ago two babies-six months apart-were born at the Fort Worth Zoo. I loved watching the interaction between the mothers, other female elephants and the two babies. I watched as the children would tease each other, steal the stick from each other’s trunks and when it got heated go run under their mother’s tummy for protection. I watched the mothers patiently teach them how to use their trunks, move logs and encourage them to do new things, like swim in the pool. They would use their trunk to hold them close, give them hugs.
One day Bowie- about age 3- was in time out. His mom moved him over behind a log and every time he tried to get out, she would walk over to him communicating for him to stay there. Once, he got quite a way out from behind the log–until another female noticed him and put him back in time out. I swear Bowie shook his head as if to say, “I almost made it.” I even saw his mother get so frustrated that she trumpeted her trunk, ran up to Bowie–as if she were yelling at him. I thought, even elephant moms have hard “mom days.”
“Elephants love reunions. They recognize one another after years and years of separation and greet each other with wild, boisterous joy. There’s bellowing and trumpeting, ear flapping and rubbing. Trunks entwine.”
― Jennifer Richard Jacobson, Small as an Elephant
I was able to witness this kind of display from the herd from the San Diego Zoo of "wild and boisterous joy." I happened to be watching the elephant cam the moment mom and a new baby entered the yard for the first time; the elephants trumpeted their noses, ran around the baby, petting it with their trunks in excitement. A baby born to one is a baby born to all. The female elephants work together and support each other. Female elephants of all ages help new mommies watch over their babies.
[bonus video: https://www.sdzsafaripark.org/elephant-cam]
“They say that somewhere in Africa the elephants have a secret grave where they go to lie down, unburden their wrinkled gray bodies, and soar away, light spirits at the end.”
― Robert McCammon, Boy’s Life
We know that elephants mourn the loss of the members of their family. There are rituals around the elephant that died that they all take part in. This ability to mourn stems from the ability to make deep and meaningful relationships.
While at the Dallas Zoo I talked with a zoo keeper about the elephants they had rescued from being euthanized because of the famine in Swaziland. The Dallas Zoo already had three senior females and put together a plan that they would slowly and as naturally as possible to introduce the new and current residents to each other. One of the things they did was to leave all the doors open inside the barn and let the elephant go out to the yard as they wanted. One day soon after they arrived the male elephant ran into the yard over to the older female residents. At first alarmed the keepers quickly saw that it was an instant friendship being made as if they had always been the best of friends and were inseparable after that.
“She owned the road as an elephant owns the veldt and like a big blue elephant moved with massive grace and dignity.”
―David Drake,Overdue Notice: Poems from the Library
Elephants in the wild migrate many miles each day and throughout the seasons. They may stop for a time to eat or drink, but they keep moving regardless of the weather or other circumstances. Often, they travel through parts of the wild where they and their young are in danger of being attacked by Lions or Hyenas. Carefully, while moving forward on their path, they watch over and protect the young. I think there is a wonderful example of the importance of safeguarding our children from the evils of the world, while having the faith and resilience to keep moving. We can move on and away from evil influence, move on from a bad day, move on from wrong choices, move on as we grow and progress in this world.
Elephants have been called, "Nature's Masterpiece" but we do not treat them that way. For all they are , all that they can teach us, elephants are on the endangered species list.
“If elephants didn’t exist, you couldn’t invent one. They belong to a small group of living things so unlikely they challenge credulity and common sense.”― Lyall Watson
Today is "Save the Elephant Day". Not only do these gentle giants have things to teach us, their status as a “keystone species” means that if elephants disappear the ecological impact of the elephant will affect our environment in countless ways. Here are some Elephant Facts and sources to help you teach your children the important part elephants play in the in preserving our earth.
“Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant – the only harmless great thing.”
― John Donne
One of the largest and oldest animals on earth are the surviving members of the Proboscidea order of mammals. Their order included the now extinct wooly mammoth and the American mastodon. In fact, the Asian elephant is more closely related to the wooly mammoth than they are to the African elephant.
In a report from the UN, elephants are being killed at a faster rate than they are being born. On the endangered list- although famine and drought contribute to their deaths, it is man and the ivory trade that is the greatest threat to their survival. They estimate that if this continues at the present rate elephants will be extinct in 20 years.
The following facts are taken from the article, "Time to Get Real. If Elephants Go Extinct … an Entire Ecosystem Will go With Them"
1. The importance of elephant Footprints
a. Elephant Footprints are large and because of their size deep. Deep enough to become microhabitats themselves. When they fill with water, studies have shown that they become home to at least 61 different macro-invertebrate species. (African Journal of Ecology)
2. Key species that disperse more seeds further than any other animal
a. “Due to their great size, appetite, and migratory patterns, elephants are the key species that disperse more seeds further than any other animal.” It is also interesting to note that studies have found that because of the make-up of the elephant’s stomach acids, the seeds are softened and germinate at a faster rate. It is easy to realize that as the number of elephants decrease, so will the number of trees.
3. What happens when we lose the tree species that rely on elephants
a. The consequences of losing the trees that rely on elephants affect the animals that feed and live in the trees. Some examples are: bats, birds, insects. Also, other mammals like the chimpanzees and bonobos rely on the fruit of what we commonly call the Wild Mango Tree.
4. Create watering holes
a. Using their tusks, elephants dig watering holes that other animals use.
5. Grazing promotes the spread of grassland
a. By uprooting trees and fertilizing the soil with their “Mammoth amount of nutrient-rich manure” they help to maintain the grasslands that other herds, like the zebra and wildebeest use. Without the elephants the forest would quickly overtake the grasslands, causing other species to be at risk.
More elephant facts found on The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee website.
1. Three species of elephant
a. African savanna- Large ears shaped much like the continent of Africa.
b. Live in the grassland of sub-Saharan Africa.
2. African forest- ears are more oval shaped. Sway back and wrinkled skin.
a. Live in the Congo River Basin in western central Africa.
b. Asian- have smaller ears, rounded backs and have smoother skin than the African elephants.
3. Three subspecies: Indian, Sri Lankan and Sumatran. They all have distinguishable physical traits related to their geographic location.
a. They live throughout southeastern Asia, from India to the Indonesian Islands.
a. Elephants grow long incisor teeth called tusks.
b. Asian elephants- only males have tusks, but not all males have them.
c. African elephants-Both sexes generally (but not always) grow tusks
d. Tusks are used for foraging, digging, moving objects, stripping bark, and as a weapon of protection.
e. Some elephants prefer one tusk over another, like humans prefer one hand over the other.
a. Asian elephants have one small finger-like projection at the end of the trunk, whereas African elephants have two “fingers.” They use their ‘fingers’ to pick up tiny objects.
b. Trunks have over 100,000 muscles in the trunk, making it flexible and strong enough to lift trees.
4. All Elephants are herbivores.
a. African elephants are browsers, eat grasses, leaves, twigs, bark, flowers and fruits.
b. Asian elephants graze the same foods, including bamboo
a. All elephants are herd animals with a defined social structure. Forming close bonds and family units, led by a matriarch, are daughters, sisters, and their offspring. Males stay with the herd through adolescence and then move away.
b. African Savannah elephants- live in very large herds- 20-70 elephants
c. African forest and Asian elephants- live in smaller herds
Additional link- DisneyNature on Disney Plus has an elephant movie streaming right now. It is so wonderful. Great way to celebrate this day with your kids!
“But perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that there are no walls between humans and the elephants except those we put up ourselves, and that until we allow not only elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.”
― Lawrence Anthony, The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild
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