The elephant is the largest living land animal, characterized by its long trunk, columnar legs, and huge head with temporal glands and wide, flat ears.
Elephants are greyish to brown in colour, and their body hair is sparse and coarse.
They are found most often in savannas, grasslands, and forests but occupy a wide range of habitats, including deserts, swamps, and highlands in tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and Asia.
Types of Elephants:
The African savannah, or bush, elephant weighs up to 8,000 kg and stands 3 to 4 metres at the shoulder. The African forest elephant, which lives in rainforests, was recognized as a separate species in 2000 and is smaller than the savannah elephant. The Asian elephant weighs about 5,500 kg and has a shoulder height of up to 3.5 metres. The Asian elephant includes three subspecies: the Indian, the Sumatran and the Sri Lankan. African elephants have much larger ears, which are used to dissipate body heat.
Life of an Elephant:
Elephants live in small family groups led by old females. Where food is plentiful, the groups join together. Most males live in bachelor herds apart from the cows. Elephants migrate seasonally according to the availability of food and water. Memory plays an important role during this time, as they remember locations of water supplies along migration routes.
Although unable to jump or gallop, elephants can reach a top speed of 40 km per hour. Their feet are well adapted to carrying their great weight. Elephants can live to 80 years of age or more in captivity but live to only about 60 in the wild.
Importance of an Elephant:
For many centuries the Asian elephant has been important as a ceremonial and draft animal. Technically, elephants have not been domesticated. Mahouts are skilled people who remain in direct contact with the animals for many years. The handlers take care of all the elephants’ needs, and the bond between man and beast becomes very strong. African elephants are now used mainly for transporting tourists in wildlife parks, where they are valuable in providing revenue to sustain its activities.
Conservation of Elephants:
At the beginning of the 21st century, fewer than 50,000 Asian elephants remained in the wild. Threatened by habitat loss and poaching, Asian and African elephants are listed as endangered species. From 1979 to 1989 the number of African elephants in the wild was reduced by more than half, from 1,300,000 to 600,000, owing in part to commercial demand for ivory. However, in some parts of Africa elephants are abundant, and culling is practiced in some reserves to prevent habitat destruction.
Thus, the elephants are an important species and are of great help to man. However, in the present day, their number is on the decline because the poachers and hunters are killing elephants in huge numbers to get a hand on their tusks. These tusks are sold in the black market for a huge chunk of money. This blatant killing of elephants must be stopped. The governments of each country must ensure that the men indulged in these activities are brought behind the bars.