An elephant in the… Fun facts about pachyderms.

"Our elders say that an elephant does not find its own trunk heavy". Zakes Mda


My favourite cartoonist, Gary Larson, is able to get so much said in a single panel. I felt that this was the ideal starting point for this posting on pachyderms.


When you have stood, as I have, less than 10m from a huge bull elephant, with nothing between us but the width of a waterhole, then you realize how huge these animals actually are. And yet they are able to arrive and leave in almost uncanny silence.

Did you know: Bulls can measure up to 3m and weigh in at 6 tonnes. They can live up to 70years, which is not that long considering they only reach maturity at about 40 years. And baby elephants can weigh 120kg …at birth!


They are only found on two continents, Africa and Asia. And although the African is much larger than its Asian cousin, the most noticeable difference is the shape of their ears.

FYI: An African elephant’s ears replicate the map of Africa and the Asian elephant’s ears are shaped like the Indian subcontinent.


Ever wonder why an elephant is called an elephant? The order Proboscidea gets its name from the Latin “proboscis” meaning trunk. The word “elephant” derives from the Greek word “elephas” meaning ivory.


Need to calculate the shoulder height of an elephant that you might be tracking? Double the circumference of the front foot will give you the shoulder height. I was sceptical of this measurement being accurate but it has been proved to me on both wild and captive animals.


Eyelashes that some would die for. But unlike the purely cosmetic value of lash extensions, for elephants, they protect against blowing dust and dirt.


There is often a white foam visible in the corner of an eye; about which not much is known from a scientific perspective. There is a lot of speculation that it might be mucous, but nothing is currently known for certain. What is known is that elephants have no tear ducts, but they do possess a third eyelid that protects the eye-ball when they are feeding and bathing.


Elephants do NOT like sharing waterholes with other species. This young elephant was making certain that the giraffe would have to flee and regroup before trying to return for their turn to drink.


Often when you are in the bush you don’t even realize that you are being watched. Like the elephant in the Gary Larson cartoon, this one believed that it could not be seen.


Can you imagine what the parents of human children would say about their offspring if they got this dirty? Elephant skin is up to 2.5cm thick in places and with so many folds and wrinkles, it can hold up to 10 times more moisture than smooth skin can. They use the much to protect them from the sun and parasites.


Elephants are able to walk quietly for two reasons. 1] They have an elastic spongy cushion on the soles of their feet that helps spread their weight. And 2] Their foot structure is such that they are actually walking on their toes.


Did you know that the bottom of an elephant’s foot has ridges and grooves like the bottom of a takkie? It gives them traction in muddy or steep terrain.


There are approximately 150000 muscles in the trunk of an elephant. Compared to the entire human body that has only 600. They can pick up a tiny leaf or break off a large branch…and the trunk can hold up to 8l of water. When swimming or playing in the water, it is used as a snorkel.


The saying ‘elephants never forget’ is true as their temporal lobe is larger than that of humans.


Elephants are always on the lookout for food as they need up to 150kg of food per day. That being said, they have a very poor digestive system, meaning that up to 50% of the nutrients are defecated undigested.


Elephant tusks are actually enlarged incisor teeth which make an appearance at about 24 months and continue to grow throughout their lives. Tusks are used when feeding and also as weapons for both attack and defence when provoked. 


Elephant calves are able to stand within 20 minutes of being born and can walk within 1 hour. Could you imagine the chaos if a human child was capable of this feat? 




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