General information on the Elephant

Elephants are large mammals of the family Elephantidae and the order Proboscidea. They are represented by three species: the African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana), the African forest elephant (L. cyclotis) and the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus). The two African species were traditionally considered to be the same species. These three species are scattered throughout sub-Saharan Africa and South to Southeast Asia. They are the only surviving proboscideans of which several species have been identified, including the elephants' close relatives, the mammoths. Elephants are the largest living terrestrial animals. Male African bush elephants can reach a height of 3.20–4 m (10.5–13.1 ft) and a weight of 4,700–6,048 kg (10,362–13,334 lb). The animals have several distinctive features, including a long proboscis or trunk that they use for numerous purposes, particulary for grasping objects. The ear flaps are particularly large and help to control the temperature of their massive bodies. Their second upper incisors grow into large tusks, which serve as tools for digging and moving, as well as weapons for fighting.The African species have larger ears and concave backs while the Asian elephant has smaller ears and a a convex back.

Elephants are herbivores and they can be found in numerous habitats, including savannas, forests, deserts and marshes, and prefer to stay near water. Elephants are considered to be keystone species due to the impact they have on their environments. Other animals tend to keep out of their way, and predators such as lions, tigers, hyenas and wild dogs usually target only the calves. The social life of elephants can vary. Females or cows tend to live in family groups, which can consist of just one female with her calves or several related females with offspring. The latter are lead by the oldest cow, known as the matriarch. Elephants appear to have a fission-fusion society in which multiple family groups come together for socializing. Males or bulls leave their family groups when they reach puberty, and may live alone or with other males. Adult bulls mostly interact with family groups when looking for a mate. Bulls enter a state of increased testosterone and aggression known as musth. This helps them gain dominance and have reproductive success. Calves are the center of attention in their family groups, and rely on their mothers for as long as three years. Elephants communicate by touch, sight, and sound. They are known to use infrasound for long-distance communication.

Elephants are highly intelligent, being comparable to primates and cetaceans. They appear to have self-awareness and show empathy for dying or dead individuals of their kind. African elephants are together listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), while the Asian elephant is considered to be Endangered. One of the biggest threats to elephant populations is the ivory trade, as the animals are poached for their ivory tusks. Other threats to wild elephants include habitat destruction and conflicts with local people. Elephants are used as working animals in both Asia and Africa and are employed for a numbers of tasks. They have also been used as instruments of war, and have been put on display in zoos and circuses. Highly recognizable, elephants have played important roles in human cultures, and have been featured in art, folklore, religion, literature and popular culture.

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