- The elephant is threatened everywhere it lives by loss of its living space to
man, who, though much smaller, is far more ruthless in driving off his opponent.
These photos show the peaceful nature of (mostly female) elephants tending to their
own business. If threatened, however, even these animals can be formidable.
One of the best ways to keep insects from inhabiting one's wrinkled skin is to cover
the skin with dust, thereby interfering with any insects' breathing. An elephant does
this by sniffing a load of dirt into its trunk, and throwing its trunk up over its
head while exhaling (sneezing ?) through the trunk. This habit is so common among
elephants that animals in different regions seem to have different coloring, due almost
entirely to the dirt they throw onto their backs. Two things are amazing about this
behavior: first that the elephant's aim is so good, and second that it can manage to
inhale enough dirt (into its trunk, at least) to coat its body effectively.
Baby elephants depend on their mother's milk almost entirely for the first
year of life. After that, they continue to nurse until the mother gets tired of
it all, between two and three years after birth. In this interval, the mother and
her sisters teach the young one how to choose, uproot, and eat a lot of plants.
Not every meal is found within easy trunk's reach. Some tree leaves are thought to be
especially tasty, even if an elephant has to go to extraordinary lengths (pun intended) to
acquire the meal. This tree is the Merula of Southern Africa; its berries are
also coveted by humans, who use them as flavoring for a creamy liquer sold under the name
Amarula. This latter is of no interest to the elephant, but the unprocessed version
could easily tempt him to strain several ligaments. Parenthetically, this elephant is
about 11 feet high at the shoulders.
Sometimes we forget, as we observe elephants moving peacefully in their normal living space,
how big they actually are. Of course, bulls are bigger than females and babies, but
all of them are bigger than we are, by a large multiple. This bull passed by our observing
group when we were all on the ground, probably 20 meters away from him. That gave us all a
sense of proportion.
Unlike many creatures, elephants invest a great deal of time in rearing their young. Small
boy elephants remain with their mothers and aunts for several years, until they get to be
too much trouble. Small girl elephants remain with their mothers and aunts throughout their
lives, first learning how to feed themselves, then how to care for their siblings, and then
how to deal with pregnancy, birth, and training their own children. Because they invest so
much of thier lives in training their children, it is tempting to anthropomorphize. But no
one really knows how elephants feel about this whole process, because (in spite of the
apocryphal tale about Dr. Doolittle) none of us has ever learned to speak Elephant.