Elephants are very smart; they have the largest brain of a land animal weighing in at 5kg (11lb) but not the largest comparative to size. Elephants are one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, and they are thought to be on par with dolphins. One well-known example is that when an elephant travels somewhere once it will remember how to get there for the rest of its life. Sometimes young elephants that have never traveled to a certain place know the way there because their parents or grandparents knew the place - no one can explain why that is other than genetic memory. Scientists have done many tests/experiments with elephants where they need to do a challenge or solve a puzzle and then they get a treat. One such experiment requires one elephant to pull on a rope so that the other elephant can reach the treat and take it down. All the elephants tested figured out the puzzle and even when they would let one elephant out before the other, the first elephant would quickly realize it needed another elephant to get the prize so would wait for the other one. One or two of the elephants even figured out a way to cheat the challenge where they could do it by themselves. Elephants are also self aware - if you were to put an identifying mark on one, it can tell which is itself in a mirror. Not many animals are self aware.
Elephants are very social animals and communicate very efficiently together; they can hear very low and very high-pitched sounds and produce them as well. Elephants will use these sounds to find each other, find mates and warn each other. The Cow social life mostly deals with birth and raising their calf. The cow prefers the biggest, strongest and oldest bulls to have a calf with; this is a reproductive strategy which helps increase the offspring's chances of survival. After a twenty-two month pregnancy (holy smokes!) the cow gives birth to an 115kg (250lb) calf that is 75cm (2.5ft) tall. The calf is blind at first so it relies on its trunk to discover the world; the calves also have a long development period as is common with most intelligent creatures. New born calves gets all the attention of the herd and all the adults and young gather around it and caress it, the mother will usually select several full-time babysitters or "allomothers" from her group. An elephant can be an allomother when she cannot have a calf of her own, the more allomothers a calf has, then the better chance for its survival. All the elephants in a herd are usually related and are a very close community. A cow usually mates with a bull from another herd that is alone; they do not mate within the herd.
Humans have interacted with elephants for a very time in both a positive and negative way. We have used them as tools, as transportation, for war, as food, as hunting game, as decoration and worshipped them as gods (like the Indian god Ganesha). They were very useful in war because their skin is very tough, they can carry a lot, take down walls and buildings and even be a moving fortress (a fortress is build on top of their backs). They have been used for labour, and as big game hunting. Since we have been using them in such a negative way for so long they have been getting more and more aggressive towards humans over the years, especially since we are taking over their land more and more. When an elephant starts to act out of the norm and is very aggressive to humans it is called a rogue elephant - and once they go rogue they do not go back. Either it has to be killed it (or more preferably left alone) or it will kill any human it sees and there is just about nothing that can stop it. If an elephant remembers a human killing its family it has an increased chance of becoming rogue, herds will even teach their calves to be aggressive to humans. When elephants go rogue they have been known to crush vehicles with their heads or tear open vehicles with their tusks, tear down buildings and knock down trees to kill humans because it believes that if it does not kill the human, the human will kill it or its herd. A rogue elephant may not even warn you that its near - they can get as close as 1km in the bush without you being able to see them but if you see an elephant raise its trunk, spread its ears, take a few steps at you and/or trumpet at you, listen to it and back away until it is out of sight than run away.
Now that I made you scared of elephants, I want to point out that they are usually kind giants. Elephants prefer to avoid danger than encounter it, but they know how to defend themselves. They do not have many natural predators, mostly just packs of lions can take down an elephant and even still they will only take out the smallest and weakest. Elephants have worked with us positively longer than we have been using them negatively. They take to training very easily and can even bond with humans and other species; there is one elephant whose best friend is a dog (See the video in part one.) Elephants can actually live happily alongside humans in villages (although rare) if you do not mind them eating your crops. On rare occasions they have been reported as saving humans from threats such as lions.
Some ‘myths’ about elephants that have been busted or confirmed:
- Elephants are afraid of mice. Mythbusters have proven this to be true; they are not scared of them like you think though. They would rather avoid them than walk by/over them.
- Elephants never forget. I have mentioned earlier that they never forget.
- Elephants do not drink through their trunk like a straw; they blow the water they sucked up into their mouths.
- Elephants are not too big and heavy to swim. They love to swim - they love playing in the water and it helps cool them off.
With the size, raw power and intelligence that the elephant has, it is truly a giant among beasts…and an epic example of how much more there can be to the animals you thought you already knew.