Elephants

31 March 2010 | Fact sheet

Do elephants ever forget? How do they use their trunks? Why does the African elephant have such big ears and why is its skin so wrinkled? 

1. Do elephants ever forget?

Elephants have remarkable memories. In the wild, they appear to remember for years the relationships with dozens, perhaps hundreds of other elephants, some of whom they may see only occasionally. They also have an impressive memory for places to drink and to find food. This information gets passed on from generation to generation.

2. How do elephants use their trunks?

The elephant’s trunk combines both nose and upper lip and transforms them into a single powerful organ that is able to touch, grasp and smell. It is strong enough to uproot a tree, sensitive enough to pick up a pea-sized fruit from the ground, and long enough to reach foliage high in the trees. The trunk is also used to drink by sucking up water and squirting it into the mouth. The trunks are also useful for greeting, caressing, threatening, and throwing dust over the body. The elephant's trunk has about 15,000 muscles and it takes baby elephants quite some time to learn to master its use.

3. Why does an African elephant have such big ears?

Elephants’ ears act as cooling devices. They can measure up to 2 square metres and they are equipped with an intricate web of blood vessels. When the animal flaps its ears, the blood temperature lowers by as much as 5°C.

4. Why is an elephant's skin so wrinkled?

Wrinkles help elephants keep their body temperature down. Wrinkles increase the surface area, so that more skin becomes wet when the animal bathes. All the cracks and crevices trap moisture, which then takes much longer to evaporate. A wrinkly elephant keeps cooler for longer than it would with smooth skin.

5. What is the social hierarchy in the elephant world?

Elephants live in a social hierarchy dominated by older females. Females travel in long-lasting social units of about half a dozen adult females and their offspring, with the unit being led by a single older female, the matriarch.

Males do not maintain long-term social bonds, remaining in the unit only into their teens. They then live out their lives in loose bachelor groups or wandering on their own.

Source and more information about African elephants: IUCN African elephant specialist group