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African Elephant

The Elephants (Elephantidae) are a family of pachyderm, and the only remaining family in the order Proboscidea in the class Mammalia. Elephantidae has three living species: the African Bush Elephant, the African Forest Elephant (until recently known collectively as the African Elephant), and the Asian Elephant (also known as the Indian Elephant). Other species have become extinct since the last ice age, which ended about 10,000 years ago, the Mammoth being the most famous of these.

Elephants are mammals, and the largest land animals alive today. The elephant's gestation period is 22 months, the longest of any land animal. At birth it is common for an elephant calf to weigh 265 lb (120 kg). An elephant may live as long as 70 years, sometimes longer. The largest elephant ever recorded was shot in Angola in 1956. It was male and weighed about 26,400 lb (12,000 kg), with a shoulder height of 13.8 ft (4.2m), 3 ft 4 in (a meter) taller than the average male African elephant. The smallest elephants, about the size of a calf or a large pig, were a prehistoric variant that lived on the island of Crete until 5000 BC, possibly 3000 BC.

Elephants are symbols of wisdom in Asian cultures, and are famed for their exceptional memory and high intelligence, rivaled only by cetaceans and hominids.

Elephants are increasingly threatened by human intrusion. Between 1970 and 1989, the African elephant population plunged from 1.3 million to about 600,000 in 1989; the current population is estimated to be between 400,000 and 660,000. The elephant is now a protected species worldwide, with restrictions in place on capture, domestic use, and trade in products such as ivory. Elephants generally have no natural predators, although a pride of 32 specialized lions in Savuti, Chobe National Park, prey on juvenile and early adult elephants at night.

The word "elephant" comes via Latin from Greek ἐλέφας (stem ἐλεφαντ-) = "ivory" or "elephant."

It has long been known that the African and Asian elephants are separate species. African elephants, at up to 4 m (13'1") tall and weighing 7500 kg, (8.27 tons) are usually larger than the Asian species and they have bigger ears. Both male and female African elephants have long tusks, while their Asian counterparts have shorter ones, with those of females vanishingly small. African elephants have a dipped back, smooth forehead and two "fingers" at the tip of their trunks, whereas the Asian have an arched back, two humps on the forehead and only one "finger" at the tip of their trunks.

Fun Elephant Facts

- Jumbo, a circus elephant, has entered the English language as a synonym for "large."

- Elephants are herbivores, spending 16 hours a day collecting plant food. Their diet is at least 50% grasses, supplemented with leaves, bamboo, twigs, bark, roots, and small amounts of fruits, seeds and flowers.

- Walking at a normal pace an elephant covers about 2 to 4 miles an hour (3 to 6 km/h) but they can reach 24 miles an hour (40 km/h) at full speed.

- An elephant's skin is extremely tough around most parts of its body and measures about 2.5 cm (1 in) thick.

- Both male and female African elephants have large tusks that can reach over 10 ft (3 m) in length and weigh over 200 lb (90 kg).

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