Animal of the Month: The Elephant

by, Jo Carol Hebert

Check out this elephant puzzle. It is an adaptation of an old story from the Asian country of India. It is about how people described an elephant by touching its parts…

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Once there were six blind people. They lived in distant lands far away from each other. One animated-elephant-image-0354day, the six blind people each had a similar mind to travel from their homes to explore the world.

And so, they set out upon their journey.

In the course and coincidence of time, they all bumped into an Elephant in the road.

The first person touched the Elephant’s broad side. 

“Why, this beast is like a wall,” he cried.

The second person touched the Elephant’s long tusk. 

“No”, she said, “this beast is like a sharp spear.”

Wrong!” exclaimed the third person, as he touched the elephant’s trunk, “this thing is like a snake.

Now, the fourth person touched the legs of the animal. 

“No,” he said, “this beast is like tree trunks.

elephant2The fifth person could stand it no longer. She was tall, so she reached high and happen to touch the elephant’s ears. 

“You are all wrong!” she cried. “This strange creature is like two great fans.”

The sixth person had wandered to the back of the elephant and grabbed his tail.

Aha! he cried, “Here is the truth.” This creature is not like a wall, a spear, a snake, a tree, or a fan. This great beast is like a rope!”

And then the patient elephant let out a huge trumpeting sound.

The six blind people scattered into the woods nearby. Huddled together, they put their pieces of information together:

A broad side like a wall, plus two sharp spears for tusks, a squirming snake nose, four trunk-like legs, two ears that sway like fans, and a rope-like tail.

An Elephant!”, they all cried together.

And so, they went their ways, to tell their friends that they had ‘seen’ an elephant.

Did You Know?

  • the two species of elephants are the African and the Asian
  • elephants cry, laugh, and have a good memory
  • females are “cows”; males are “bulls”; and babies are “calves”
  • they are herbivores, eating leaves, twigs, bamboo, roots, fruit (and, yes, peanuts)
  • weigh from 6,000 to over 11,000 pounds (2,000 pounds = 1 ton)
  • eat 450 pounds of food a day; eat 16 hours a day
  • drop 2,000 pounds of ‘poop’ every week
  • are afraid of bees

Listen to the elephant trumpet!

An Elephant is Like a ‘Wall’

An elephant is big and broad. The skin is textured by ridges, creases, and wrinkles. The elephantskinskin is dry to the touch because elephants lack sweat glands. 

They are very sensitive to the sun. Their skin is only 1” thick. Mothers will ‘shadow’ over their babies to protect them from sunburn in the hot climates habitats where they live. 

To cool their skin and soothe insect bites, elephants wallow in the mud. Both African and Asian elephants have gray skin, but the mud colors them the brown shades of the soil.

An Elephant is Like a ‘Sharp Spear”

elephanttusksThe tusks of elephants look the same on both species. Only males in the Asian species have tusks, while both male and female African elephants have tusks.

The tusks are used for digging for water, salt, and roots, and as a weapon. These tusks can also debark, pull up trees by the roots, and carry branches when clearing a path. Like people that are right or left-handed, elephants can be ‘right- or left-tusked’.  

Up to 1/3 of the tusk is within the skull. The tusks grow continually and can reach a length of up to 10 feet. The tusks, made of ‘ivory’, are highly prized and the reason elephants are killed by poachers.

An Elephant is Like a ‘Snake’

The trunk, which is the fascinating part of the elephant, is used in many ways. This elephanttrunkboneless, muscular appendage is both an upper lip and a long nose with nostril tubes running through the whole thing. The tip is two ‘prehensile’ gripping fingers on the African species and one finger on the Asian. 

There are elephant artists that are trained to hold a paintbrush and freely make ‘lines and squiggles art’. The trunk can stretch to reach the high branch tops of trees. Water is sucked up and brought to the mouth by the trunk. Elephants swim and use the trunk as a ‘snorkel’ to breathe through. They can smell water two miles away. And, the ‘snakelike’ trunk is used to communicate affection by caressing babies, and ‘trunk-hugging’ when greeting each other.

An Elephant is Like Tree Trunks elephantlegs

Four wide, thick, and study legs support the tons of weight of the elephant. Their legs can bend at the knee, allowing them to kneel. The feet are thick fatty pads, usually with five toenails on the front and four on the back.

An Elephant is Like a ‘Fan’

Asian elephants have smaller ears than African elephants. The ears of the African species are actually shaped like the continent of Africa.

The thin, flat, floppy ears are used to fan themselves, regulate body temperature, swat insects, and listen for sounds in the distant (up to 10 miles away).

tailAn Elephant is Like a ‘Rope’

The tail is a long, thin, dangling appendage on the back end of an animal. The tip of the elephant tail has wire-like, coarse hairs that work as a flyswatter to scare off the swarms of tormenting insects that attack their tough but tender skin.

Babies will follow adults when walking by holding onto their tail with their little trunks.

How Many Elephants Are in the World?

Gigantic bodies, tusks, trunks, legs, ears and tails are all parts of this gentle giant. But the ‘whole’ elephant is a wonder to behold and one of the first animals that kids rush to see at zoos. 

According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red list, there were 1.3 million elephants in the world in 1979. Today, there are only about 400,000 elephants left in the  wild. 

The African species is listed as (V) Vulnerable to becoming endangered. The Asian species is (EN) Endangered to become extinct in the future. Declining numbers are due to the ‘2H’s’ of all wildlife endangerment – Hunting (for ivory tusks) and Habitat Loss, felling forests for agriculture.

People and Elephants Getting Along Together

Elephants are enormous and their diet is equally huge. They need large areas to forage herdfor food and they are especially destructive in pulling up trees and stripping trees of bark for meals.

Some African communities have been very resourceful in trying to live with the elephants. They have successfully deterred the intrusion of their native neighbors by surrounding their villages and farms with bee hives, because of the elephant’s fear of bees. Conservation efforts work!

Thanks, Smarty Pants Conservation Kids for thinking about the awesome elephants of the world.  

Be sure to check out the Elephant Coloring Page PDF

What animal would you like to know about next month? I’m thinking of an animal with a long neck and long legs that starts with the Letter ‘G’ . . .

Categories: Animals

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