Elephants have deep family bonds and tight-knit groups of related females and their offspring. Each herd consists of anywhere from 8-100 Elephants, all led by the oldest (and often largest) matriarch. When a calf is born, it’s raised by the whole herd. Males usually leave the herd between the ages of 12 to 15, living solo or temporarily hanging out with other males.
You know how they say “an Elephant never forgets”? Research has proven that they are extremely intelligent. And their memories are vital during the dry season when matriarchs guide their herds– over for countless miles– to watering holes they’ve visited in the past.
Elephants are herbivores and need to consume 300-400 pounds of food per day. In additions to grasses, leaves, bamboo, bark, and roots, they also are known to eat crops like banana, sugarcane and– the African Elephant’s favorite– sweet marula fruit.
Elephants can give birth until they’re 50 and can live to be over 70 years old. The oldest on record– an Asian Elephant named Lin Wang– died at the ripe old age of 86.
In addition to smelling, trumpeting, drinking and grabbing things, Elephants can use their trunks to breathe (like a snorkel) in deep water. In this way, they can swim fairly long distances.
Elephants must migrate seasonally in order to find food, relying on their memories of previous food and water supplies (hence the old saying, “an elephant never forgets”). They will also migrate to avoid poachers and other threats, even moving during the night to avoid traveling during the daytime, when poachers are most active.
On average, elephants spend about 16 hours of each day eating everything from grasses, small plants, and bushes to fruit, twigs, tree bark, and roots. Part of the reason they eat so much for so long is that they ultimately digest very little of the food they eat. So they need to consume more food in order to ensure they are properly nourished.
While they’re migrating in search of food, elephants spread seeds around the land where they have eaten, making them an important part of their ecosystems. After eating, seeds are released through elephant dung. One South African study found that elephants are capable of transporting these seeds up to 40 miles!
In addition to eating massive amounts of food, adult Elephants drink 30-50 gallons of water every day. They use their trunks like a massive straw to suck the water up, but then they actually squirt it into their mouths to swallow it. During the dry season, they’ll dig to find water, making huge holes in seemingly dry stream beds with their feet, trunks, and tusks until they reach the water supply. In this way, they also create watering holes for other animals to drink from.
Elephants are known to be social creatures and female elephants in particular. Elephant herds are matriarchal, with older females taking turns taking care of the calves and protecting them while traveling from place to place.
The family structures of Asian elephants are somewhat smaller than those of African elephants, which often number up to 25 individuals. Depending on the availability of food, elephant families can split into smaller units.
Elephants grieve when one of their herd dies. Due to the way their brains are structured, elephants display some remarkably humanlike emotions, showing sadness and grief and mourning the loss of family members long after they have passed on.