(translation: ‘huge arch’)
the species is divided
into two, sometimes four sub-species: the Indian Elephant and
the South-East Asian Elephant. The latter is divided into the
Sumatran Elephant and the Sri Lankan Elephant.
only an estimated
1000 individuals or a few more are left in the country of ‘One
Million Elephants’… of which around 60 elephants live
in this park.
an Asian elephant is
about 2-3 meters high at the shoulder and its back is arched (see
scientific name). It holds its head over the body, thus it's head
is the highest point of the animal. It weighs 2.5-3.5 tons in
average. Only the males have ivory tusks, but not all (females
occasionally have very short ones); the tusk grows at a rate of
one inch per year. They prefer cooler weather in comparison to
their African relatives.
the African elephant
(Loxodonta africana), which is larger and weighs up to
7 tons, and has the distinctively larger ears; both sexes have
tusks, their back has a dip, but is not arched. It is divided
into three sub-species: the Bush Elephant, Forest Elephant and
the characteristic trunk
is an elongation of the nose and upper lip. It has no bones, but
over 40.000 tiny muscles that give it its incredible flexibility
and strength. An elephant uses its trunk to breathe, eat, drink,
pick up things, throw things, feel, smell, fight and play, squirt
water, mud and dust, greet and touch other elephants, and to make
sounds. Not surprisingly, baby elephants take a long time to learn
all the different ways of using it. Unlike the African elephant,
the Asian elephant has only one finger at the tip of the trunk.
an elephant can reach an age
of 60-70 years. Older elephants move less quickly than others.
The group slows down to wait for them. When an elephant has worn
down its sixth and final set of teeth, feeding becomes difficult.
It cannot grind and digest its food properly anymore. Eventually,
feeding becomes impossible altogether, and the elephant collapses
and dies from malnutrition. A dying elephant is comforted by other
family members. If a family member dies, the other members try
to lift it up again. The group often lingers for days, apparently
showing respect for the dead. Elephants also seem to remember
where family members have died.
in stories and films elephants slip away to secret communal places
to die. The belief in elephant graveyards arose when people found
large collections of bones in one place. Actually, these places
were probably once watering holes of drought stricken elephants.
Also here at Ban Na such stories can be heard.
baby elephants are born
with lots of hair. On average, a calf measures about 90 centimetres
in height and weighs over a 100 kilograms at birth. The calves
spend a lot of their time playing around. They enjoy contact plays
like fighting and mounting as well as chasing others. Male elephants
cannot ‘recognize' their children. The opposite is true
for the female family members. They form very intimate bonds;
the mother-child tie is the strongest one amongst elephants. Baby
elephants need the guidance of their mother and die quickly if
they are left alone.
female Asian elephants
become mature at the age of 9-10 years (males mature a few years
later). They give birth to their first calf when they are between
10 and 20 years old. After that, they can produce a calf every
4-6 years up to the age of 50. This would lead to 5-12 offspring
in a lifetime. Female elephants are pregnant for nearly two years.
Usually, just when the first calf can feed itself, the next one
arrives. The mother feeds its young up to six years. Elephants
can potentially breed throughout the year, but do so often in
the rainy season. A courtship is elaborate and cow and bull usually
mate many times.
as plant feeders (herbivores’’),
elephants are the largest consumer of plants among terrestrial
animals. They eat almost every part of their selected plant (from
leaves, twigs, bark and root to flowers, fruits, seeds and thorns).
Preferred plants are banana, bamboo and sugarcane. Plants do not
contain much nutrition, so an elephant has to eat huge quantities
(sometimes up to 150 kg a day). It spends about 16 hours a day
eating. Its body leaves about half of the food undigested. Baby
elephants often eat the dung of the adults in order to pick up
microscopic organisms that live inside the gut and to help them
digest the food.
plants do not contain
minerals in sufficient quantities. Therefore, plant feeders need
to find additional sources of essential salts and other minerals.
At some places the soil contains the necessary salts (a ‘saltlick’).
At these places elephants dig deeper into in the ground. Traces
of this digging are found at the elephant
observation tower in Ban Na. Elephants, but also deer and
other herbivores, congregate at such places regularly to find
their necessary food supplement. Fortunately, this saltlick is
situated near a small stream containing water all year round,
another crucial ingredient of an elephant's wellbeing.
elephants have to drink 70-90,
sometimes up to 200 litres water a day, but can live without it
for nearly two weeks. Each time an adult sucks water with its
trunk, it may contain already 8-10 litres of fluid. Elephants
can smell water nine kilometres away. Elephants love water! Frequent
bathing is essential to wash off disease-carrying insects and
parasites as well as dust and mud. On the other hand, mud provides
a barrier from the heat of the sun, thus keeping the animal cool.
It also helps to prevent insect attacks. The youngsters enjoy
to play and splash around. Elephants are actually good swimmers,
using the trunk as a snorkel while swimming underwater.
the Asian elephant prefers
woody open lands like bamboo thickets. It does not like dense
forests. A degraded landscape is therefore not a problem –
unless it deprives them from food, water and ‘privacy’,
meaning space for their natural habitat.
elephants are highly
social animals, communicating through smell, sound and contact.
They sleep only about 3-4 hours a night and yawn and snore like
humans. In the wild, older bulls live a solitary life and approach
a family only when a female is ready to mate. The females, however,
live in some form of small stable social group, often including
female family members and their offspring, incorporated in a larger
network of groups. Usually, the oldest and largest adult female
becomes the matriarch (female leader). She has all the experience
and makes the decisions for the group. Female elephants never
leave the matriarchal unit unless it becomes too big. Juvenile
bulls form loose bonds with other males lasting for a few days
and only visit family groups occasionally. They gradually become
separated from their family.
about once a year, adult
bulls go through a period of unpredictable, aggressive behaviour,
called musth. A bull in musth oozes a sticky fluid with a pungent
smell from the side of its face between its eyes and ears. His
blood now contains a very high level of testosterone, the sex
hormone. This period may last for only few days up to three months,
but is not bound to a special period of the year. The older and
stronger the bull, the longer the period of musth. Having a dominant
status in the social hierarchy, it is most likely for him to associate
with a female herd. When he is not in musth, a smaller or younger
musth bull might gain dominance.
and learning are important factors in the development of behaviour,
including aggression. The elephant-human relationship has always
been one of prey-predator in the eyes of an elephant. The intensity
of an elephant's aggressive response can be expected to have been
moulded by its past interactions with people, e.g. in regions
where they have been harassed by hunters and encroachers.
the typical high-pitched
trumpeting sound can be heard when an elephant is excited, surprised,
angry or lost. They also make a variety of crying, bellowing,
screaming, snorting and a wide range of low, grumbling sounds
that carry for long distances through the forest. Different rumbles
(partly on infra-sound level which humans can feel sometimes)
also mean different expressions. Their sense of hearing is very
adult elephants have no
serious predators apart from people, who kill them for their ivory
tusks and some other body parts or destroy their habitats. Yet
elephants can also be killed by diseases, accidents, droughts
or floods just like any other animal.
nowadays, elephants are
in great danger and must be protected if they are to survive in
the future. Asian elephants are most at risk due to habitat loss,
not so much due to ivory trade. Only between 36.000 and 44.000
individuals are left in the wild, with little over a thousand