Pondering Pachyderms

Pondering Pachyderms

Why are elephants sometimes called “pachyderms”?

The word “pachyderm” is derived from the Greek word “pachydermose,” meaning “thick-skinned.” On top of its head and on its back, an elephant’s skin is one to two inches thick; elsewhere on its body it is thinner. The skin, sparsely covered with wire-like
bristles, protects the animal from the sun and shields against moisture loss.

How long have elephants been around?

Elephant-like animals have roamed the earth for the past 55 million years. In today’s world, only two members of the order Proboscidea (so named for their long trunks) remain: the Asian elephant and the African elephant. The mammoth and the American mastodon,
the elephants’ last living relatives, are believed to have become extinct during the Ice Ages.

How much do elephants weigh?

At birth, Asian elephants weigh from 250 to 350 pounds (males are heavier than females). Fully grown, males weigh in at 10,000 to 12,000 pounds, and females at 8,000 to 10,000 pounds. Standing up to 10 feet in height, they are, together with the African
elephant, the largest living land animals. Despite their size, elephants are agile and graceful in their movements.

What do elephants eat?

Elephants are herbivorous (non-meat eaters). Their staple diet is 150 – 250 pounds of hay per day with some additional grains, fruits, and vegetables. In season, elephants have been known to enjoy pumpkins and watermelons, but it is not true that elephants love to eat peanuts. They drink large quantities of water: 30 to 50 gallons per day.

How do elephants use their trunks?

With nearly 150,000 muscles, the elephant’s trunk is very versatile. With it an elephant smells, picks up food and other objects, and sucks up water to blow into its mouth. Elephants also use their trunks to spray liquids or sawdust onto their backs for
cooling or protection from flies, to greet each other, and to vocalize. A “finger” at the end of the trunk allows elephants to grasp objects much as humans do with their fingers. While an elephant’s trunk is extremely powerful, it is also very agile: A pachyderm can pick up a bird’s nest without breaking
the eggs!

How do elephants communicate with each other?

Elephants’ vocalizations incorporate a wide range of frequencies, ranging from high-pitched squeaks to low rumbles. The human ear can hear most of these vocalizations; however, some are of such low frequency that they are audible only to the animals.
Their low-pitched sounds can travel over long distances. When greeting each other, elephants will often intertwine trunks. An experienced elephant trainer can recognize each individual voice of his or her elephants.

How long do elephants live?

The average life expectancy for Asian elephants is 45 years in North America. (‘Calculation of Longevity and Life Expectancy in Captive Elephants’, Zoo Biology by Robert J. Wiese, 2004)

Is it true that an elephant never forgets?

They certainly remember a lot! Elephants learn by emulation, a sign of high mental capacity. They will respond to some 60 verbal commands, as well as recognize human and animal friends after years of separation.

Have elephants and humans always had a close relationship?

Yes. Asian elephants have a long history of close association with humans, especially in the cultures and daily lives in their native lands, elephants first were used as workers in logging, agriculture, and military activities. Ancient religions in India,
Sri Lanka, South China, and Java have worshipped gods with elephant heads. According to legend, the future Buddha entered his mother’s lap in the form of a white elephant.

What are the roles of domesticated elephants today?

As in centuries past, elephants continue to work mostly in logging and agriculture (rice paddies and coconut plantations, for example) in their native Southeast Asia. They add dignity and stature to ceremonies and religious processions and are often revered
by local peoples. Elephants also entertain through their interactions with human performers and play an increasingly important role as photographic subjects for ecotourism.

What is the greatest threat to elephants in the wild today?

Humans are the major cause of death among both African and Asian elephants. Man’s need for wood products, human settlement, livestock grazing, and agriculture all encroach upon elephant habitats and contribute to their mortality. Elephants’ majestic size and valuable ivory tusks have also made them a target for hunters and poachers. The Asian elephant was placed on the endangered species list in 1976 by the U.S. Department of the Interior. It is currently estimated that there are less than 35,000 Asian elephants remaining in the world.


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