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Elephant Facts: 9 Things to Know About African Elephants

As we spend this month celebrating the majestic elephants that roam the plains of Gorongosa, we’d love to share with you some interesting facts about these wonderful creatures. Join us as we explore a little of what makes them so incredible!

Fact #1: Elephants Never Forget

Elephants are one of the smartest animals on the planet, which is not surprising given that their brain is the largest of any land animal in the world! Coming in at an immense 11 pounds, this gives them incredible social and intellectual capabilities, including impeccable memory. Dominique Gonçalves, the manager of the Elephant Ecology Project at Gorongosa National Park, sums it up perfectly: “Elephants are completely extraordinary animals because of their social complexity, intelligence, memory. So, all this to me is very fascinating. That’s why I’ve been studying elephants so far.”

Fact #2: They are the Planet’s Largest Land Animal

Not only are elephants incredibly intelligent creatures, but they are also the largest land animal on the entire planet, weighing in at an impressive 22,000 pounds! Even baby elephants, known as calves, are huge. At birth, they can weigh up to 250 pounds!

baby bull elephant

Fact #3: Their Ears Keep Them Cool

The savannahs of Africa can be pretty warm, and elephants can’t just turn up the AC! Instead, they rely on their large ears (which account for up to 20% of their surface area) to keep them cool. According to the BBC, elephants’ ears operate much like a car radiator, helping to cool the rest of their massive bodies:

“Thin flaps dissipate heat fast and therefore the ears are immediately cooler than other parts of the body, but to accentuate this, elephants control the volume of blood that flows through their ears via a network of blood vessels. The vessels can be dilated to increase the flow of blood to the ears and increase heat loss.”

Fact #4: Elephants are Afraid of Bees

At Gorongosa, we are all about working together to promote healthy coexistence among people, wildlife, and the planet. One of the coolest partnerships we’ve formed is between an unlikely pairelephants and bees! In order for people and elephants to thrive together, many farmers actually rely on fences built from beehives to keep elephants from trampling their farmland. Since elephants are scared of the bees, they stay away from the crops, and as an added bonus, the honey produced from the hives helps provide a sustainable source of income for local communities.

elephants roaming

Fact #5: Elephants are a Key Species

Elephants are critical to the survival of Gorongosa National Park, and shape it every day through their unique position as a key species. By knocking down trees and eating tall grass, they act like gardeners, keeping the bush open and clear, so it is accessible to other grazers. They also spend 16 hours a day eating to satisfy their huge appetite, and you can spot the telltale signs of their presence by enormous balls of poop that fertilize the soil, spread seeds, and feed dung beetles! 


Fact #6: Elephants Communicate through Vibrations

Elephants can communicate through a variety of means, including trumpet calls with their trunks, body language, touch, scent, and even vibrations! They create these seismic signals by emitting sounds that create vibrations in the ground, which they then detect through their bones.

Joyce Poole, a world-renowned elephant ecologist, has spent time studying Gorongosa’s elephants to learn more about their social behavior and communication. Learn more about her work from our latest episode of #CoffeeConversations:

Elephant Fact #7: Elephants are Under Threat

All around the world, elephants are under threat. In 2016, the Great Elephant Census revealed that savannah elephant numbers were declining at a rate of 8 percent—or 27,000 elephants a year. That’s why Gorongosa’s wildlife rangers are so crucial to the elephant population, and all of the other wildlife, that calls the park home. These inspiring men and women patrol over 11,900 km2 of habitat spanning the Park to protect its many creatures, large and small, from activities associated with illegal wildlife trade.

Elephant Fact #8: Elephants are Matriarchal

Every elephant family is led by the oldest female, the matriarch, who passes down her wisdom and ensures that her herd is safe and well taken care of. She displays immense compassion and guardianship as she guides the other elephants in her pack, teaching them how to take care of their young and making major decisions during moments of crisis.gorongosa's elephants

Elephant Fact #9: Gorongosa is Home to 800+ Elephants

Gorongosa National Park has had a tough past, with much of its beauty decimated in the Mozambican Civil War. After that 17 year period of violence, there were only 200 elephants in the entire park But now, aided by the dedicated members of the Gorongosa Project, the park has been able to recover and the elephant population has risen to over 800 today!

There is so much to learn about elephants, and we are continuing to discover more every day! Continue to watch this space for even more stories about Gorongosa’s impressive wildlife.

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