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The African Savannah Elephant (Loxodonta africana) is the best-known and larger of the two African elephants. Both it and the Forest Elephant were previously classified as a single species, which was known simply as the African Elephant. It is also known as the Bush Elephant or African Bush Elephant.
The Savannah elephant can range from 6–7.3 m (20–24 ft) long and 3–4 m (10–13 ft) high. At up to 10,000 kg (22,000 lb) it is the largest land animal in the world.
After their size, an elephant's most obvious characteristic is the single trunk, a type of muscular hydrostat, that is a much elongated combination of nose and upper lip. The tip of an elephant's trunk contains pacinian corpuscles and finger-like projections used to manipulate small objects and to pluck grasses. The trunk is a useful and muscular appendage that enables an elephant to reach food in high places and lift obstacles weighing up to 1 ton. Elephants are able to pull up to 11.5 liters (3 gallons) of water into the trunk to be sprayed into the mouth for drinking or onto the back for bathing. A trunk is also used for breathing and can be used as a snorkel when wading in deep water.
Elephants also have tusks, large teeth emerging from their upper jaws. Elephant tusks are the major source of ivory, but because of the increased rarity of elephants, hunting and ivory trade is now restricted, and in some countries illegal.
Elephants have three premolars and three molars in each quadrant. They erupt in order from front to back, then wear down as the elephant chews its highly fibrous diet. When the last molar has worn out, the elephant typically dies of malnutrition; elephants in captivity can be kept alive longer than that by feeding them preground food. The molars of the African elephant are loxodont, hence the genus name.
Skin diseases often occur, from which they try to protect themselves by taking mud baths, showering one another with water from the trunk, and rolling in dust. The skin can therefore appear brown or reddish, but the natural color is light gray. Their coarse and wrinkled skin is sparsely bristled, and about 1 inch (25 mm) thick. There are also rare white elephants, who often have blue eyes. Otherwise elephants have brown eyes, surrounded by long lashes.
They have large ears that they can wave to cool themselves down, and a relatively small tail with a brush at its tip.
Walking at a normal pace an elephant covers about 2 to 4 miles an hour (3 to 6 km/h) but they can reach 24 miles an hour (40 km/h) at full speed.
Elephants are herbivores, spending 16 hours a day collecting plant food. Their diet is at least 50% grasses, supplemented with leaves, twigs, bark, roots, and small amounts of fruits, seeds and flowers. Because elephants only use 40% of what they eat they have to make up for their digestive system's lack of efficiency in volume. An adult elephant can consume 300 to 600 pounds (140 to 270 kg) of food a day. 60% of that food leaves the elephant's body undigested.
News on Elephants
Okapi-killing warlord shot dead in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The head of an informal militia and poaching group, Paul Sadala a.k.a. 'Morgan,' was killed on Monday after surrendering himself to the army in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A well-known elephant poacher and terrorist, Morgan became most famous for leading an attack on the Okapi Wildlife Reserve station in 2012.
How locals and conservationists saved the elephants of Mali amidst conflict and poverty
At a time when Africa's elephants are facing a relentless poaching crisis, one community has managed to safeguard their elephants in the most unlikely of places: Mali. In a country that has suffered from widespread poverty, environmental degradation, and, most recently, warfare, a collaboration between conservationists and the local community has kept Mali's elephants from extinction.
The power of connections: India to establish Asia's largest protected forest
India has stepped up forest conservation efforts in recent years, with a major project underway to establish a large swath of uninterrupted habitat through the designation of additional protected areas and expanding those already under protection. If realized, these areas would converge to become Asiaâ€™s largest unbroken forest, encompassing approximately 15,000 square kilometers (5,790 square miles) over three states.
Islamic clerics issue 'fatwa' against poaching, declare the illegal wildlife trade 'haram'
Indonesiaâ€™s Islamic clerics drew praise from conservation groups last week after the top clerical body in the worldâ€™s largest Muslim-majority country issued a fatwa, or religious decree, against poaching and wildlife trafficking. The Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) announced the fatwa on Tuesday, declaring the illegal wildlife trade to be haram, or forbidden under Islamic law. The fatwa forbids Indonesiaâ€™s Muslims from â€śall activities resulting in wildlife extinctionâ€ť and is meant in part to help support existing national laws protecting endangered species, which are poorly enforced and have done little to prevent poaching.
Palm oil plantations allegedly poison seven Critically Endangered elephants in Sumatra
Wildlife officials suspect foul play in the deaths of seven Sumatran elephants on the outskirts of Tesso Nilo National Park. Officials stumbled on the corpses of one female elephant, five young males, and one male calf in mid-February. Although the males had their tusks hacked off, the officials suspect the elephant were poisoned in revenge for disturbing illegal palm oil plantations inside the park.
Ivory trade's shocking toll: 65% of world's forest elephants killed in 12 years (warning: graphic image)
Forest elephants have suffered unprecedented butchery for their ivory tusks over the past decade, according to new numbers released by conservationists today in London. Sixty-five percent of the world's forest elephants have been slaughtered by poachers over the last dozen years, with poachers killing an astounding nine percent of the population annually. Lesser-known than their savannah cousins, a genetics study in 2010 found that forest elephants are in fact a distinct species, as far removed from savannah elephants as Asian elephants are from mammoths. These findings make the forest elephant crisis even more urgent.
One person killed, two injured in elephant attacks in Indonesia this year
It was near dawn on Jan. 4 when a critically endangered Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) destroyed a small shack near a plantation in Indonesiaâ€™s Aceh province, killing a local farmer from West Aceh district and injuring his 13-year-old son. Yusmani, 59, was trampled to death while his son, Reverendi, escaped with a broken leg.
Hong Kong to destroy 4,000 dead elephants' worth of ivory
The government of Hong Kong will destroy 28 tons of ivory confiscated from traffickers, reports CNN. The announcement, which comes just weeks after China destroyed six tons of seized ivory, suggests that the leaders of the world's largest market for ivory may be getting more serious about addressing a global poaching boom, say conservationists.
China destroys 6 tons of elephant ivory
China authorities destroyed 6.1 tons of illegal ivory during a public event held in Guangzhou on Monday.
China to destroy ivory stockpile
The Chinese government plans to destroy a stockpile of contraband elephant ivory and other seized wildlife products next week during a public ceremony in Guangzhou, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Rainforest news review for 2013
2013 was full of major developments in efforts to understand and protect the world's tropical rainforests. The following is a review of some of the major tropical forest-related news stories for the year. As a review, this post will not cover everything that transpired during 2013 in the world of tropical forests. Please feel free to highlight anything this post missed via the comments section at the bottom. Also please note that this review focuses only on tropical forests.
Anti-elephant poaching story goes viral in China
A newspaper story about the impact of the ivory trade has gone viral in China, raising awareness among millions of Chinese, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The story, published November 15 in Southern Weekly, has been shared widely across Chinese web sites and social media.
Little elephant is the first scientific record of dwarfism in the wild
Biologists in Sri Lanka have published the first documented evidence of dwarfism in an adult wild animal. A male Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) measuring just over 1.5 meters (five feet) in height was seen in an aggressive encounter with another male of average size. The elephant's small stature was due to disproportionately short legs, according to the findings published in the IUCN/SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group journal Gajah.
"The 'dwarf' was by far the main aggressor in the altercation and appeared to be older than the other, a young adult," states the study. "Other than for the disproportionately short legs, morphologically and behaviorally the dwarf appeared normal."
Asian elephants depend on shifting cultivation during the dry season
Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) have co-existed with human practices for thousands of years, including shifting cultivation. Shifting agriculture encompasses a variety of different practices that involve abandoning plots for periods of time to allow natural vegetation to grow. The practice consists of cutting and burning the natural vegetation at the end of the dry season and cultivating with the rains. Harvesting is completed by the end of the wet season.
Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2013
1. Carbon concentrations hit 400ppm while the IPCC sets global carbon budget: For the first time since our appearance on Earth, carbon concentrations in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million. The last time concentrations were this high for a sustained period was 4-5 million years ago when temperatures were 10 degrees Celsius higher. Meanwhile, in the slow-moving effort to curb carbon emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) crafted a global carbon budget showing that most of the world's fossil fuel reserves must be left untouched if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Microsoft founder funds Africa-wide elephant survey to measure ivory poachers' toll
Beginning next year, light planes and helicopters will undertake the first ever continent-wide aerial survey of Africa's vanishing elephant populations. The hugely ambitious initiative, which will count elephant herds in 13 countries, is being funded by Microsoft founder, Paul Allen, through his Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.
Sri Lankan elephant amnesty will lead to poaching, warn conservationists
Environmentalists have responded with alarm to a proposed amnesty permitting the registration of illegally captured elephants in Sri Lanka. Recent reports in Sri Lankan media have outlined the proposal, stating that during the amnesty period it would be possible to register elephant calves for a fee of about $7,600. Elephants are closely linked with Sri Lankan history and culture, and are considered sacred in both Buddhism and Hinduism. But the situation for elephants in the country is complicated.
22,000 elephants slaughtered for their ivory in 2012
As the African Elephant Summit open in Botswana today, conservationists released a new estimate of the number of African elephants lost to the guns of poachers last year: 22,000. Some 15,000 elephants killed in 42 sites across 27 countries on the continent, according to newly released data from the CITES program, Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE). But conservationists estimate another 7,000 went unreported. The number killed is a slight decrease over 2011 numbers of 25,000.
Illegal timber, rhino horn, elephant ivory seized in raids across Africa
Raids in southern and eastern Africa yielded a stash of contraband linked to illegal poaching and logging, reports Interpol, which coordinated the operations.
Remote sensor captures sound of ivory poacher shooting an elephant
A sensor used by researchers to capture low-frequency communication between elephants inadvertently recorded the audio of an elephant being gunned down by a poacher in Gabon, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society, which used the sound byte in a video highlighting the carnage of the ivory trade.
The mystery of the disappearing elephant tusk
Give it a few thousand years, and tusks could completely disappear from the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus). The beautifully smooth, elongated ivory incisors neatly bordering a long trunk are iconic in the public mind. The reigning hypothesis is that tusks evolved to help male elephants fight one another, as demonstrated when males compete over females in estrus. However, a recent study published in the journal Animal Behaviour has shown that tusks may not be key factors in tussles, at least as far as elephants are concerned.
New campaign: hey China, stop killing the 'pandas of Africa'
A new public-service campaign in China will ask potential ivory and rhino horn buyers to see the victims of these illicit trades in a new light: as the "pandas of Africa." The posters are a part of WildAid's 'Say No to Ivory and Rhino Horn' campaign, which was launched earlier in the year.
Advertising campaign changing minds in China on ivory trade
For three years, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has been running advertizing campaigns in Chinese cities to raise awareness on the true source of ivory: slaughtered elephants. A recent evaluation of the campaign by Rapid Asia found that 66 percent of those who saw the ads said they would "definitely" not buy ivory in the future.
Tanzania should implement shoot-to-kill policy for poachers, says government minister
A government minister in Tanzania has called for a "shoot-to-kill" policy against poachers in a radical measure to curb the mass slaughter of elephants. Khamis Kagasheki's proposal for perpetrators of the illicit ivory trade to be executed 'on the spot' divided opinion, with some conservationists backing it as a necessary deterrent but others warning that it would lead to an escalation of violence.
Bornean elephant meets palm oil: saving the world's smallest pachyderm in a fractured landscape
In the Malaysian state of Sabah, where most conservation students are still foreigners—either European or American—Nurzahafarina Othman stands out: not only is she Malaysian, a Muslim, and a mother of a young daughter, but she's rapidly becoming a top researcher and champion for the world's smallest elephant: the Bornean elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis). Although sometimes described as a pygmy elephant, they still weigh 2,000 kilograms (4,400 pounds). The origin of these 'tiny' elephants in Malaysian Borneo have baffled scientists for decades.
Clinton Global Initiative pledges $80 million to combat elephant poaching
Hillary and Chelsea Clinton on Thursday deployed their mother-daughter star power to help the effort to save African elephants, brokering an $80m effort to stop the ivory poaching which threatens the animals with extinction.
Butchering nature's titans: without the elephant 'we lose an essential pillar in the ability to wonder'
Africa's elephant poaching crisis doesn't just threaten a species, but imperils one of humanity's most important links to the natural world and even our collective sanity, according to acclaimed photographers and film-makers, Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson. Authors of the book Walking Thunder - In the Footsteps of the African Elephant, Christo and Wilkinson have been documenting Africa's titans in photos and film for several years. In 2011, the pair released a film Lysander's Song (named after their son an avid fan of elephants) which depicts the millennial-old relationship between humans and elephants.
600 vultures killed by elephant poachers in Namibia
As the illegal poaching of African elephants and rhinos reaches epidemic levels, other species are also suffering catastrophic losses as a direct result of poachers' behavior. A recent incident in July, where a poisoned elephant carcass led to the death of 600 vultures near Namibia's Bwabwata National Park, has highlighted how poachers' use of poison is now one of the primary threats to vulture populations.
U.S. to crush its six ton ivory stockpile
On October 8th, the Obama administration will publicly destroy its ivory stockpile, totaling some six tons, according to a White House forum yesterday on the illegal wildlife trade. The destruction of the stockpile—via crushing—is meant to send a message that the U.S. is taking a tougher stand on illegal the wildlife trade, which is decimating elephants across Africa and imperiling other animals worldwide. The U.S. remains one of the biggest destinations for ivory and other illegal animal part aside from East Asia.
Five Aceh elephants die in just six weeks
Police in Indonesiaâ€™s Aceh province are investigating the killings of three critically endangered Sumatran elephants, as conflicts with humans led to a series of elephant deaths across the province last month. Five elephants have died in Aceh since late June, including two orphaned calves, highlighting the need to mitigate conflicts between elephants and local communities as deforestation drives the animals into villages and plantations in search of food.