10 Little-Known Facts About African Elephants

African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are magnificent animals, but there’s so much more to them than just their impressive size and massive ivory tusks. Their incredible capacity for emotion and strong family ties make them unique among Africa’s wildlife … plus even more attributes you might be curious to learn about these gentle giants.

Sources: HuffingtonPost.comSmithsonianMag.comElephantsForever.co.zaWikipedia.orgReidParkZoo.org, and MarylandZoo.org

This article originally appeared on AFKInsider.com.

Baby Elephant and mom (Photo by Bridget Williamson)

Baby Elephant and mom (Photo by Bridget Williamson)

They know how to self-medicate

Giving birth is hard, and after carrying a baby for 22 months (elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal), those mamas are ready to get their kids out already. They’ve figured out that certain leaves in their natural habitats (from the family boraginaceae – whatever that means) induce labor, and will munch some down when they feel it’s time to kickstart the process. Sounds less painful than an epidural, no?

sunset chobe

Elephants in Chobe National Park (Shutterstock)

Elephants will dig graves and mourn their losses

Elephants are some of the only animals besides humans and monkeys that have death rituals, and it’s pretty incredible to see. Even when a herd member is sick, they will try to nurse it back to health with food and water, supporting it as they walk and stand. Once it’s no longer any use, they’ll create a shallow hole for the body and cover it was sticks and leaves and stand watch for several days. They’ve also demonstrated signs of depression after losing herd members with whom they had close relationships, demonstrating an incredible capacity for empathy.

Elephants at Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (photo by Becca Blond)

Elephants at Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (photo by Becca Blond)

There are definitely gay elephants

Often, same-sex relationships between elephants last longer than the heterosexual ones. Since African elephants primarily travel with herds of their own gender, their relationships with the opposite sex are often fleeting and purely for procreation (though there are some instances of family herds, in which s mother and father stay together with a baby). But in the meantime, relationships commonly form between elephants of the same sex, and include everything from affectionate trunk kissing and intertwining to mounting.

Elephants are actually just big nerds

Weighing in at 4,000-6,000 kilograms, elephants have the heaviest brains of all land animals — five kilograms — and use them. The complex structure includes a cortex that has just as many neurons as a human brain — accounting for their incredible problem-solving capabilities — and a large and complex hippocampus that allows for advanced emotions and memory.

elephant eye south africa

(Shutterstock)

They only have 4 teeth, but they’re replaceable!

With a diet made entirely of plants, it’s not necessary to have tons of sharp teeth (no antelope meat for these guys). But even gnawing on bark and leaves can wear teeth down, so elephants normally have between six or seven sets of teeth in their lifetime. The new teeth grow in behind the old ones and slowly push them out the front in pieces. Gross, but also very cool.


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