When Animals Attack 3: Elephants

Elephants kill around 500 people each year and as people are destroying more of their habitats and shooting and harassing them, those figures will surely increase as the elephants start fighting back.

Over the last 100 years, African elephant populations have declined from 3-5 million to 470,000-690,000. Asian elephant populations have declined from 100,000 to between 35,000 and 50,000. In areas such as Asia, humans continue to invade elephant habitats even as animal populations are dwindling.

It knocked me to the ground with its trunk, it rolled me, punched me, put a tusk through my left thigh, gored it, then ripped it out sideways – Billionaire Tom Siebel

Despite the ban on the international trade in ivory which was introduced in 1989, tens of thousands of elephants are killed every year for their ivory tusks which are then often carved into ornaments and jewelry.

Although elephants don’t kill animals (including humans) for food, it is food that is usually the main cause of conflict between elephants and humans. Poor farmers are extending their land to make ends meet as the human population is growing and they are doing so by shrinking the habitats of the elephants. A fence around a field is going to do nothing to stop these huge animals when they want to eat. The elephants don’t have anywhere to go, so they end up causing crop damage, and then they get killed for it.

They are being killed for the exact same things that we would die without; food, water, and shelter.

Related: When Animals Attack 5: The Cassowary

Despite these animals being so large, they are also quite fast, running between 25-30 miles an hour.

Elephant Quick Facts

  • What is the scientific name of elephants? The African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana), the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), and the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus).
  • How many elephant species are there? There are three elephant species; the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant.
  • What do elephants eat? They eat a wide range of plant material, including grass, leaves, woody parts of trees and shrubs, flowers and fruits when available. They can consume more than 50 tons of food per day.
  • How much does an elephant weigh? African bush elephants weigh around 6000 kg and stand 3.2m tall at the shoulder, while females are about 60 cm shorter and half the weight. Male Asian elephants weigh around 4000 kg with a shoulder height of 2.75m, while the African forest elephant weighs 2000 kg and stands at 2.2m tall.
  • What do elephants use their tusks for? Digging for food or water and to strip bark from trees; as a weapon in battles with rivals; and as a courtship aid.
  • What is the lifespan of an elephant? African elephants have a lifespan of up to 70 years in the wild. Asian elephants have a shorter lifespan of around 48 years.
  • Do elephants have predators? They don’t have predators other than humans.

What are the Main Differences Between African and Asian Elephants?

Apart from the differences given in the quick facts section above, there are also the following differences:

  • Shape of the head – African elephants have fuller, more rounded heads. The top of the head is a single dome whereas Asian elephants have a twin-domed head with an indent in the middle. The lower lips of the Asian elephant are long and tapered whereas they are short and round on the African elephants.
  • Size and shape of the ears – You can tell the difference between the two by looking at the ears. The ears of the African elephant are much bigger and shaped like a map of Africa. They reach up over the neck which doesn’t occur in Asian elephants. The Asian elephants have smaller ears that are shaped like a map of India.
  • Skin – The skin of the African elephants is more wrinkled than the Asians.
  • Number of ribs – African elephants generally have more ribs than the Asian species, though the number of ribs varies in individual animals. African elephants have up to 21 pairs, Asians up to 20.
  • The tusks – African elephants, both male and female have tusks but only some Asians do. The tusks of the Africans are bigger. About 50% of female Asian elephants and a small percentage of males have small tusk like teeth known as tushes.
  • The trunks – the trunks of the African elephant is visibly more heavily ringed and is not as hard as the Asian trunk. The tips of the trunks are also different. The African trunk has two distinct ‘fingers’ which it uses to pick up and manipulate objects. The Asian elephant has only one ‘finger’.
  • The toenails – the toenails vary between all three species of elephant. The African forest elephant has 5 nails on the front feet with 4 on the back. The African savanna elephant has 4 nails on the front feet with 3 on the back and the Asian elephant has 5 nails on the front feet with 4 on the back.

How to Survive an Elephant Attack

1) Flight distance – Always respect their flight distance and allow a flight route (so they don’t feel cornered). Do not cut off their way in which they are walking.

2) Give them right of way – Don’t approach closer than 30-40 metres and don’t allow them to get close to you either – retreat if they walk towards you.

3) Determine if the threat is real – An elephant will often “mock” charge (pretends to charge) to see if you are aggressive or not. You need to understand how to determine whether the elephant is mock charging you or whether it really means business.

If the ears are relaxed or fanned out then the elephant is probably mock charging you. If they are pinned back flat then you want to be getting out of there fast because the charge is real.

4) Listen – You’re likely to hear, trumpeting of a warning from the elephant.

5) Be aware at all times – Always keep an eye on all elephants so that one can’t come up from behind you.

6) Never get between a mother and her calf – Mothers with calves will get very upset if you are between them, so always watch out for small calves and allow them and the mother to get together.

7) Stay downwind – Stay downwind of the elephant as this will make it much harder for them to smell and seek you out. Hide downwind if possible.

8) Make some noise – If there is plenty of space between you and the elephant, it might be possible to shoo it off by making some loud noise.

9) Don’t turn your back – Do not turn or run! Running encourages chasing. If you must run, a charging elephant can run much faster than you but if you zig-zag, you might be able to confuse it. Elephants find it difficult to change directions due to their bulky size.

10) Find a shield to hide behind – If possible get behind something larger than you to hide behind and use as a shield.

11) Climb – Elephants obviously can’t climb so your best chance might be to get up a large, strong tree.

12) Throw a decoy – You could try throwing your bag or jacket to try and distract the elephant. If the elephant attacks the decoy, it gives you a few extra seconds to add distance between you and the elephant.

   

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