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ImageWhat if you had to ride an elephant to school? An elephant is huge. You have to climb up on a platform to get on an elephant’s back. You might sit on the elephant’s neck and hold on with your legs. You might sit on a seat on the elephant’s back. People in Asia once rode elephants for transportation. They rode elephants into battle. They trained these intelligent animals to haul logs and do other work.

Elephants are the biggest land animals alive today. There are two species (kinds) of elephant, the African elephant and the Asian elephant. Both kinds of elephant have long trunks.

The trunk is made of the elephant’s nose and upper lip. An elephant has two big tusks, one on each side of its mouth. The tusks are made of ivory.


An elephant uses its trunk like a hand. It breaks off branches from trees and shrubs with its trunk. It brings food to its mouth with its trunk. Elephants eat leaves, twigs, flowers, grass, and other plants.

An elephant drinks with its trunk. The trunk sucks up water from a stream or water hole. Then the elephant squirts the water into its mouth.

An elephant uses its trunk to take a shower. The elephant squirts water from its trunk over its thick, wrinkled skin. Sometimes an elephant wades into water over its head. Then the underwater elephant sticks its trunk above the water like a snorkel and breathes in air.

Elephants also use their trunks for smelling odors nearby and faraway. The trunk goes up and sniffs the air for faint smells. Then the elephant sticks its trunk in its mouth and “tastes” the faint odor.

Elephants have tiny eyes and cannot see very well. An elephant’s big ears, however, are great for hearing. An elephant can hear some sounds that are more than a mile away. Elephants “talk” to each other. They make low, rumbling sounds that can be heard faraway. They also make loud trumpeting sounds to warn or to greet elephants nearby.


Elephants have tusks because they sometimes need to dig for food. They stick their tusks in the ground and dig up tasty roots. They use their tusks to rip yummy bark off of trees.

Elephants also use their tusks for fighting. Male elephants fight each other for female mates. Female African elephants use their tusks to protect their babies from lions and tigers.


African elephants are bigger than Asian elephants. African elephant bulls (males) can be 13 feet (4 meters) tall and weigh 15,400 pounds (7,000 kilograms). The average Asian bull stands 10 feet (3 meters) tall and weighs less than half as much as a male African elephant. Female African and Asian elephants are smaller than the males. African elephants also have bigger tusks than Asian elephants.

African elephants are light gray. Sometimes they take mud baths that turn their skin red or brown. Asian elephants are dark gray.

African elephants have bigger ears than Asian elephants. Elephants can’t sweat, so they flap their big ears to get rid of body heat. African elephants may have bigger ears because they evolved in a hotter climate than did the Asian elephants.


Male and female elephants only come together to mate. But female elephants live together in families. Families are made up of young elephants and their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. The oldest female heads the family. Males leave the family when they are about six years old. Adult males live alone or in herds with other males.

An elephant cow (female) is pregnant for 20 to 22 months. This pregnancy is the longest for any animal. Cows only have one calf (baby elephant) at a time. The other cows in the family help raise the calf.

A calf nurses on its mother’s milk until it is three or four years old. By age ten, a calf can weigh 2,000 to 3,000 pounds (900 to 1,300 kilograms). Unlike other mammals, elephants continue to grow slowly throughout life. Elephants can live to be more than 60 years old.


African and Asian elephants are now endangered species. People killed elephants for their ivory tusks. People destroyed the forests and grasslands where elephants lived. In the early 1900s, there were between 5 million and 10 million elephants living in the wild. By 1979, there were only 1.3 million. Another 600,000 African elephants were killed for their ivory tusks between 1979 and 1989. In 1989, many countries banned ivory sales and took other steps to protect elephants. Despite these steps, only about 400,000 to 500,000 elephants live in the wild today

Source: Microsoft ® Encarta