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African elephant

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African elephant
African Elephant.jpg
Scientific Classification
Genera

The African Elephant is a taxonomic genus of elephants known by the scientific name Loxodonta. Belonging to this group are two species: Loxodonta africana and Loxodonta cyclotis. The African Elephant is the largest land animal on Earth, reaching up to 7 tons and 4 meters. These enormous creatures can live up to 65 years. During that time they spend the majority of their day eating. A calf learns a lot from its mother and herd. The elephant is huge and strong. But they are in danger and they may be extinct within 50 years if nothing is done to protect them.

Body Design

An African Elephant has wrinkly skin. Its trunk and tusks are shown here.

The head of the African elephant is comprised of many parts. The pair of ears on its head can reach up to four feet.[2] They are usually about one-sixth of the size of the elephant's body. These large ears benefit the animals by serving as a method of releasing heat from their bodies and cooling them off. The outside edges of the ears are about one-two millimeters in thickness. The blood vessels circulate the warm blood through the ears, and because of the thinness of the wall the blood cools down and then it makes its way back to the body. Along with 24 other teeth, elephants have a pair of incisors called tusks that extend from the mouth area. The animal is born with a pair of tusks, which are replaced with permanent tusks when they are about 6-13 months. They can weigh around 50-79 kilograms (110-175 lbs) in adult males and 18-20 kg (40-44 lbs) in females. The elongated portion of the upper lip and the nose is called the trunk. This body part is used to perform a number of functions such as lifting, breathing, smelling, communicating, sensing, and eating. There are approximately 100,000 muscles in the trunk of the elephant, which accounts for the strength and flexibility of it. They sense their surroundings by the nerves that are in the two projections that extend from the tip of the trunk. They can also be used for grabbing smaller things.[3]

The males are usually larger than the females.[2] The African Elephant weighs between 1800-6300 kg or 2-7 tons (4,000-14,000 lbs). When they are standing on all four legs, the distance between the ground and the shoulders can be anywhere between 2-4 meters (6-13.1 feet).[3] The length from the head to the tail is about 6-7.5 meters (19.5-24.5 feet).[4] The wrinkly grey skin of the elephant provides a way of cooling the body. The extra skin, or wrinkles, add surface area, which makes the water stay inside longer and not evaporate quickly. The thickness of the skin can reach about 3.8 centimeters (1.5 inches), but it can still sense anything that comes into contact with it. All around the body hair can be spotted. Usually there is an increase of growth around the ears, eyes, tail, and chin. The weight of the elephant is evenly distributed on the bottom of the flat pad-like foot, which is angled. The hind feet have three toes, while the front feet have four.[3]

Life Cycle

A calf relies on the mother to guide it.

African Elephants use internal fertilization for reproduction. They are viviparous. The females are open for reproduction for about three weeks, during which they are able to conceive for only three to five days. They show their availability and their willingness to conceive by walking with their head held high and making noises with their trunk. The noises are heard by males that are a long ways away from them, so they are able to find them. The males (bulls) compete for the right to mate with the female by seeing which one possess more strength. This is resolved through pushing and ramming. Once a bull wins, the other one must back off. The males are able to detect if the female is ready to reproduce by blowing the urine of the females into their mouths, where the Jacobson’s organ sits. They test the hormones in the urine.

The gestation period is about two years (20-22 months). The main parts of the embryo are formed by the third month of gestation. When the time of birth comes, the herd circles the female from all sides to protect her. The birth occurs standing up. Usually only one calf is born, but in rare cases there have been twins. When born, calves are around 3 feet and weigh around 165 kilograms (364 lbs). The calves are only helpless for a couple of minutes, and then they are able to stand to their feet. In two days, they are able to join their herd. The females of the herd help guide the calf while it develops. For six months after it is born the baby elephant is nursed with its mother’s milk. Sadly not all of them survive this early stage of life, about 30% of calves die. African elephants live for about 65 years or more.[3]

Ecology

The Habitat Range of the African Elephant

The two species of the African elephant live in Africa, specifically in the tropical biome. They currently are distributed throughout 37 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa.[5] The African Savanna Elephant inhabits the grassy plains and bushlands of the eastern and southern regions. The second species, known as the African Forest Elephant, can be found in the areas that contain forests, such as the western and central parts of Africa.[4] The habitat of the Forest species maintains a consistent temperature of 23 ̊C. The amount of rainfall differs in different forests, so the type of vegetation growing differs too. The Savanna elephant lives in dry weather during the months of June- November, but rain starts pouring during the other months. During the dry seasons, the elephants often migrate to more comfortable places that are not so dry. They search for an area that has a water source which does not risk drying out. When the rain season begins, they migrate back to their native region. Because of migration, the vegetation is able to grow at a faster rate, and when they return a lush variety of plants is available.

Throughout an entire day, an elephant can eat 149 and 169 kg (330-375 lb) of food. They spend about 17 hours eating a day. Their diet consists of vegetation such as grass, twigs, fruit, bark, roots, and bushes. The sharp tusks help them strip trees of bark, which provides their bodies with calcium and aids their digestion. Although some elephants consume as much as 152 L (40 gal) of water per day, it is necessary for their bodies to drink only 68.4 to 98.8 L (18 to 26 gal). Also their bodies require more minerals than is found in their diet, so the elephant's tusks are used to dig into the ground. Then they eat the soil which contains many minerals and salt.[3]

Endangerment

The tusks of the elephant have been removed.

In 1996 the African Elephant was recorded as endangered but the risk of disappearance was resolved after a few years. Currently, they are listed as a species that is vulnerable to extinction according to the IUCN Red Lift. As of today there are 470-690 thousand elephants inhabiting the continent of Africa, which is a huge decrease from 3-5 million during the 1930s. Many regions have grown scarce with the elephant, but Southern Africa seems to be growing in population. The main threat on this animal is illegal hunting, for their tusks and meat. Approximately 100,000 elephants are killed each year and 80% are lost. They are poached primarily for their ivory, which is exported for trade. Although CITIES passed a law against the illegal poaching of African elephants, many hunters continue hunting them secretly.

Another problem that the elephants face is the extermination of their habitat. The ranges of protected areas have been shrinking with the increase of human activity. Recently more and more land has been claimed by farmers to grow crops; this results in a big reduction of land that is available for the animal, and since the farmers grow plants that the elephants eat, they often trespass onto the farms. The people usually defend themselves by killing the elephant. Organizations such as WWF have been thinking of methods to protect the population. Some of these include: chili and tobacco-based deterrents, that will prevent them from entering the farms; farmers being able easily to defend themselves without having to kill the elephant; growing crops that are not pleasing to elephants.

If nothing is done to try and save the elephants, they may become extinct within 50 years.[4][5]

Gallery

References

  1. Loxodonta Anonymous, 1827 ITIS. Web. 11 February 2013 (Date-accessed).
  2. 2.0 2.1 Loxodonta africana African bush elephant Animal Diversity Web. Web. 11 February 2013 (Date-accessed).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Elephants Seaworld. Web. 11 February 2013 (Date-accessed).
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 African Elephants WWF. Web. 12 February 2013 (Date-accessed).
  5. 5.0 5.1 Loxodonta africana IUCN Red List. Web. 24 February 2013 (Date-Accessed).