This post serves to answer all the little questions you didn't know you had about elephants. I hope you learn something new!
Q: Can elephants run?
A: Not exactly. Elephants are physically unable to run, according to the widespread definition. A run is often identified as a quick form of movement where the animal, at some point, has all feet off the ground at the same time. Needless to say this isn't possible for an elephant, who takes long strides to spread its weight among its four legs. But their front legs do move in a bouncy manner when they're traveling fast, so perhaps we could call their movement a wun, or maybe a ralk? Regardless, they can travel at pretty fast speeds, as Cincinnati Zookeeper Val Nastold says. According to Nastold, elephants can reach about 35 mph. Not bad for a ralk.
Q: Do elephants really never forget?
A: Nope. Elephants' brains are designed to store and recall vast amounts of facts, which this video explains in detail. While this is amazing when it comes to wild elephants' migratory patterns, it's tragic because a baby elephant who has seen his mother die will never forget it. Even captive elephants have an amazing mental capacity, recalling people, places and other elephants easily. There have been several cases when an elephant remembered a friend (whether elephant, human or otherwise) after decades apart, greeting them just as one would expect of old friends. This article details the entertaining experiment to test elephant memory.
Q: Can elephants dig?
A: Oh yes! From trunks to feet to tusks, elephants have several body parts to help with digging. In fact, this is one way elephants change their environment and create homes for amphibians and reptiles in Africa, by digging holes for the animals to live in. My sister, a volunteer at the Louisville Zoo, tells me that their Asian elephant, Punch, especially loves digging. Imagine navigating around those holes with a wheelbarrow of elephant poop!
Q: Do elephants stomp?
A: Not really. While elephants have the physical capability to stomp, they mostly walk on tiptoe. Studies and observations of wild elephants have shown that elephants mostly walk on the toes of their feet, and actually make less noise than a human walking. Stomping is more of a way to appear threatening and powerful, to warn and perhaps scare off predators in the wild. But on that note, here's a free fact: Elephants can actually "hear" vibrations in the ground through their feet, which is one way elephants communicate with each other. But more on this fascinating phenomena later; in the meantime you can watch this video.
Q: Are elephants graceful?
A: Yes, actually. Even though elephants weigh a minimum of 4 tons, they are very graceful in their movements. With the exception of babies, elephants are amazingly versatile on their feet and with their trunk. They can change direction easily, walk fluidly and manipulate their trunk with amazing agility. Don't believe me? See for yourself!
Q: Can elephants swim?
A: Oh yeah. In fact, they're great swimmers! Elephants can use their trunks as a snorkel, which allow them to swim both above and below the surface. Their powerful legs, in shape from standing almost constantly, work as great propellers. Water is a great attraction, and toy, for elephants, and keeps them cool during the harsh temperatures of summer. In fact, Japan's Fuji Safari Park recently built a giant pool for its elephants, and they adore it!
Q: Can elephants sneeze?
A: Yep, they can. Even though their nose is probably the biggest in the animal kingdom, the trunk still functions as a nose, which includes both inhaling and exhaling. Elephants can sneeze just like any animal, but it's perhaps a bit louder and more dramatic, since, you know, it's so big.
Q: Do elephants paint?
A: Yep, and they're pretty good, too! Painting is a common past time for elephants, and while it's become a controversial topic in recent years, many zoos have trained their elephants to paint (including our own Cincinnati Zoo). Painting provides an entertaining activity for elephants that can exercise their trunks and their brains at the same time. Elephants are surprisingly creative, and the art they create shows their own particular personality and style.
So there you have it, eight fun facts about elephants to share with your friends. Check back for more in the coming weeks!
Kerry Skiff is a conservation advocate and recent journalism graduate of Northern Kentucky University. She follows the ivory trade around the world, and uses her voice to educate Americans about their role in animal conservation.