The central part of the Kruger National Park is Ellie Valley. Regular visitors to the area know that it’s a great area to observe the gentle giants. The large herd that lives around Sable Dam are positively famous for their antics in and around the water. Here are some interesting titbits separating facts from popular fiction...
1. Elephants used their trunks like a straw to drink
Nope. Ellies actually suck water part way up in their trunks and then pour it into their mouths to drink – up to 14 litres at a shot. They can also spray water over their bodies with their trunks to cool off or mud and sand as a sun screen. Elephants love swimming (as anyone who’s stopped at Sable Dam long enough can witness) and can use their trunks as snorkels when they dive. Trunks are fascinating fusions of their noses and upper lips – 40,000 muscles strong enough to rip a branch off a leadwood tree, yet dexterous enough to pick up a single grain of rice.
2. Elephants are scared of mice
The cartoons have it wrong. Elephants are completely unfazed by rodents, but they really do not like ants and bees. They avoid eating certain acacia trees that are home to ants and will stay away from bees at all costs. A great way for a farmer to protect their crops or orchards from marauding elephants is with beehives around the perimeter fences. Getting the little critters into their very sensitive trunks must be maddening.
3. Elephants are the only mammals that cannot jump
While it is true that elephants can’t jump, they are certainly not the only mammals who can’t. Rhinos, hippos and sloths cannot either. In the elephant’s case, the bones in their limbs point straight down and lack the “spring” angles of the limbs of antelopes, cats and frogs. Also, to get 4 to 6 tons into the air will take extraordinary muscular effort. For this same reason, elephants can also not truly run. Best they can do is a 40km/h trot – still rivalling an Olympian sprinter – they have to keep at least 2 feet on the ground.
4. Elephants love peanuts
Another cartoon myth. Elephants most definitely not eat peanuts in the wild and peanuts are also not a staple food for elephants in captivity. The world’s largest land animal eats for 16 hours per day and gobbles up 100s of kilograms of plant material. Peanuts are tiny little things.
5. Elephants have small brains
Actually, elephants’ brains are the largest of all land animals – 4 times larger than a human’s. They are also highly developed and at least as intelligent as whales and dolphins. Like human toddlers, great apes, magpies and dolphins, elephants have passed the mirror test—they recognize themselves in a mirror. Their intelligence is also associated with their ability to display grief, altruism, compassion, self-awareness , play, art and music. And you’ve certainly heard of “a memory like an elephant”. That turns out to be factual. Scientists believe elephants have cognitive maps to remember large scale spaces over a long time.
6. Elephants get drunk from eating fermented marulas
Firstly, elephants do not prefer fermenting marulas off the ground – they much rather pick ripe fruit from the tree. Secondly, even if elephants ate fermented marulas of the veld floor, it would take approximately 14,000 fruits to get one drunk. It’s just not going to happen.
7. Elephants are closely related to hippos and rhinos
The closest living relative to an elephant is actually a dassie (rock hyrax)! Amazingly, elephants and rock hyraxes share several common physiological features in the toes, teeth and skull: like two tusks and flattened nails on the tips of their digits (as opposed to claws). Their common ancestor lived 60 million years ago.
8. The only sound elephants make is trumpeting
Elephants produce several types of sounds. Perhaps the most well known is the trumpet, which is made during excitement, distress or aggression. They can hear one another´s trumpeting up to 9½ km away. Elephants also make a low rumble and a purring sound like household cats as means of communication.