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About Elephants

By Cathy Richey, the Cathy Factor

The elephant. It's hard to imagine a more magnificent creature. And not just because of its size. If you've ever seen how elephants mourn the loss of a loved one, you might have a clue as to why the elephant is magnificent, majestic, and deserving of our respect.

Let's look at the elephant's lifespan. It breaks down into three main periods. These are babyhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Not too much different from humans, except most humans reach adulthood only physically while elephants reach it emotionally as well.

The calf is born after a gestation of almost 2 years (22 months). The first calves of the season are born about 2 months before the first rains, meaning that vegetation is soft and lush when they start to feed on it.

The baby stage lasts from birth until the elephant has been weaned off its mother’s milk completely. This can be anywhere between 5 and 10 years of age. Being weaned means that the calf no longer drinks milk from its mother, but is able to live only on solid vegetation. For the first 3 to 5 years, most elephant calves are totally dependant on their mothers for their nutrition, hygiene, migration, and health.

The parents teach the baby elephant all they will need to know about the herd and their environment. These lessons include the proper use of their trunk for feeding, drinking and bathing.

The adolescent stage runs from the time that the elephant has been weaned (5 to 10 years of age) until about 17 years old. It's during this stage that elephants reach sexual maturity. This generally occurs anywhere between 8 and 13 years of age. They don't usually begin to mate at this adolescent stage. Adolescence is when young elephants begin to break away from the main herd. Young bulls, in particular, tend to form smaller pods of peers, known as "bachelor pods." Females are more likely to stick to the main matriarchal herd.

Adulthood starts at about 18 years old, and the elephant has an average life expectancy of 70 years. Although sexually mature in their early teens, elephants generally start to mate at about 20 years and stop bearing calves at about 50. Again, much like humans.

Like humans, elephant cows experience something similar to menopause. Many of the age-related illnesses also bear strong resemblances to those of humans, including cardiovascular diseases and arthritis. During adulthood, many of the bulls tend to wonder from the main herd in search of new cows with whom to mate. The female elephants will remain with the matriarchal pod, sticking together and assisting one another with nursing and caring for calves.

Elephants, like humans, enjoy clearly defined stages of their lives, each lasting for several years, even decades. Stages are characterized by structured roles and duties. These fascinating creatures continue to amaze researchers in terms of their insight, resourcefulness, and intelligence (editor's note: as opposed to members of CONgress, which continue to amaze everybody with their psychopathy, criminality, and stupidity).

Elephants are one of a select few animals that have the capacity to be joyful and playful with one another, to grasp humor and appreciate it. As social creatures, elephants will frequently touch one another in affectionate, loving ways. Joy is most often displayed when they greet close friends or family members.

Herds sometimes split and larger families are separated, depending on the matriarch’s decision. This can be due to shortages of food or water. When these herds meet at watering holes or breeding spots, they joyfully greet one another. This welcoming reception includes turning around in circles, holding their heads up, flapping their ears, trumpeting, and screaming. Elephants who have formed very close bonds with people are also likely to react in this way on seeing their companion after a separation.

Another major cause for celebration is the birth of a calf. During the birth, the aunts and matriarch gather around the mother in joyful support. Celebrations begin and the cows begin to trumpet, rumble, and even scream in joy and excitement.

Elephants amuse themselves by playing games. They use objects from the environment and toss, twist, or interact with it in some way. Games are initiated by trumpeting loudly, indicating to those in the herd that a new session has begun.

Older matriarchs and bulls engage in playful recreation. Elephants have even displayed a sense of humor in their games, often tricking and teasing their spectators.

Elephants have been known to attack humans. The attacks are nearly always deserved. The human did something awful, such as kill a child or just blast away at an innocent herd. The elephant attacks the evil human, meting out justice and eliminating the threat. Some people call this revenge, but when you think about how humans respond to a serial killer it's justice.

Elephants are noted for their memory, and with good reason. They have been known to remember those that have hurt them or helped them years after the fact. After extended periods of poaching and culling, elephants suffer post-traumatic stress disorder from witnessing the slaughter of their families and young ones. Just like humans.

Poachers usually go after the elephants with the biggest trophy tusks, which means they kill the leaders of the herd. Think of the effects this butchery has. The elephants lose their leaders and some of the collective memory entrusted to them. The younger elephants usually witness the act, and it's traumatic. That magnifies the effects of leaving less experienced leaders in place, as they are also traumatized leaders. The social mores crumble, just as in human societies.

Like humans, elephants experience frustration and anger for a variety of reasons. What is becoming clear is that the more exposure elephants have to humans, the lower their tolerance for abuse. In fact, exposure to people has even proven to make elephant males more violent and aggressive toward one another and other species. Humans who abuse elephants, either by destroying their natural habitat or by harming them directly, are psychopaths who have no compassion for these magnificent creatures.

About Cathy: She and her Doberman Trooper conduct research into all kinds of topics and produce articles like the one you see here. To contact Cathy, write to Get the facts from Cathy, and let the Cathy Factor give you an edge.



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