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All about elephants: watch and learn

A four-month-old baby Sumatran elephant is growing fast and learning lots of new things, including how to use her trunk efficiently at the Flying Squad camp where her mother is part of a WWF and government effort to reduce human conflict with wild elephants in Indonesia.

Elephants, found in both Africa and Asia, are vital to maintaining the rich biodiversity of the ecosystems that they share with other species.

WWF focuses its conservation efforts on saving the world’s largest mammal in sites across both continents. We work with wildlife managers, governments and local communities to stop poaching, reduce human-wildlife conflict and improve monitoring and research.

Here’s a snapshot of what you should know about the species:

1. Asian and African elephants differ in both size and the shape of their ears. Asian elephants are smaller than their African brethren, and their ears are straight at the bottom, distinct from the large fan-shaped ears of the African species. Only some Asian male elephants have tusks, while African elephants—both male and female—sport the ivory.

herd of Asian elephants © Ola Jennersten / WWF-Canon
herd of African elephants © Brent Stirton / Getty Images

2. Elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal—22 months. Females give birth every four to five years. Matriarchs also dominate the complex social structure of elephants and calves, while male elephants tend to live in isolation or in small bachelor groups.

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African elephant (Loxodonta africana), young calf and adult crossing water in a swamp. Amboseli National Park Kenya

3. Elephants are either left- or right-tusked, and the dominant tusk is generally smaller because of wear and tear from frequent use.

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African elephant, Marakele National Park, Waterberg Biosphere, South Africa

4. An elephant trunk has up to 150,000 muscles in it. A human has more than 600 muscles in his/her entire body. Elephants use their trunks to pick up objects, trumpet warnings and greet one another.

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African elephant investigating with its trunk (Loxodonta africana), Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.

5. Elephants are important ecosystem engineers. At least a third of tree species in central African forests rely on seeds passing through an elephant’s digestive tract before they can germinate.

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African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana africana) eating, East Africa.

6. As wild spaces shrink, elephants and humans are forced into contact and often clash. WWF helps to mitigate elephant-human conflict through various programs, including electric fences to protect crops and elephant “flying squads” to safely drive wild elephants away from farms and back into the forests.

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Smoking "Chilli bomb" - a mixture of dried elephant dung and hot chilli, which is placed around the crop fields. Ignited it functions like a stinking smoke-shell and is an effective elephant deterrent. Elephants apparently do not like the smell of chilli and therefore usually stay away from the thus protected fields. Kwandu Conservancy, East Caprivi, Namibia.

7. Tens of thousands of elephants are killed each year by poachers for their ivory. WWF combats this poaching and illegal wildlife trade by training and equipping rangers and community-based organizations to tackle poaching, and strengthening national and international laws and enforcement.

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