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Discussing the elephant in the room

Sept. 22 is elephant Appreciation Day. (Who dreams these things up?)

While I don’t suppose any of us expect to see an elephant in our backyards, they are interesting for a brief study.

Allow me to skip the description other than to note differences: The African or bush elephant is the largest, weighing up to 9 tons and reaching 10 to 13 freet at its shoulder.

Recognized only in 2000 as a separate species, the African forest elephant is smaller with tusks pointing downward. The Asian elephant weighs just over six tons with a shoulder height reaching about 11¢ feet. The African has the largest ears probably to dissipate its body heat.

An elephant’s trunk is one of the most versatile organs to have evolved in any mammal. A combination of upper lip and nose, it alone weighs 290 pounds. With 16 muscles it can lift over five hundred pounds. The end has flaplike projections which allow it to perform delicate functions like picking up a coin from a flat surface, cracking a peanut, blowing away the shell and inserting the meat into its mouth. Asian elephants curls their trunks around the object to be lifted while Africans use a “pinch,” like our thumb and finger. They are all known to use a branch to scratch on places where they couldn’t otherwise reach. If feeling threatened they can throw objects.

A “trunk shake” is similar to our handshake offering assurance, a greeting or used to gauge strength. Elephants breath through the trunk, not their nose. And they can suck up to 2.6 gallons of water to then spray into their mouths. They can also spray their body with dirt or grass to relieve bites or the hot sun.

Sounds are produced by modifying the size of their nostrils. Low ones include a growl, snort or roar while higher notes are trumpet, bark or a cry.

Tusks as we all know are enlarged incisors made of ivory. They are found in both sexes of the African, usually only the male Asian.

They live in small family groups led by the old females which have to be called “cows.” Most of the bulls live separately in bachelor herds. Sexual maturity comes at 10-12 years for the African, 14 for the Asian. Gestation takes 18 to 22 months with a newborn being 3.3 feet tall and weighing about 220 pounds.

They suckle by mouth, not the trunk, and will continue until their emerging tusks become too annoying for mom.

They can run at speeds up to 25 mph and live up to 80 years in captivity, 60 in the wild.

Probably all of us think of the elephant’s prodigious memory. It is truly remarkable though all elephants forget things from time to time. (Make you feel better now?) The matriarchs, older females, not only remember friends and enemies but where the herd has found food and water in the past, one reason they can survive as long as they do.

“Scientific American” writes of a severe drought from 1958 to 1961. The older matriarchs remembered an alternate route and led their tribe to food and water. Youngsters born after 1961 didn’t know and all died.

They recall injuries and hold grudges. They show signs of grief if encountering the remains of another elephant. They can also be altruistic, helping other species, even humans, in distress.

They’ve been shown to play and mimic sounds they hear. An elephant can also use its trunk to create abstract art. The article did not say whether or not it enjoyed this pastime.

Perhaps the greatest sign of intelligence is its ability to recognize itself in a mirror. This self-awareness is shown in only a few of the most intelligent species.

I questioned this “ability” until I considered my “intelligent” dog and cat. Both would flunk that test.

AARP first mentioned this date and so concluded with hints for improving our memory. Trouble, they assure us, can come with age but it isn’t guaranteed. Stay active, both mentally and physically, keep moving and challenging your mind.

Forget where you parked? It’s harder if you keep your mind on more than one thing.

Trouble calling up a certain word or name? My friend Chris had a lovely solution: “I’m sorry; I just can’t think of the word in English.”

Susan Crossett has lived in Arkwright for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” following in 2014. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.

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