An elephant is a pachyderm with five toes and a long trunk. There are both African and Indian elephants, though nobody is quite sure which variety Dumbo was. Though most elephants can't fly, folk wisdom has it that they never forget, and are afraid of mice, though in the context of American politics it would make more sense for them to be afraid of donkeys, given the party symbols for the Democrats and the Republicans.

An interesting fact about the elephant is its evolutionary history. Despite the fact that it is by far the largest extant land mammal and is a wonderfully successful animal1, its phylogenetic tree is relatively barren. While the rhinoceros and the hippopotamus are both large herbivores that live in the same region as the African elephant, the nearest relative to the elephant is the hyrax.

The hyrax (family Procavidae, 14 species)is a small mammal which resembles a rabbit, but has tiny hooves on the end of each toe. The 14 species divide into two groups: the genus Procavia, which include the ground dwelling (so-called rock hyraxes) species; and the genus Dendrohyrax which are arboreal.

Biologists believe that the hyrax is closely related to the elephant due to the configuration and articulation of the feet of both species. Despite the radical difference in size and appearance, all the skeletal evidence suggests a relatively close evolutionary link between the two.

1That is, when we're not decimating the population in our disgusting desire for ivory.

A common sign located in many US Government agency offices:

An Elephant is a Mouse built to Government Specifications.

"Grey as a mouse,
Big as a house,
Nose like a snake,
I make the earth shake,
As I tramp through the grass;
Trees crack as I pass.
With horns in my mouth
I walk in the South,
Flapping big ears.
Beyond count of years
I stump round and round,
Never lie on the ground,
Not even to die.
Oliphaunt am I."

- "The Two Towers", J.R.R. Tolkien

Elephants are the largest living land animals, weighing up to 7 metric tons. At first sight, they seem impossibly big, and are capable of flattening large trees and stripping them of leaves and bark in minutes. They are voracious foragers with huge ranges, sometimes covering thousands of kilometers in their migrations, all the while clearing wide swathes of forest and brush in their continual search for food. Thus, their effect on the environment is considerable, and they are known as a keystone species, responsible for periodically opening up forests and savannahs so that smaller species can thrive. They are also of importance as seed scatterers, since most seeds pass through the elephant digestive system unharmed. The continual movement of elephant herds creates mosaic patterns of growth capable of sustaining the biodiversity needed for a healthy ecosystem. Their environmental impact is second only to that of humanity.

Elephants are Proboscideans, members of an order that once included some 200 species of mammoths, mastodons, gomphotheres and deinotherians. There are two species of elephant - African elephants, of which roughly 400,000 live in sub-Saharan Africa, and Asian elephants, a population of about 35,000 distributed throughout South-East Asia. (The latter species is what used to be known as the Indian elephant, something of a gross misnomer since they are native to at least 12 Asian countries). These two species are the sole survivors of the order Proboscidia. Their closest living relatives, based on the anatomy of their bones and teeth, are the manatees and dugongs. Coincidentally, both of these orders are declining rapidly and are in some danger of extermination.


The most unusual feature of elephant physiology is its peculiar trunk, which has a variety of functions. The source of the name Proboscidia, the trunk is not merely a nose as many people assume. It is actually an extension of the upper lip and the nose. It is most commonly used to grip things, such as branches or tufts of grass. Elephants do not eat or drink through the trunk, but use it to lift food and water to the mouth. By manipulating branches with the trunk, elephants can strip bark and leaves off the branches much like humans eating corn on the cob. The trunk's 'fingers' are very dextrous, capable of manipulating small objects. The trunk is also extremely sensitive to odors and touch, bearing numerous short bristles that appear to be contact sensors similar to cats' whiskers. Finally, the trunk is used for most of the elephant's vocalizations.

Elephant legs and feet are well adapted towards carrying their immense weight. The cylindrical feet bear thick spongy pads that cushion the weight so well that elephants hardly leave any discernable footprints. Elephants cannot jump, but they can sit up quite easily and stand on their hind legs for short periods. They usually do this when foraging amongst tall trees. In addition to not being able to jump, it is widely believed that elephants cannot run, in the technical sense of the word. Although they can certainly walk very fast (speeds up to 45 kph have been reported, but reliable measurements do not exist), they never seem to reach a state where all four feet are in the air.

The tusks of the elephant are enlarged incisors that grow at a rate of roughly 17 cm per year. They are used for many things: debarking trees, digging for water, marking trees and fighting. The trunk is often rested on the tusks, as its weight is considerable. Just as humans can be left- or right-handed, elephants tend to favor a certain tusk.

The elephant's enormous ears are used as cooling surfaces. They are flapped at varying speeds according to temperature.


    ASIAN ELEPHANT (Elephas Maximus)
  • Subspecies: Sri Lankan (Elephas Maximus Maximus), Mainland (Elephas Maximus Indicus, the original "Indian elephant" subspecies) and Sumatran (Elephas Maximus Sumatranus).
  • Asian elephants typically have a shoulder height between 2-3.5 meters, and weigh between 2-5 metric tons. Sexual dimorphism is pronounced, and females are usually half the size of males.
  • Asian elephants have five toes on each front foot and four on each hind foot. They have smaller ears than African elephants, and their trunks have a single 'finger'. They tend to be lighter in colour than African elephants.
  • Females lack the prominent tusks of the males. Their incisors are known as 'tushes' and are usually rather short, barely clearing the upper lip. Some females do have longer tushes, but they do not reach the same length as the male tusks.
  • Genetically, Asian elephants are very different from Africans. They are actually more closely related to mammoths than to African elephants.

    AFRICAN ELEPHANT (Loxodonta Africana)
  • Subspecies: Savannah (Loxodonta Africana Africana) and Forest (Loxodonta Africana Cyclotis).
  • Shoulder height ranges from 2-4 meters. Weight ranges from 2-7 metric tons.
  • African elephants are notably larger than the Asian species, and have larger ears. Their backs are straighter as well, and their trunks have two 'fingers'. They have four toes on each front foot and three on each rear foot.
  • Both sexes have tusks larger than those of Asian elephants, and there is typically little difference between male and female tusks. African elephant teeth have fewer, coarser ridges than the Asian types, hence the species name "Loxodonta".


Elephants live in complex matriarchal societies. Herd leaders are always elder females. Most herds consist of only females and young elephants, and usually have up to 20 members. When herds grow too large, they split into separate groups, which maintain contact via infrasound vocalizations. Adult males tend to be solitary, joining herds only during mating periods. During this time, the males compete for breeding rights.

Communication between members of a herd is a combination of sounds, chemical signals and gestures. Their voices are very low, and most elephant calls are pitched too low for humans to hear (infrasound). The bond between members of a herd is one of the closest family bonds in the animal kingdom. Elephant mothers are highly protective of their young, but other members of the herd will substitute for a mother if she leaves for any period of time. If a young elephant falls behind the herd while foraging, the entire herd will stop to wait for it. Likewise, if a juvenile becomes distressed, several members of the herd will rush to assist it, regardless of blood ties. Interestingly, elephants will actually assist each other during childbirth, with an older female acting as a midwife.

The life span of an elephant is around 70 years. They usually reach puberty after 13-14 years, and reproduce every 2.5-4 years, giving birth to a single calf after 630-660 days (the longest gestation period any land animal). In some rare cases, twins are born. Most elephants continue reproducing until about fifty years old.

The close bonds and communication between elephants are also displayed in their reactions to the death of other elephants. When a herd encounters a dead elephant, the herd will stop for a period and investigate the carcass, prodding it with feet and trunks for a long time. When a baby elephant dies, its mother will grieve at its side for several days, preventing even the other members of the herd from approaching it.


Although elephants have been used extensively for warfare, ceremonial purposes, and as circus performers, their main role in history has been as a source of ivory. Until recently, ivory was one of the most coveted luxury materials on Earth, and elephants were the only significant source. The ivory trade had major, largely negative, effects on African history, and disastrous effects on elephant populations. As late as 1979, the African elephant population was estimated at 1.3-1.5 million. Today there are probably no more than 400,000.

From 1979 onward, the ivory trade has been restricted, but the killing of elephants continued in catastrophic numbers up until 1989, when major grassroots campaigns to save the elephants made ivory prices plummet. To emphasize the importance of stopping the ivory trade, Kenyan officials burned 2500 elephant tusks - roughly three million dollars worth of tusks that had been seized from poachers over a four-year period - in a bonfire that was shown on television throughout the world. The message was clear and the campaign remarkably successful: immediately after the broadcast, ivory prices dropped from $120 per pound to $4 per pound, and shortly afterwards CITES called for a complete ban on ivory. However, in 1997 CITES once again approved limited trade with Japan, possibly believing the elephant populations had stabilized, and under pressure from several African countries to allow the trading of stockpiled ivory as a form of economic aid. As soon as the ban was lifted, poaching increased catastrophically, and enormous numbers of elephants were illegally killed. Worldwide, customs agents seized 17,000 kg of illegal ivory in 1998-89, and this has been estimated as no more than 20% of the total illegal ivory moved during those years. CITES 2000 again called for a complete ban on the ivory trade pending a reassessment in November 2002.

It may, however, be too late to save the elephant. Poaching continues to this day on a somewhat smaller scale, coupled with a new threat from extreme habitat reduction. As humans continue to spread throughout elephant territories, elephants are increasingly found in conflict with them, raiding human crops, damaging property and disrupting communities. Due to the enormous territory a herd of elephants requires, the isolated protected areas currently set aside for them are unlikely to be enough to sustain them, and it is difficult for communities with "elephant problems" to raise money to help translocate the herds. These preserves are not usually enclosed areas - they are open to elephants and humans alike. The elephants frequently wander out of them in their foraging and migrations, and human poachers can easily get at the herds no matter where they are.

Another significant factor in elephant protection is the fact that herds cannot be thinned by single units like many other species, for the elephants have such close relationships that any surviving younger elephants become traumatized by the killings (and will, reportedly, spread the news to other herds, causing further trauma). Therefore, when culling takes place, entire families are killed.

A number of groups are currently working to help keep the elephant from extinction. Currently most of their efforts concentrate on protecting the herds from poachers, research into the elephants' movement patterns, public awareness campaigns to reduce the illegal ivory trade, and fundraising to assist in elephant translocation. As things stand today, translocation is often the only effective way to sustain elephant populations, since herds confined to small spaces tend to overgraze, destroying their habitats. This can be prevented by periodically moving the herds to new areas, often across national borders, but the cost is often prohibitive. A more effective measure would be the creation of transnational protected areas, linking the parks and preserves to allow the elephants to migrate freely. This would, of course, be a major undertaking, and to date there is only one such transnational preserve.

That said, the illegal ivory trade is still at least as much of a threat as habitat reduction, so I would like to close with a personal plea - don't buy ivory. At all. Whether it is a cameo pendant from Thailand, a tiny figurine bought in a Cairo boutique or a domino set made in Hong Kong, it's illegal and it was made by killing one of the most intelligent, important and altogether magnificent animals on Earth. You may be told that the pieces are antique, or that the ivory comes from stockpiles, culled animals or elephants that died of natural causes. In almost all cases, these are lies. Most antique ivory pieces are lying in museums or private collections, the stockpiles are all still stockpiled pending the November 2002 CITES meeting, and for every elephant that is culled or dies a natural death, a dozen or more elephants have been killed by poachers. In any case, it is 100% illegal to transport even 'legitimate' ivory across international borders. Even legitimate (sometimes advertised as 'pre-ban') ivory that never crosses a border only serves to encourage the poaching. It isn't worth it.


  • "The Sixth Extinction", Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, 1995

In professional football, the elephant is a hybrid of the defensive end and the linebacker, usually one of the quickest of the front seven, who roams along the defensive line. The elephant's primary job is to find gaps in the line and rush the quarterback, although he's sometimes responsible for pass coverage in zone blitz packages. Undersized compared to the regular ends, the elephant will often remain in a two point stance rather than set as a down lineman, using speed rather than power to get by the offensive line. The term 'elephant' was coined by 49ers defensive coordinator Bill McPherson, who thought defensive end Fred Dean resembled an elephant.

Other noted elephants include Willie McGinest, who became a Pro Bowler playing the position under the regimes of Bill Parcells and Pete Carroll. Pro Bowlers Chris Slade, Joe Johnson, and Charles Haley have also lined up as elephants during their careers. Terrell Suggs of Arizona State plays the elephant, and Lavar Arrington excelled in the role at Penn State. The most dominant elephant in the NFL today is Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila of the Green Bay Packers. KGB is the prototypical elephant, amassing 25½ sacks over the past two seasons.

The White Stripes
the problems in hand are lighter than at heart

Seven Nation Army
Black Math
There’s No Home for You Here
I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself
Cold, Cold Night
I Want to Be With the Boy
You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket
Ball and Biscuit
The Hardest Button to Button
Little Acorns
The Air Near My Fingers
Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine
It’s True that We Love One Another

The future was wide open for the White Stripes when White Blood Cells broke into popular music in 2002. Loud, honest, and as hard working as the UAW, the candy-striped couple ground a permanent footprint into the face of rock and roll. They had certainly stepped out of their “Little Room”. Now that they’ve set up in the bigger room, the question is “what will they do with all that space?”
The answer from the new album, Elephant, is play louder, harder, and more. Anyone fearing a poppy transition from the straight-up blues-rock of previous albums, as I was, will be thrilled at how well this album fits into the progression of the band’s previous work. This is Detroit rock (whatever that means) and the average song length is still around the three minute mark, just as you would expect. But now it is turned up to eleven.

everyone knows about it
from the Queen of England to the Hounds of Hell

Of course, it is not without some surprises along the way. Seven Nation Army opens the album with… a bass line? Damn straight. I love an album that starts off with a satori. The stripped down guitar-and-drumkit duo kick you in the eye with an opening bass line which is actually Jack on a guitar run through an octave pedal.
Lyrically, this album deals with familiar themes. Jack’s melodramatic croonings on love’s frustrations are the focus of almost every song. References to home, school, mothers, and other adolescent images abound. I’m not a fan of using rock and roll songs as a vehicle for analysis of the creator’s inner thoughts. If you are, there are already plenty of reviews of this album that give Jack a psychoanalytical hand job.

I had opinions that didn’t matter
I had a brain that felt like pancake batter

The lyrics are remarkable for their skewed honesty and scabbed-over poetry. The songs are shouted at you in plain words and when they end you feel as if Jack has turned and walked away without regard for your response. The tone is true to the Detroit clubs where applause is a foreign luxury. Bands play hard and leave; there are no encores.

We don’t know you
And we don’t owe you
But if you see us around
I got somethin’ else to show you

Instant favorites are on the album include “Little Acorns” and “Cold, Cold, Night”, Meg’s vocal premier. Her voice is a carries a no-bullshit beauty as she lays out the words with a simple melody. As with her drumming, her strength is in simplicity.

I know that you feel it too
When my skin turns into glue

While the blues rock tradition is strong, there is a lot of variety here. Tracks to make note of are “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself”, a cover of a Burt Bacharach tune originally sung by Dusty Springfield, and track 14, which is a call-and-response three-way between Jack, Meg, and Holly Golightly. “You know that we love one another” pays tribute to the roots of rock and blues in the same way that Your Southern Can is Mine does on De Stijl. Jack goes melancholy on a couple slower tracks like the McCartney-esque “You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket” and makes an edgy tribute to the sound of Queen on “There’s No Home for You Here”.
Picking favorites is never easy, but “The Hardest Button to Button” combines the fake-bass from the opening track, low volume tension, and unexplainable lyrics that make for the kind of foot stomping fun of “Hotel Yorba” on the previous album. On the other end of the spectrum, “Hypnotize”, seemingly the sequal to “Fell in Love with a Girl”, rocks heavy but doesn’t explore much new ground. Overall, Elephant is another step in smooth gait towards rock and roll Valhalla for the White Stripes.

An ordinary high school day. Except that it’s not.

The 2003 movie Elephant was written and directed by Gus Van Sant (of Good Will Hunting greatness). It begins by following various teenagers through a day of high school, the camera sometimes moving quickly and sometimes lingering for a few minutes on a scene. As the film progresses it becomes clear that the characters experience school in very different ways and that the social structure of the student body is a complex one. As it progresses more (or even as one watches the trailer) it also becomes apparent that the movie is loosely based on the Columbine High School shootings.

Elephant stars amateur actors playing characters based on themselves and improvising portions of the dialog. It is apparently influenced by Iranian film in this amateur aspect. It features unusual cinematography, with the camera often sitting still as action take place around it, leading to an incomplete view of the scene and a sense that more is going on nearby. Because the movie switches its focus between several students, it is hard to fully sympathize with any of them, but this seems to be intentional. The movie does depict a school shooting, but does so with more uniform sorrow than much of the media might: there are no villains here; good and evil are not as obvious as one might like. Perhaps Elephant is the closest one can come to an objective movie, as neither Van Sant nor the camera ever seems to judge the characters.

The title presumably comes from the phrase “elephant in the room,” which would then presumably refer to the alienation and anxiety felt by some high school students. It’s worth noting that Elephant has been criticized for being pretentious and unemotional, but personally I don’t mind these traits in a movie. The 2003 Cannes Film Festival awarded its Palme d’Or and Best Director prizes to Elephant. The movie is 81 minutes long and was rated R by the MPAA for “disturbing violent content, language, brief sexuality and drug use—all involving teens.”

I just discovered that elephants do not have scrotal sacs. Why is that interesting? Well, about 2 million years ago, male teenage elephants liked playing a game (we would call) kick in the balls. Those with large, hanging fruits presented a better target. Naturally, they got kicked more. Unfortunately, this led to testicular damage which led to them shooting blanks and being denied the joys of fatherhood. This gave owners of smaller sacs an evolutionary advantage. This, coupled with more accurate kicks eventually led to the balls retreating completely into the body.

Also, they are supposedly descended from aquatic mammals. Those ones had internal balls.

El"e*phant (?), n. [OE. elefaunt, olifant, OF. olifant, F. 'el'ephant, L. elephantus, elephas, -antis, fr. Gr. , ; of unknown origin; perh. fr. Skr. ibha, with the Semitic article al, el, prefixed, or fr. Semitic Aleph hindi Indian bull; or cf. Goth. ulbandus camel, AS. olfend.]

1. Zool.

A mammal of the order Proboscidia, of which two living species, Elephas Indicus and E. Africanus, and several fossil species, are known. They have a proboscis or trunk, and two large ivory tusks proceeding from the extremity of the upper jaw, and curving upwards. The molar teeth are large and have transverse folds. Elephants are the largest land animals now existing.


Ivory; the tusk of the elephant.


Dryden. <-- Illustr. of Elephant. -->

Elephant apple Bot., an East Indian fruit with a rough, hard rind, and edible pulp, borne by Feronia elephantum, a large tree related to the orange. -- Elephant bed Geol., at Brighton, England, abounding in fossil remains of elephants. Mantell. -- Elephant beetle Zool., any very large beetle of the genus Goliathus (esp. G. giganteus), of the family Scarabaeidae. They inhabit West Africa. -- Elephant fish Zool., a chimaeroid fish (Callorhynchus antarcticus), with a proboscis-like projection of the snout. -- Elephant paper, paper of large size, 23 × 28 inches. -- Double elephant paper, paper measuring 26 × 40 inches. See Note under Paper. -- Elephant seal Zool., an African jumping shrew (Macroscelides typicus), having a long nose like a proboscis. -- Elephant's ear Bot., a name given to certain species of the genus Begonia, which have immense one-sided leaves. -- Elephant's foot Bot. (a) A South African plant (Testudinaria Elephantipes), which has a massive rootstock covered with a kind of bark cracked with deep fissures; -- called also tortoise plant. The interior part is barely edible, whence the plant is also called Hottentot's bread. (b) A genus (Elephantopus) of coarse, composite weeds. -- Elephant's tusk Zool., the tooth shell. See Dentalium.


© Webster 1913.

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