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Asian Elephant

Elephas maximus

Photo: An Asian elephant eating

Photo: An Asian elephant eating (View larger version)

Photograph by Tim Laman

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The elephant is Earth's largest land animal, although the Asian elephant is slightly smaller than its African cousin. Asian elephants can be identified by their smaller, rounded ears. (An African elephant's ears resemble the continent of Africa.)

Elephant ears radiate heat to help keep these large animals cool, but sometimes that isn't enough. Elephants are fond of water and enjoy showering by sucking water into their trunks and spraying it all over themselves.

An elephant's trunk is actually a long nose with many functions. It is used for smelling, breathing, trumpeting, drinking, and also for grabbing things—especially a potential meal. The trunk alone contains about 100,000 different muscles. Asian elephants have a fingerlike feature on the end of their trunk that they can use to grab small items. (African elephants have two.)

Elephants use their tusks to dig for roots and water, strip bark from trees, and even fight each other. Unfortunately their ivory has gotten them into a lot of trouble. Because ivory is so valuable to some humans, many elephants have been killed for their tusks. This trade is illegal today, but it has not been completely eliminated.

Elephants eat roots, grasses, fruit, and bark, and they eat a lot of these things. An adult elephant can consume up to 300 pounds (136 kilograms) of food in a single day.

These hungry animals do not sleep much, and they roam over great distances while foraging for the large quantities of food they require to sustain their massive bodies.

Female elephants (cows) live in family herds with their young, but adult males (bulls) tend to roam on their own.

Having a baby elephant is a serious commitment. Elephants have a longer pregnancy than any other mammal—almost 22 months. Cows usually give birth to one calf every two to four years. At birth, elephants already weigh some 200 pounds (91 kilograms) and stand about three feet (1 meter) tall.

Asian elephants have been domesticated for thousands of years. The powerful beasts have been employed to move heavy objects, such as felled trees, to carry humans on their backs, and even to wage war.

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