Information about: Elephant

Index | Elephant

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Elephant. A genus of mammals, the only living representatives of the sub-order Proboscidea, or animals with a trunk or proboscis. They are exclusively confined to the tropical regions of the old world, in the forests of which they live in herds. Only two existing species are known, the Asiatic elephant and the African elephant. In both species the two upper incisors, or front teeth, are enormously developed, constituting long tusks. The lower incisors are absent, and there are no other teeth in the jaw except the large molars, or grinders, which are usually two in number on each side of each jaw. The molar teeth are of very large size, and are composed of a number of vertical plates of bone, each covered with enamel, and all cemented together. In the Indian elephant the transverse ridges of enamel are narrow and undulating, while in the African elephant they inclose lozenge-shaped intervals. The nose is prolonged into a cylindrical trunk, movable in every direction, highly sensitive, and terminating in 8 finger-like, prehensile lobe. The feet are furnished with five toes, but these are only indicated externally by the divisions of the hoof; the sole of the foot is formed of a thick pad of integument. The Indian elephant is the only species which is now caught and domesticated; and, as it will scarcely ever breed in captivity, the demand for it is supplied entirely by the capture of adult wild individuals, which are taken chiefly by the assistance of those which have been already tamed. The Indian elephant is distinguished by its concave forehead and its small ears; the African elephant, on the other hand, has a strongly convex forehead, and great flapping ears. The African elephant is chiefly hunted for the sake of its ivory, and there is too much reason to believe that the pursuit will ultimately end in the complete extinction of these fine animals. The elephants are all vegetable feeders, living almost entirely on the foliage of shrubs and trees, which they strip off by means of the prehensile trunk. As the tusks prevent the animal from drinking in the ordinary manner, the water is sucked up by the trunk, which is then inserted in the mouth, into which it empties its contents. Many species of fossil elephants are known, the most familiar of which is the Mammoth.