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largest living land mammal, found in tropical regions of Africa and Asia. Elephants have massive bodies and heads, thick, pillarlike legs, and broad, short padded feet, with toes bearing heavy, hooflike nails. The gray skin is loose, tough, thick, and nearly hairless. The slender tail ends in a tuft of hair. The upper lip and nose are elongated into a flexible trunk, or proboscis, reaching nearly to the ground; this sensitive appendage is used for picking up food, feeding from trees and other sources, and drawing up water. Elephants drink by sucking water into the trunk and squirting it into the mouth; they also use the trunk to spray themselves with water and with dust. The trunk produces a variety of noises, including a loud trumpeting. African elephants also have been shown to use infrasonic frequencies (those below the range of human hearing) for communication. The large, thin, floppy ears provide an extensive cooling surface; the animal flaps its ears vigorously when it is overheated. The upper incisor teeth are elongated into tusks—highly valued for their ivoryivory,
type of dentin present only in the tusks of the elephant. Ivory historically has been obtained mainly from Africa, where elephant tusks are larger than they are in Asia, the second major source, and much dead ivory was and continues to be taken from remains of extinct
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—which the animal uses for digging up roots and tubers. A gland between the eye and the ear periodically produces an oily substance called musth; during these periods the animal is in an excitable, dangerous condition, also called musth, meaning madness. Such a condition occurs more often in males than in females and is thought to be a state of sexual excitement.

Elephants are browsing animals, feeding on fruits, leaves, shoots, and tall grasses; they consume hundreds of pounds of food a day and drink up to 50 gal (190 liters) of water. They have no fixed living place, but travel about in herds of up to 100 animals, led by a young, strong male and including young bulls (males), cows (females), and calves. Old males are generally solitary or live in small groups. A rogue elephant is a solitary old male that has become violent and dangerous. During the mating season, elephant pairs may live away from the herd for a few weeks. A single calf is born after a gestation of 18 to 22 months and is nursed for 5 years. Elephants reach maturity at between 15 and 25 years of age; their lifespan is usually 60 or 70 years. Elephants walk at a pace of about 4 mi (6.4 km) per hr, but can charge at speeds of 30 mi (48 km) per hr. They cannot jump and so cannot pass barriers too wide or too high to step over; they swim well, however.

Indian and African Elephants

There are at least two species: the Indian elephant, Elephas maximus, found in India and SE Asia, and the African elephant, Loxodonta africana, found in Africa S of the Sahara. Recent evidence appears to indicate that African forest elephants are a genetically distinct, physically smaller species, L. cyclotis, from the larger African savanna elephants. The largest African bull elephants may reach a shoulder height of 13 ft (4 m) and weigh 6 to 8 tons (5,400–7,200 kg). Their tusks are more than 10 ft (3 m) long and weigh up to 200 lbs (90 kg) each. Females are somewhat smaller and have more slender tusks; in some cases, they do not have tusks. African elephants have enormous ears, measuring up to 42 in. (107 cm) in diameter. The long, conspicuously wrinkled trunk terminates in two fleshy, fingerlike protuberances, used for handling objects. African forest elephants are several feet shorter and weigh about half as much as savanna elephants. The Indian bull elephant reaches about 9 ft (2.7 m) in shoulder height and weighs about 3.5 tons (3200 kg); its tusks are up to 6 ft (180 cm) long. The female of this species has no tusks. The ears of the Indian elephant are much smaller than in the African species, and the trunk somewhat shorter and smoother, ending in a single protuberance.

Elephants and Humans

Elephants are regarded as among the most intelligent of mammals and can be trained to work and to perform. Indian elephants are extensively used as beasts of burden, especially in teak forests, where they carry logs with their trunks. They are not considered truly domesticated as they do not breed well in captivity; young animals are captured from the wild. Training and handling take skill, as elephants have complex emotions and vary individually in temperament. Ancient Indian kings used elephants in battle at least as early as the 4th cent. B.C. African elephants are often said to be less tractable, but they too were formerly used for work, as well as for warfare. HannibalHannibal
, b. 247 B.C., d. 183 or 182 B.C. Carthaginian general, an implacable and formidable enemy of Rome. Although knowledge of him is based primarily on the reports of his enemies, Hannibal appears to have been both just and merciful. He is renowned for his tactical genius.
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's army crossed the Alps using African elephants, which were at that time probably found in the Atlas Mts. Elephants seen in zoos and circuses are usually of the Indian species, although the famous Jumbo, who toured the United States in the late 19th cent. giving rides to children, was an African elephant. In Thailand and Myanmar (Burma), so-called white elephants have long been revered; these animals are not truly white but have unusual light-colored skin and other characteristics. Elephants have been extensively hunted for food and for ivory, and their numbers are now greatly reduced. Despite protections in certain areas and a treaty banning the international ivory trade, elephant poaching remains a severe problem, due especially to surging demand from China in the early 21st cent.


Elephants are the only living representatives of their order, which was once widespread over most of the world; it included the mammothmammoth,
name for several large prehistoric relatives (genus Mammuthus) of modern elephants which ranged over Eurasia and North America in the Pleistocene epoch. The shoulder height of the Siberian, or woolly, mammoth, which roamed throughout the Northern Hemisphere, was
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 and the mastodonmastodon
, name for a number of prehistoric mammals of the extinct genus Mammut, from which modern elephants are believed to have developed. The earliest known forms lived in the Oligocene epoch in Africa.
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. Elephants are classified in the phylum ChordataChordata
, phylum of animals having a notochord, or dorsal stiffening rod, as the chief internal skeletal support at some stage of their development. Most chordates are vertebrates (animals with backbones), but the phylum also includes some small marine invertebrate animals.
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, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Proboscidae, family Elephantidae.


See I. Douglas-Hamilton and O. Douglas-Hamilton, Among the Elephants (1978); R. Sukamar, The Asian Elephant (1989); C. Bosman, Elephants of Africa (1989); S. Alexander, The Astonishing Elephant (2000).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/

What does it mean when you dream about an elephant?

Elephants symbolize mammoth size and memories. In a dream the elephant may symbolize a daunting task or an effort to remember something considered important.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


(vertebrate zoology)
The common name for two living species of proboscidean mammals in the family Elephantidae; distinguished by the elongation of the nostrils and upper lip into a sensitive, prehensile proboscis.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


symbol of the Republican party. [Am. Hist.: Misc.]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


either of the two proboscidean mammals of the family Elephantidae. The African elephant (Loxodonta africana) is the larger species, with large flapping ears and a less humped back than the Indian elephant (Elephas maximus), of S and SE Asia
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


Large, grey, four-legged mammal.
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Elephants in dreams may represent knowledge, power, and strength. They are also associated with long memory and “thick skin.” However, depending on the dream’s details, the elephant may be a symbol of a large burden. Additionally, in the dream you may be making efforts to remember something important and of great magnitude.
Bedside Dream Dictionary by Silvana Amar Copyright © 2007 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
References in classic literature ?
We must enumerate the elephant, three species of rhinoceros, and probably, according to Dr.
But where is the drinker of elephant's blood--the red-eyed thorn?"
I am getting old, and I do not love wild elephants. Give me brick elephant lines, one stall to each elephant, and big stumps to tie them to safely, and flat, broad roads to exercise upon, instead of this come-and-go camping.
Kala Nag-which means Black Snake-and Nazim were two of the biggest elephants in the lines, and one of their duties was to administer the graver punishment, since no man can beat an elephant properly.
It was easy work to follow the elephants, for they had left a trail like a carriage road behind them, crushing down the thick bush in their furious flight as though it were tambouki grass.
Fogg aside, and begged him to reflect before he went any further; to which that gentleman replied that he was not in the habit of acting rashly, that a bet of twenty thousand pounds was at stake, that the elephant was absolutely necessary to him, and that he would secure him if he had to pay twenty times his value.
This drive, with an elephant for the team, lasted about an hour and a half; yet the animal did not seem in the least fatigued.
For weeks Tarzan lived with his savage friends, hunting buffalo, antelope, and zebra for meat, and elephant for ivory.
What the former knew was that he was happy in the companionship of the elephant. He did not know why.
Toward the northwest Korak guided his huge mount, until they came out upon the river a mile or more above the Swede's camp, at a point where Korak knew that there was an elephant ford.
The gentleman without the elephant is worth five pound."
Closer came the sound that had attracted Tarzan's attention and now the others heard it--the shrill trumpeting of an elephant. As La looked wide-eyed into Tarzan's face, there to read her fate for happiness or heartbreak, she saw an expression of concern shadow his features.