1 Jungles, Grasslands, and Temples:
Where Elephants Live
An elephant isn’t hard to spot. It’s the biggest animal that lives on land. If you’re going to look for one, you’d better head to the grasslands or forests of Africa or to the jungles of Southeast Asia.You’ll find a different kind, or species, of elephant in each place. Elephants in Africa
Once there were elephants in all of Africa south of the Sahara. Today elephants live in only thirty-seven of Africa’s fifty-four countries, as far north as Mali and as far south as the nation of South Africa. Elephant habitats, or the places they can safely live, have shrunk in half over the last forty years.
You can tell an African elephant by its flapping ears—they are shaped a little like the continent of Africa itself. And if you get close enough to peer at its trunk, you’ll see that the African elephant has two flexible parts on the end. It can use these just like you use a finger and a thumb—to pick up something small.
African savanna elephants are the biggest elephants around. They’re also called bush elephants, and they can be ten or even thirteen feet tall at the shoulder, and their heads are higher still! The biggest ones weigh around seven tons. That’s about as much as three pickup trucks.
African forest elephants are a little smaller. They weigh about five and a half tons, a little more than two pickup trucks.
Being about the same weight as a Tyrannosaurus rex
has some advantages for an animal like an elephant. There aren’t many predators who want to tackle a seven-ton animal. At a water hole or a lake, other animals make way. If the elephant spots some leaves at the very top of a tree that would be out of reach for most? No problem—it can stretch its trunk and snatch those leaves up.
But there is one problem with being so big. Elephants need to eat a lot
, around 300 pounds of food a day. (If you had an elephant’s appetite, you could eat about 330 apples for breakfast, 400 hot dogs for lunch, and 400 plates of spaghetti for dinner—and then do that all again the next day.) Eating is pretty much an elephant’s full-time job. It can spend sixteen hours a day munching food.
So the right habitat for an elephant must have a lot of food available. What kind of food? Plants. Elephants are herbivores. They do not eat meat.
To get enough food, elephants need to live somewhere warm where plants can grow all year round. The best habitat for an elephant is around ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit most of the time.
An African forest elephant spends its time in rain forests, eating leaves, fruits, seeds, branches, and bark. The forest trees and bushes provide all the food that this elephant needs.
An African savanna elephant eats grass, leaves, bark, and sometimes even trees that aren’t too big. They’ll eat fruit, flowers, and nuts as well. These elephants may live in forests, and they can also be found in deserts. (Even in a desert, elephants can find enough food. Desert elephants often prefer to eat grass during the rainy season and trees when it’s dry.)
Many savanna elephants live on wide, grassy plains called—you guessed it—savannas. There they wander, sometimes for hundreds of miles a year, eating as they go. Elephants in Asia
Asian elephants are about the size of African forest elephants. They can grow to be ten feet tall at the shoulder and weigh about five and a half tons.
An Asian elephant’s ears are smaller and rounder than an African elephant’s. Its back is rounded too, rising in a curve between the front legs and the back ones. And its trunk has one “finger” on the end instead of two.
Once, Asian elephants lived in an area that reached from the Persian Gulf to the East China Sea. Now they can only be found in parts of India, Nepal, and other nearby countries in Southeast Asia. Their habitat has shrunk to 15 percent of what it used to be.
Wild Asian elephants live in jungles, forests, and grasslands. That’s where they can find their food—shrubs, trees, and grass.
Other Asian elephants live with people. Elephants at Work
African elephants cannot be tamed, but Asian elephants can be. Around a third of Asian elephants are captive. They live with and work for humans.
Companies that cut down trees to harvest wood find elephants very useful. The elephants can go deep into the forest where there are no good roads for trucks or cars. There they can push down trees and drag or roll logs. The elephants are often used to destroy the very habitats where their ancestors lived.
Other Asian elephants are kept in temples where they take part in ceremonies and festivals or offer blessings to visitors. Long ago, some were trained to carry soldiers into battle. Today, both Asian and African elephants are kept in parks or zoos or circuses where they might do tricks or give rides.
Not every captive elephant is well treated—in fact, many are not. Elephants need a lot of space and a lot of food, more than most owners can give them. It’s common for captive elephants to be caged or chained almost all of the time. Trainers sometimes use pointed tools called ankus or bullhooks, hurting the elephants to force them to do what the humans want.
And captive elephants often live by themselves, with no other elephants for company.
In the wild, elephants are born into herds. Female elephants stay with the herd all their lives. Males leave once they are full-grown. Some wander alone for a while. Some find other males to spend time with. Many do a bit of both.
But no wild elephant, male or female, spends its entire life alone. No captive elephant should, either. They need other elephants nearby to feel safe and content.
Copyright © 2022 by Chelsea Clinton. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.