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elephant

elephant, 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 ivory—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 elephants found on the savannas. 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. 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. BC African elephants are often said to be less tractable, but they too were formerly used for work, as well as for warfare. Hannibal'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.

Classification

Elephants are the only living representatives of their order, which was once widespread over most of the world; it included the mammoth and the mastodon. Elephants are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Proboscidae, family Elephantidae.

Bibliography

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).

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elephant

elephant the elephant is the largest living land animal, and is taken as a type of something of great size and weight. The Indian elephant was traditionally used as a beast of burden and in the ancient world (as, notably, by Hannibal when he crossed the Alps in 219–18 bc) as a mount in war.

Elephant is also used for a size of paper, typically 28 × 23 inches (approximately 711 × 584 mm).

In the US, the elephant is the emblem of the Republican Party.

The word is recorded from Middle English, and comes via Old French and Latin from Greek elephas, elephant- ‘ivory, elephant’.
Elephant and Castle a public-house sign which has given its name to the main crossroads of Southwark in London; it is popularly said to be a corruption of Infanta de Castile, but in fact is probably adopted from the arms of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers, whose trade included the importation of elephants' tusks (in heraldry, the elephant is shown with a crenellated round tower on its back).
elephant in the room an unwelcome fact which is not directly referred to but of which everyone is aware. The term is recorded from the 1980s, as in An Elephant in the Living Room (1984), title of a book presenting alcoholism as an unmentionable family problem. Other variants include moose on the table.
Elephant Man the nickname of Joseph Carey Merrick (1862–90), who as a result of what is now thought to be Proteus syndrome had an enormous head with bone protruding from his forehead and mouth, and folds of spongy flesh covered with skin resembling a cauliflower hanging from his head, chest, and back.
elephants' graveyard a repository for unwanted goods, from the belief (recorded from the early 20th century) that elephants in the wild seek out a particular spot in which to die, where their remains then lie.
Order of the Elephant the highest Danish order of knighthood. It was first founded in the 12th century. The Order was originally associated with an Order dedicated to the Virgin Mary, with a medallion of the Virgin and a smaller medallion with three nails of the Cross, on a chain of alternate elephants and spurs.
see the elephant (in the US) see the world, get experience of life; an elephant is taken here as the type of something remarkable (compare see the lions).

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elephant

elephant Largest land animal, the only surviving member of the mammal order Proboscidea, which included the mammoth and the mastodon. It is native to Africa (Loxodonta africana) and India (Elephas maximus). The tusks, the source of ivory, are elongated upper incisors. The Indian cow (female) elephant has no tusks. The trunk is an elongated nose and upper lip that it uses for drinking and picking up food. The African elephant is taller and heavier than the Indian. A bull (male) elephant may weigh as much as 7000kg (eight tonnes), and can charge at speeds up to 40km/h (25mph). It also has much larger ears, up to 100cm (40in) in diameter. Elephants are herbivores and browse in herds led by a bull. The cow (female) gives birth to its calf after 18 to 22 months gestation. Elephants live for 60 to 70 years. Indian elephants are used as beasts of burden but do not breed in captivity. The hunting of elephants for their tusks saw the population reduce from 1.3 million in 1979 to 600,000 in 1989. A ban on hunting led to a resurgence.

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Elephantidae

Elephantidae (order Proboscidea, suborder Gomphotherioidea) A family than comprises the ancestral and modern elephants. They can be traced back to the Miocene (Stegolophodon) and are distinct from the superficially similar mastodons (Mammutidea). In living species the incisors grow to tusks in the upper jaw only; other incisors and canines are absent. Three milk premolars and three molars are present. Only one tooth in each half-jaw is used at a time; it is shed when worn and replaced by the tooth behind it, which moves forward. The skull is short, the nasal aperture high in the face, the proboscis long and muscular, with nostrils at its end. The limbs end in short hoofs; the gait is digitigrade. The family is distributed throughout Africa south of the Sahara, and southern Asia. The family includes the extinct Mammuthus (mammoth) and three surviving species: Elephas maximus (Asian elephant), Loxodonta africana (African elephant), and Loxodonta cyclotis (African forest elephant).

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elephant

elephant XIII. ME. olif(a)unt, -ont, later (XIV) with assim. to L., elifant, etc. — OF. olifant, elefant (mod. éléphant) — Rom. *olifantus (cf. OE. olfend, Goth. ulbandus camel), alt. of L. elephantus (whence OE. elpend) — Gr. eléphās, elephant- ivory, elephant, of unkn. orig.
So elephantiasis skin disease resembling an elephant's hide. XVI. elephantine XVII. — L. — Gr.

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elephant

el·e·phant / ˈeləfənt/ • n. (pl. same or elephants ) a heavy plant-eating mammal (family Elephantidae, order Proboscidea) with a prehensile trunk, long curved ivory tusks, and large ears, native to Africa and southern Asia. It is the largest living land animal.

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elephant

elephant See ELEPHANTIDAE;PROBOSCIDEA.

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elephant

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• deodorant •different, vociferant •belligerent, refrigerant •accelerant • tolerant • cormorant •itinerant • ignorant • cooperant •expectorant • adulterant •irreverent, reverent •nascent, passant •absent •accent, relaxant •acquiescent, adolescent, albescent, Besant, coalescent, confessant, convalescent, crescent, depressant, effervescent, erubescent, evanescent, excrescent, flavescent, fluorescent, immunosuppressant, incandescent, incessant, iridescent, juvenescent, lactescent, liquescent, luminescent, nigrescent, obsolescent, opalescent, pearlescent, phosphorescent, pubescent, putrescent, quiescent, suppressant, tumescent, turgescent, virescent, viridescent •adjacent, complacent, obeisant •decent, recent •impuissant, reminiscent •Vincent • puissant •beneficent, maleficent •magnificent, munificent •Millicent • concupiscent • reticent •docent •lucent, translucent •discussant, mustn't •innocent •conversant, versant •consentient, sentient, trenchant •impatient, patient •ancient • 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