An elephant calf is around 250 lb (115 kg) in weight when born. Females mature at about 11 years and stay in the group, while the males, who mature between 12 and 15, are usually expelled from the maternal herd.
Elephants are some of the most intelligent animals on Earth. Their brains weigh 5kg, much more than the brain of any other land animal. Their brains have more complex folds than all animals except whales, which is thought to be a major factor in their intellect.
They commonly show grief, humor, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness, tool-use, playfulness, and excellent learning abilities.
One elephant in Korea surprised its zoo keepers by independently learning to mimic the commands they gave it by verbalizing on the end of its trunk, successfully learning 8 words and their context.
The elephant trunk, a specialized nose, is analogous to an octopus tentacle in terms of dexterity. It allows them a high degree of manipulation of objects, and elephants are adept tool-users.
Elephants have been taught to paint with their adroit trunks and produce some fascinating artwork.
In captivity, elephants easily learn how to open simple locks and many master more complex ones, something impossible for most other animals due to a lack of dexterity and intellect.
Elephants in zoos have worked together to take advantage of this, by having many act as lookouts as another undoes the lock. Or, in one instance, an elephant feigned injury as a distraction, while another elephant helped the others escape.
Once all the elephants were out, the decoy elephant climbed to its feet and ran for the door, surprising its tenders who had been unaware of the ruse.
Female elephants live in a herd of about 10 individuals led by the most experienced matriarch, whereas the males are normally solitary and move from herd to herd.
The females in each herd help each other find food and care for calves.
Adults do not lie down to sleep because of the excellent support their very straight legs give them.
Elephants communicate within their herds or between herds many kilometers away mostly using sounds too low for human ears to perceive and by stamping their feet.
Within their herds, elephants are believed to have the same or similar levels of cooperation as chimpanzees.
A young elephant must learn how to draw water up into its trunk and then pour it into its mouth.
Of all the elephant's specialized features, the muscular trunk is the most remarkable. It serves as a nose, a hand, an extra foot, a signaling device and a tool for gathering food, siphoning water, dusting, digging and a variety of other functions.
Not only does the long trunk permit the elephant to reach as high as 23 feet, but it can also perform movements as delicate as picking berries or caressing a companion.
It is capable, too, of powerful twisting and coiling movements used for tearing down trees or fighting.
An elephant herd is considered one of the most closely-knit societies of any animal, and a female will only leave it if she dies or is captured by humans.
Males will leave the herd when they become adolescents, around the age of 12, and live in temporary ‘bachelor herds’ until they are mature and live alone.
An elephant female is fertile for only a few days each year. During this time, males will try to court her by using rituals involving various affectionate gestures and nuzzles.
If she accepts one, she will respond with similar gestures and after 20 minutes or so of a courting ritual they will mate.
If she conceives, she will be pregnant for 22 months, longer than any other land animal.
'Nature's great masterpiece, an elephant; the only harmless great thing.'