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African Elephant

African elephants are not just the biggest land mammals on Earth: they are also one of the smartest. Researchers have learned that elephants can communicate with one another, use tools, and even understand human language. Elephant communities are very hierarchical .

Scientific Name: Loxodonta africana Range: 37 countries in Africa Diet: Grass, roots, bark, fruit Life Span: About 70 years IUCN Red List: Vulnerable

Males struggle for dominance, and their interactions can get quite violent. In addition to their massive size, elephants are armed with very strong tusks that can stab and slash. And while their diet is strictly vegetarian, elephants won’t hesitate to defend themselves against lions or other predators—and that includes humans. According to one estimate, about 500 people are killed by African elephants every year. Male elephants are most dangerous to humans during a period called musth , when they go searching for mates. An elephant experiencing musth may attack anyone or anything that appears to be a threat. Female elephants, on the other hand, are most likely to become aggressive if they feel their young are in danger. (You’d be extremely protective, too, if you had to be pregnant for 22 months!) An average of 500 deaths per year might sound like a lot, but it’s worth noting that humans kill about 55 African elephants per day . Hunting and poaching have reduced the population of African elephants from several million down to only about 400,000. Their tusks, which are so important for self-defense, are made of ivory, which is prized on the global black market. If you are fortunate enough to encounter elephants in the wild, don’t assume that just because they are big, they are very slow. Elephants are surprisingly fast when they want to be—for short sprints, they can run approximately 15 mph (24 kph), and possibly faster. That means you probably can’t outrun one! If you really get into trouble with an elephant, the best advice is to climb a tree as quickly as possible.

The Ultimate Book of Dangerous Animals


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