ELEPHANT, largest living land mammal, and the only remaining representative of the order Proboscidae, which during the Pleistocene period roamed every landmass except Australia and Antarctica. Two extant species, the Indian elephant, Elephas maximus, of India and Southeast Asia, and the African elephant, Loxodonta africana, ranging south of the Sahara, are now limited to tropical forests, savannas, and river valleys. The Indian elephant reaches heights of 3 m (10 ft), and the African elephant, 4 m (13 ft). Earlier proboscideans—the mammoths, with some reaching 4.5 m (15 ft), and the smaller mastodons as well—survived up to the time of the Paleolithic humans, whose cave drawings depicted woolly mammoths.
The boneless, muscular trunk, the most distinctive feature of proboscideans, is actually a greatly elongated upper lip and nose used to convey grasses, leaves, and water to the mouth. Present-day elephants consume as much as 225 kg (495 lb) of forage a day in this manner and drink as much as 190 liters (50 gal) of water, drawing it through their nostrils and squirting it into the mouth. An extremely versatile organ, the trunk is also used to trumpet calls, pull down trees, rip off foliage, and draw up dust for dust bathing. It is also a highly sensitive organ, which the animals raise into the air to detect the faintest wind-borne scents. By means of fingerlike lobes on the end of the trunk and by the sucking action of the two nostrils, elephants can pick up and examine small objects.
A collection of the most beautiful wallpapers featuring elephants.
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