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Animal Highlight: Elephants

Here at Zoo Atlanta, we are excitedly awaiting the opening of our new African Savanna! It will be home to our new African elephant habitat. The elephants will roam a new and expanded habitat with dynamic and enriching features designed specifically for their species. Some highlights include a pond with 360-degree access, waterfalls, and a state-of-the-art indoor elephant center.

The elephant is one of the most distinctive animals on the planet. There are two main species of elephant that roam the earth: African and Asian. The African elephant is the larger of the two. The elephants at Zoo Atlanta, Tara and Kelly, are African elephants.

Elephants have many unique characteristics and adaptations. An elephant’s trunk is crucial to its survival and is even considered an extra limb.  Though the trunk contains no bones, it has around 100,000 muscles and tendons.  Although strong, the tip of the trunk can be very gentle. An elephant can pick up small things with its trunk, such as a dime, quite easily.

Another interesting feature of the elephant is the skin. It can be up to one inch thick. However, despite its thickness, the skin can be very sensitive, so much so that an elephant could feel a fly landing on its back. Have you ever seen an elephant spray water or mud on themselves? They do this to protect their skin from the sun and to provide a protective layer against biting insects. Here at Zoo Atlanta, we have a lot of Georgia red clay, which is why Tara and Kelly appear orangey-brown as opposed to the typical gray.

Check out those tusks! An elephant’s tusks are incisor teeth, like a human’s front four teeth.  They can grow up to three inches per year, reaching lengths up to 10 feet! These long tusks can also weigh up to 200 pounds. With such large teeth, what kind of diet do you suppose an elephant has? Elephants are herbivores, meaning that they only eat plant matter. They eat both woody plants (shrubs or trees) as well as soft-bodied plants (grasses, leaves and fruit).  This diverse diet makes elephants valuable members of their ecosystem. They provide grooming of vegetation as well as seed dispersal in their fecal matter.  Elephants eat up to 600 pounds of food a day and poop up to 300 pounds a day.

Zoo Atlanta has recently partnered with Conservation South Luangwa. Located in Zambia, Conservation South Luangwa works with community and conservation partners in the protection of wildlife and habitats of the South Luangwa ecosystem. They do this by using anti-poaching patrols, aerial surveillance and detection dogs trained to find ivory, animal skins, ammunition and firearms, and certain species killed for bushmeat. Their goal is to ensure the long-term survival of wildlife and habitats in South Luangwa under the custodianship of the Zambian people.

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