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Busting elephant myths

Hey everyone! My name is Caleb, and I am with the Elephant Care Team at Zoo Atlanta. Whether it’s from old television shows, movies, books, or other forms of entertainment, I have heard many misconceptions regarding elephants over the years. Today, I’m going to dive into a few of these well-known elephant “facts” that are just elephant myths.

Myth: “Elephants are afraid of mice.”
No one is sure where this old, commonly held myth began, but it’s been heavily popularized over the years. There is no scientific evidence to suggests elephants are innately afraid of mice. However, elephants can be startled or spooked when something moves past them quickly or appears suddenly, and mice tend to do both. So rather than being afraid of the mouse itself, elephants likely are just getting surprised by the quick, sudden movements of something much smaller than them.

Myth: “Elephants drink through their trunks.”
Elephants do use their trunks to drink; however, they do not drink water through their trunks like straws. An elephant’s trunk is the fusion of their upper lip and nose that has been elongated and is used to touch, grab, and smell. An elephant drinking through their trunk would be like humans drinking through our noses. When an elephant uses their trunk to drink, the elephant sucks water into their trunk, holds it in their trunk, and then squirts the water from their trunk into their mouth (boogers and all). Depending on the elephant’s size, an elephant’s trunk can hold multiple gallons of water at a time!

Myth: “Elephants eat peanuts.”
Peanuts are not a part of elephant’s daily diet, either in the wild or in human care. Elephants are herbivores, which means their diet consists of plant-material such as grasses, fruits and vegetables, tree branches, and bark. Here at Zoo Atlanta, our elephants each receive between 200 and 250 pounds of food a day per elephant, with their diet consisting of hay, browse (tree branches and bamboo), fruits and vegetables, and a specially formulated supplemental grain. Not peanuts! However, we will occasionally give our elephants natural peanut butter as a special, novel enrichment food item. It’s one of their favorites!

Myth: “Elephants are the only animal that cannot jump.”
Thank goodness, elephants cannot jump. (What a ruckus that would cause!) Whether it’s due to their size or lacking the proper muscles to lift their bodies off the ground, there are many animals unable to jump. Sloths, starfish, clams, chameleons, giraffe, capybara, sea sponges, porcupine, tortoises, opossums, hippos, and rhinos are just a few more animals that cannot jump, like elephants!

Myth: “Elephants never forget.”
Elephants sometimes forget, and some more than others. However, elephants do have incredible memories, especially spatial memory. For example, elephants in the wild must travel extensive distances to find food and water. During times of drought or famine, older elephants will remember and guide their herds to locations they traveled to in their younger years (that were shown to them by their older elephants) that had food and water during similar scarce times!

Caleb U.
Keeper II, Elephants

 

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