Elephants are the largest land animals on Earth. They are extremely sophisticated, peaceful creatures, revered by people across the world. Sadly, though, they are also hunted and highly prized by people across the world for the ivory contained in their tusks.
As conservationists and animal lovers alike scramble to raise awareness for the dwindling global population of elephants, we celebrate these incredible creatures and all the things you might not necessarily know about them. For example, while elephants are gigantic when compared to other land animals, they're minuscule when compared to whales. In fact, a blue whale's tongue can weigh more than an entire elephant.
By CBS News Staff Writer Christina Capatides
The world's most expensive cup of coffee comes from beans that have been handpicked from the dung of elephants in Golden Triangle, Thailand.
At $500 a pound and $50 a serving, Black Ivory Coffee is so pricey because of its unique, natural refining process. An elephant eats the beans, digests them for 15-30 hours, and poops them out. The beans are then plucked from the elephant's dung, washed and roasted.
Since elephants are herbivores, the fermentation that occurs within their stomachs is said to bring out the sugar in the coffee beans and strip them of any bitterness.
An elephant in South Korea shocked scientists in 2012, when he suddenly started speaking Korean. Placing the tip of his trunk into his mouth, Koshik is able to convincingly imitate a human voice, enunciating five Korean words: "annyeong" (hello); "anja" (sit down); "aniya" (no); "nuwo" (lie down) and "choah" (good).
Oddly enough, the closest living relative to the elephant is the rock hyrax; a small, broad furry mammal found in South Africa, often mistaken for a rodent.
Despite weighing about 400 pounds, elephant trunks are so dexterous that they can pick up a single grain of rice. With that in mind, shooting hoops is a breeze!
Satao - huge tusks
Before the world mourned the premature death of Cecil the lion, it mourned the loss of Satao - one of Africa's last 'great tuskers' - to poachers. Satao, a bull likely born in the 1960s, was one of Kenya's most famous elephants because his massive ivory tusks grew to more than 100 pounds.
Conservationists believe that Satao survived as long as he did because he learned to avoid humans, always moving from bush to bush with his ivory hidden in the foliage. In June of 2014, when poachers finally shot Satao with poison darts, he had migrated to a remote corner of Tsavo National Park to find fresh water after a series of storms. His body was later found with his face and great tusks mercilessly hacked off.
Though the ivory trade is now banned, countless elephants are slaughtered each year and their tusks sold on the black market. In fact, the street value of elephant ivory in numerous Asian countries is now greater than gold.
Elephants grieve the loss of their loved ones for many years. They are like humans that way. They cry and even gather to grieve in groups, as if they were holding animal kingdom sort of funerals. When the "Elephant Whisperer" Lawrence Anthony died, for example, a herd of elephants travelled to his house to mourn him.
They have a more developed hippocampus, thought to be the center of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system, than any other animal, which could explain such advanced emotional awareness. In addition to grief, elephants have also been documented exhibiting humor and compassion. In fact, it is not unheard of for an elephant to rescue a trapped dog or even bury a deceased human.
Female elephants can have babies until they're about 50 years old. During that time, they tend to give birth once every two-and-a-half to four years. That means a single elephant can have more than twenty kids.
An elephant's skin regiment
Elephants use mud as both a sunscreen and a moisturizer.
Elephants' skin may look tough, but it's actually so sensitive that they can feel a single fly land on their bodies.
In the Dr. Seuss classic, "Horton Hears A Who!," elephants' ears are ultra sensitive... so sensitive, in fact, that Horton is able to hear microscopic creatures, called Whos, talking to him from a tiny planet, the size of a speck of dust.
In addition to Horton, elephants are responsible for several of the world's other most beloved fictional characters, including Babar and Dumbo.
An adult elephant can consume up to 300 pounds of food a day, sometimes spending as much as 16 hours doing it. And despite being herbivores, they're not picky eaters. Here, an ambitious elephant attempts to consume a Christmas tree, as part of an annual winter tradition at Berlin's Zoologischer Garten.
Elephants love swimming and use their trunks as snorkels, so that they can swim down into deeper waters.
Big creatures, little fears
Though elephants have no natural predators, they are terrified of both ants and bees. So, some African farmers keep elephants off their fields by lining their borders with beehives.
Baby elephants are born blind, but they can stand up almost immediately.
An acrylic painting by eight elephants once sold for a world-record 39,500 dollars.
While elephants' ability to paint illustrates their extraordinary intellect, animal activist organizations like the Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival Foundation caution that training them to produce art can involve negative reinforcement and extreme discomfort. Being forced to paint the same picture over and over again for their handlers' monetary gain also detracts from the animals' quality of life.
Not all elephant art is produced through inhumane methods. The nonprofit Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project was established in 1998 with the aim of fostering elephants' individual styles and creativity with positive reinforcement techniques. Funds garnered from the sale of these paintings go to conservation efforts.
Female elephants are pregnant with their young for a staggering 22 months, the longest gestation period of any mammal.
Big Mama's Trunk
Touching is one of the primary ways elephants communicate. In fact, they often greet one another by stroking or locking trunks. If an older elephant is attempting to discipline one of its young, it may also use its trunk to slap the smaller elephant into line.
The gym is that way
An elephant's trunk contains about 100,000 different muscles.
Lin Wang, the oldest elephant on record, lived to the age of 86.
Between the years of 1994 and 2005, at least 31 elephants died prematurely while employed by a circus.
In response to reports of animal cruelty and premature elephant deaths involved in the practice, 16 countries have now banned the use of wild animals in circuses: Austria, Bolivia, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Peru, Portugal, Sweden, Singapore, India, and Israel. Many localities in Canada and numerous counties in the U.S. have also adopted bans. The U.K. is set to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, as well, in December 2015.
After 145 years of elephant acts, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, announced a plan on March 5, 2015 to retire its elephants by 2018. "This decision was not easy, but it is in the best interest of our company, our elephants and our customers," said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's parent company, Feld Entertainment. The company plans to focus its energy on conservation programsand will send the 13 Asian elephants, who are part of its traveling troupe, to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida.
Elephants are a keystone species. That means they create and maintain their own ecosystems. In fact, many plant and animal species are actually dependent on elephants to survive because they make their homes in elephant-created ecosystems as well.
Elephants make a sound, known as a trumpet, to signal excitement, aggression and distress. This trumpeting can be heard from up to six miles away.