World Elephant Day – 10 Fun Elephant Facts

Due to the field of work I’m in, I am OFTEN asked “what’s your favorite animal?” I always say , “It depends which one I’m standing in front of!” If I’m standing in front of an elephant, it’s an elephant. If I’m standing in front of a manatee, it’s a manatee. It’s simultaneously that simple and that difficult! Turns out, you don’t NEED to decide, and sometimes there are reasons you happen to love two seemingly unrelated animals. I’ve decided to share 10 Fun Elephant Facts in celebration of World Elephant Day, starting with a fact that explains my love of both Sirenia (manatees) and Pachyderms (elephants).

Can you see the resemblance?

1. Elephants are related to manatees
If you take a hard look you’ll see that manatees and elephants have almost-identical toenails. Manatees have a semi-prehensile lip used to tear at greens, like an elephant with their trunk. They both also have what’s called “marching molars”, teeth that rotate and replace themselves!
2. Elephants have around 150,000 muscle units in their trunk
What an incredible muscular system!
3. Those tusks on their side of their trunk are actually teeth!
Technically, those tusks are large incisors.
4. There are three different species of elephant
The species are the African Savannah elephant, the African Forest (or bush) elephant and the Asian elephant.
5. They create their own sunscreen!
By rolling around in mud or throwing mud or sand on themselves they protect their thick skin from the sun’s rays.
6. Their communication is complex.
Not only do elephants vocalize and make the sounds we’re used to like trumpeting, but they can also communicate through sounds that create vibrations in the ground, which they may detect through their feet
7. Speaking of feet – Elephants walk almost silently!
Even the largest elephants, up to 13,000 lbs. can be hard to hear coming. Due to their anatomy, not only are they practically walking on tip-toe at all times, they also have soft padded feet. (Next time you’re wearing slippers, tip-toe around and see if anyone hears you coming.)
8. Elephants are warded off by capsaicin
Elephants’ ability to be silent means they can easily wander through farmland at night. One neat innovation being used to ward off elephants from trampling crops is using capsaicin as a deterrent, since they are very sensitive to the smell & feeling. While that might sound cruel, think about the alternatives. Farmers who have lost their entire crops to elephants will look the other way when poachers come.
9. Elephants hate bees!
Another project being used to ward of elephants from crops is bee hives!
10. Around 90% of African elephants have been wiped out in the past century – largely due to the ivory trade.

To learn more, watch my video:

Some of the clips in the above video come from The Elephant Cafe in Zambia. If you enjoyed reading these 10 Elephant Fun Facts, be sure to read my blog on The Elephant Cafe and why it’s an incredible example of sustainable eco-tourism.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium & Eco-Tourism

Permanent sea turtle resident at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

According to a YouGov poll, nearly a quarter of Americans became more opposed to zoos and aquariums between 2007 and 2017. I, personally, would have liked to see the results from 2007-2012, as 2013 marks the premier date of Blackfish, the documentary surrounding Seaworld and its relationship with Orcas in human care. But, perhaps another blog on that another time.

Now, if you’ve come here for a Seaworld/animals-in-captivity bashing fest, you’re in the wrong place. I am a firm believer in what AZA-accredited Zoos and Aquariums do to protect & preserve species. I think many others are, too. In fact, the same YouGov poll reports that 79% of people said the main reason Zoos & Aquariums should exist is to either: rescue/rehabilitate/release animals, educate the public, or protect animals from going extinct. Some of the best facilities manage to do all three. One of these facilities is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, in Clearwater, FL.

While I didn’t mention this in the blog post- this is still SUPER neat. Aquaponics in action at the Aquarium and on display for the public to see. They even feed the lettuce to some of their sea turtles!

I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) a few times in the last 5 years, and have only seen it continue to grow for the better. What started off as a rescue/rehab/release & education operation soon became bigger than they probably ever imagined with the filming of ‘Dolphin Tale’. If you aren’t familiar with the title of the movie you’re likely still familiar with the story of Winter, the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin with the prosthetic tail (or fluke).

According to WTSP, “The year before the original ‘Dolphin Tale’ came out, attendance at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium was under 78,000. The year after, it was 750,000.” That’s a 862% increase in attendance in ONE YEAR! Not only did the facility have to adapt to hold more people eager to meet Winter and her other animal-celebrity friends, it also had to adapt to hold more animals. Because in the world of rescue, rehab, release, sometimes the last step is harder than we’d hope (no dolphin-celebrity pun intended.)

Often times, rehabilitated animals suffer injuries too severe to be released back into the wild. This holds true with several of the Aquarium’s dolphin, sea turtle, and otter patients. This is what makes this Aquarium different from so many others. Their website itself says “Not Your Typical Aquarium” and they couldn’t be more right. This is still very clearly a rescue/rehab/release facility, first and foremost. They are currently undergoing a huge renovation, which will include tripling the amount of space for rescue dolphins and adding more space for other non-releasable animals. This renovation will also be expanding guest areas for those who want to support their mission by visiting.

A snapshot of just some of the construction going on!

And I do encourage you to visit. You won’t be awe-struck by whale sharks swimming overhead, but you will know that you are supporting a facility who prioritizes the rescue/rehabilitate/release of animals, educating the public, and doing their part to prevent the extinction of critically endangered species like sea turtles. So, if you find yourself in that 25% of people who are more opposed to zoos & aquariums in the last ten years, I encourage you to visit this facility. It epitomizes what other AZA-accredited facilities are also doing to help species.

For another take on sustainable/eco-tourism be sure to read my blog about the Elephant Cafe in Zambia.