Animal Totems: Elephants

elephants in Mozambique

I’m not quite sure why or how… but I am intensely attracted to elephants. The attraction continues to grow and they are now one of my most favored totems.

Elephants are the largest land mammal and biologically related to the extinct mammoths and mastodons. Today, there are only two elephant species that continue to exist: the African elephant and the Asian elephant. They live naturally throughout sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Male African elephants are the largest surviving terrestrial animals and can reach 13 ft tall and weigh more than 15,000 lbs.

Both elephant species are significantly endangered as their natural habitat vanishes to human development and are all too often victims of ivory poachers or brokers from the zoo/circus/entertainment industries.

All elephants have several unusual features – the most notable is a long trunk – proboscis. Trunks have a variety of uses – breathing, lifting water to drink, grasping objects and food, play/wrestling and touch. Elephant incisors (teeth) grow into massive tusks, which they use as weapons, tools for moving objects and digging. Their huge ear flaps help control their body temperature as they are filled with millions of tiny corpuscles helping cool their blood. Their massive legs carry enormous body weight but also allow them to run and charge as needed. African elephants have larger ears and concave backs. Asian elephants have smaller ears and convex or level backs.

They are herbivorous and can be found in different habitats including savannahs, forests, deserts and marshes. They prefer to stay near water and have the ability to remember the location of water sources from year to year or season to season. They’re considered a keystone species due to their impact on their environments. Other animals tend to keep their distance. Predators like lions, tigers, hyenas and wild dogs usually target only young elephants (calves).

Females (cows) live in very complex family groups that evidence extraordinary communication, social order and hierarchy. These families can consist of one female with her calves or several related and unrelated females with offspring. Aunts and cousins abound. The elephant family is led by the matriarch who is frequently but not always the oldest cow. They have a fission-fusion society in which multiple family groups come together to socialize frequently. Careful observation demonstrates that females teach calves a wide range of social behaviors.

Males (bulls) leave their family groups when they reach puberty and wander off to live alone or with other males in small groups. Adult bulls mostly interact with family groups when looking for a mate and enter a state of increased testosterone and aggression called “musth,” which helps them gain dominance and reproductive success over rivals.

Elephant babies (calves) are the center of attention in the group and dependent on their mothers up to 3 years. The collective family cares for the well-being of the calf and females will go to great lengths to protect young.

They’re known to live 70 years or older in the wild. They communicate by touch, sight, smell and sound. In fact, elephants touch each other with amazing frequency. They use infrasound and seismic communication over very long distances. Elephant intelligence has been compared with that of primates and cetaceans. They appear to have self-awareness and demonstrate empathy-like behaviors for dying or dead individuals of their kind. Of note: it takes a baby elephant years to learn to master the full use of its trunk for its many uses.

Elephants symbolize strength, confidence, royalty, strong libido, fertility, sheer majestic power and the keepers of ancient memories and sacred ancient wisdom. Elephants know. Elephants remember. Elephants understand. They are believed to be gentle giants with extraordinary intuition and psychic abilities for communication and comprehension. They create and sustain profoundly deep meaningful relationships and interconnections over long periods of time and long distances. They represent compassion, kindness and gentle respect. They’re extraordinarily graceful and remarkably quiet despite massive bodies and lengthy trunks. Elephants are believed to have real feelings, be empathic and to cry.

I believe one day we’ll have the technology available to communicate with animals. In those days, elephants will be our master teachers.

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Animal Totems: Elephants

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