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Evolution, Body, Limbs, Head, Mouth And Trunk, Teeth, Ears, Group StructureEyes, Social behavior, Death

Elephants are large, four-legged, herbivorous mammals. They have a tough, almost hairless hide, a long flexible trunk, and two ivory tusks growing from their upper jaw. Only two species of elephant exist today, the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the Asian or Indian elephant (Elephas maximus), both of which are threatened or endangered.

African elephants are the largest of all land animals, weighing up to 5 tons. There are two subspecies, the African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana africana) and the African forest elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis). Bush elephants inhabit grassland and savanna, while forest elephants live in tropical rainforest. Asian elephants are widely domesticated, with the few surviving wild elephants living mainly in forest and woodland. Field workers have differing opinions of the life span of elephants, some estimating between 60 and 80 years while others suggesting more than 100 years.

The eyes of elephants are about the same size as a human's. The eyes are usually dark brown, with upper and lower lids, and long eyelashes on the upper lid. With one eye on either side of their head elephants have a wide visual field, although their eyesight is relatively poor, particularly in bright sunlight.

Few animals other than humans have a more complex social network than elephants, which field biologists are just beginning to decipher. These outgoing, emotionally demonstrative animals rarely fight among themselves and peacefully coexist with most other animals. Elephants give and receive love, care intensely for their young, grieve deeply for their dead, get angry, show fear, and are thought to be more intelligent than any other animals except the higher primates.

Elephants mourn deeply for their dead and often cover them with leaves, dirt, and grass. An animal will stand over the body of a dead loved one, gently rocking back and forth as other animals caress the mourner with their trunks. One field-biologist watching such a display wrote: "This isn't just a dead elephant; it is a living elephant's dead relative or friend."

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Electrophoresis (cataphoresis) to Ephemeral