Elephants and Hyraxes



Elephants are unique because of their long trunks and huge size. The three existing species of elephants include the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant and the Asiatic elephant. The African bush elephants range across open savanna in equatorial Africa. These are the largest elephants. They also have desert-adapted cousins that live in the arid regions of southern Africa, like Namibia. Although they are the same species, the desert-adapted elephants have longer legs and broader feet. The African forest elephants also live in equatorial Africa, but in the rain forest. This is the smallest species of elephant. They have straighter tusks, which are yellowish and point downward. In Odzala National Park, these elephants frequent low-lying swampy areas (bais) to drink the water and eat the soil which contain essential minerals. Asiatic elephants are in between the two African elephants in size. The loss of pigment in the skin of their heads, trunks and ears identifies them as Asiatic elephants. Another difference is at the end of their trunks. Asiatic elephants have only one prehensile projection at the tip, while African elephants have two opposable projections.

The elephants, hyraxes and manatees all share a common ancestor. Only four species of hyrax exist today, and each is small, furry, and shaped somewhat like a rabbit. However, extinct species of hyraxes were much larger, about the size of cows. The similarities between hyraxes and elephants include: tiny tusks that develop from their incisors, internal bone structure, and flattened nails on their toes.

Like elephants, hyraxes are very primitive animals with poor thermal regulation. Hyraxes regulate their body temperature by sitting in the sun frequently, or huddling in groups to keep warm. Due to their large size, it is harder for elephants to stay cool. Elephants regulate their body temperature by flapping their ears, which have many blood vessels, and this cools their blood. They also cover themselves with mud or dust, or spray themselves with water.