As the largest land animal on the planet, the African elephant spends a lot of time browsing. They are a fascinating mammal to watch eat because of the many ways they use their trunk.
The trunk is an extension of the upper lip and contains nostrils and two small finger-like projections at the tip for handling small objects. They use the prehensile trunk to breathe, forage, touch, shower, grasp, drink, and amplify sound.
A very complex tool with an astonishing 150,000 muscle fibers, the trunk, or proboscis, serves the elephant as a fifth appendage.
The earth was once home to many members of the Proboscidea family (trunked mammals), but elephants are now the only surviving species.
The teeth of Loxodonta africana are so essential that they have several sets in a lifetime. One molar weighs about 11 pounds (5 kg).
Upper incisors grow into tusks on both the male and female; and are used for digging, foraging, fighting, and defending.
Weighing (male) 11,000-13,200 pounds (5,000-6,000kg), they eat roots, grasses, fruit, and bark; and can eat up to 300 pounds (136 kg) of vegetation a day.
Read more about the African elephant here.
More about elephant teeth and trunk here.
One day we sat in our jeep under the hot midday sun, watching the elephants browse the surrounding forest and shallow lake bottom. We were in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, and we did this for hours.
They were relaxed and protected, the herd spread out around the whole lake. Grey heron, kingfishers, jacana, ibis, and other birds quietly foraged too.
The African elephant population, as everyone is aware, is dwindling and this is a sad fact. Much has been done to protect this distinguished creature.
But on this day under the African sun, they taught their youth and fed themselves and everything was right in the world.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander