The Asian elephant is a species unlike any other – the second largest land mammal in the world and one of the most intelligent animals on earth. Unfortunately, with less than 35,000 Asian elephants left on the planet, it is also one of the world’s most endangered species. As the steward of the largest sustainable elephant population in the Western Hemisphere, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® takes its responsibility to educate the public about these magnificent animals seriously.

For the past 55 million years elephant-like animals have roamed the earth. In today's world, only two members of the order Proboscidea (named for their long trunks) remain: the Asian elephant and the African elephant. The mammoth and the American mastodon, the elephants' last living relatives, are believed to have become extinct during the Ice Ages.

Elephants are also known as pachyderms. The word "pachyderm" is derived from the Greek word "pachydermose," meaning "thick-skinned." On top of its head and on its back, an elephant's skin is one to two inches thick; elsewhere on its body it is thinner. The skin, sparsely covered with wire-like bristles, protects the animal from the sun and shields against moisture loss.

An elephant's trunk is very versatile. With it an elephant smells, picks up food and other objects, and sucks up water to blow into its mouth. Elephants also use their trunks to spray liquids, sawdust and sand onto their backs for cooling or protection from flies, to greet each other, and to vocalize. A "finger" at the end of the trunk allows elephants to grasp objects much as humans do with their fingers. While an elephant's trunk is extremely powerful, it is also very agile: A pachyderm can pick up a bird's nest without breaking the eggs!

Fascinating Facts
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