Why do so many people love elephants

Fabulous trunk animalsElephant myths on the track

There are hardly any other animals as legendary as the elephant: They should never forget anything, and mice should be the only animals they are terrified of. Biologist Mario Ludwig knows whether that's true or not.

A myth: panic of mice

Many years ago, the well-known animal researcher Bernhard Grzimek put several elephant mice in front of them. The result of this experiment was clear: the elephants did not panic. Instead, they first sniffed the mice curiously with their trunks and then tried to crush them. So no signs of fear.

The legend that elephants are afraid of mice originated from a rumor. It is said that mice allegedly climb into the trunks of large animals all the way up to the brain and then drive the elephants insane with targeted bites. But that is impossible, if only because the pachyderms' proboscis ends in the pharynx.

"There is this story of the mouse that crawls into the trunk of an elephant, climbs up to the brain and drives the pachyderm there crazy with targeted bites."

The fabulous memory

If someone has an extraordinary memory, then they will gladly be certified that they have a memory like an elephant. And it's true: elephants actually have excellent memories in some ways. For example, they can remember paths, terrain formations and food sources very well. This is important for elephants because they often cover several thousand kilometers when they migrate.

Elephants remember places to feed and water

In order to survive, they need to know exactly where there are water and feeding places on their route. Mario Ludwig says a story is well documented. It is about a young animal that visited a certain waterhole once when it was three months old, but found its way there again 30 years later.

Legends also circulated that elephants who were mistreated by their keepers recognized their former tormentors and later killed them. However, there is no evidence for these stories, says the biologist.

The myth of the elephant cemetery

The legend of the elephant cemetery, to which elephants retreat to die, persists, according to Mario Ludwig. However, there is a good reason for this, as there is supposed "evidence" for this thesis.

There are a few places in Africa where a noticeably large number of elephant bones or entire skeletons have been found. Most of these places are hidden deep in inaccessible swamp areas.

When the old elephant can no longer chew well

Various causes lead to the creation of these supposed "elephant cemeteries". One possible reason is dental problems in elephants. The animals get new teeth six times in their life. However, when the last set is worn out, the proboscis can no longer chew hard branches or bark and then retreat to swampy areas where they find softer food. They'll die there at some point.

And because elephants have repeatedly withdrawn to the same areas and died there, the myth of the elephant cemeteries arose.

"One possible reason for the elephant cemetery is much more prosaic: it's dental problems."

The pachyderm does not have thick skin everywhere

When asked whether elephants are actually pachyderms, i.e. have particularly thick skin, the biologist Mario Ludwig answers with a "yes and no". Because elephants have quite thick skin in many places. For example on the back and legs, where the skin is between two and three centimeters thick.

But in other places, for example on the armpits, on the stomach and behind the ears, the elephant's skin is very thin. "Paper thin," says Mario Ludwig. And there the proboscis are very sensitive: they can even notice a fly that has settled on its skin.