Let's talk elephants – we all know elephants, right? Big, gray, some in Africa and some in Asia. We all know elephants. There are a ton of elephant facts out there.
But what I'm about to tell you are no ordinary elephant facts. These elephant facts are totally bananas. 14 of them. 14 totally bananas elephant facts.
Are you ready?
1. Ancient elephant relatives were weirdos.
2. Speaking of weird relatives, the Mediterranean used to be home to a species of miniature elephants.
3. A white elephant is a real thing.
4. And, actually, a white elephant isn't actually white.
5. Hannibal really did march elephants over the Alps.
6. Elephants are great in the water...
7. ...but they're not so great on the basketball court.
8. They live in dusty habitats but still keep their homes in order.
Elephants help keep their homes healthy. They pull down trees and bushes, which helps the grass grow. They dig up salt licks and water holes that other animals need to survive. Even their poop is important! And because elephants are so important, they have a special designation: a keystone species. Like how a keystone keeps an arch intact, keystone species keep their environment intact.
9. Elephants hate bees.
Elephants will sometimes raid people's crops. And it turns out, it's really hard to design a fence that'll stop a 12,000-pound animal. Wood? Smash. Stone? Smash. Electric? Smash smash smash. Unfortunately, this drives many poor farmers to use guns or other weapons to try to drive the elephants away.
But we may have found a secret weapon to deter elephants: bees. Thousands and thousands of bees. Elephants hate bees. They'll even run away from just the sound of them! A nonprofit known as The Elephants and Bees Project is helping farmers build bee fences around their property. The end result is safer crops, safer farmers, and safer elephants.
10. And they can use mirrors.
The mirror test is a classic experiment to see if an animal is self-aware. Most animals don't understand that a mirror is a reflection of themselves. This is why your cat sometimes freaks out when it sees its own reflection: It thinks it's another cat. But some animals, including humans, great apes, dolphins, and — yes — elephants can recognize that the handsome hunk in the mirror is their own reflection.
11. Elephants can hear through their feet.
Elephants can make a bunch of different sounds, including noises so deep that human ears can't hear them. But elephants can also communicate by ground stomps, which send vibrations through the ground. Other elephants then pick up these vibrations through pressure-sensitive nerves in their feet.
12. Elephants can be right-tusked or left-tusked.
Elephant tusks are modified incisors — essentially giant buck teeth — and can be used as weapons, shovels, and ornaments. And just like humans are right-handed or left-handed, elephants develop a certain preference for using one tusk or the other.
13. But those tusks can be a huge liability.
There may have once been as many as 5 million African elephants, but today there are just under half a million. One of the big drivers of this population decline has been poaching — people shooting and killing elephants just for their ivory.
Though many nations have now outlawed ivory sales, poaching is still estimated to kill 30,000-50,000 elephants a year.
14. In fact, poaching might actually be pushing elephants to evolve not to have tusks altogether.
Elephants without tusks is crazy, and the fact that it's even a possibility is even crazier! How about we just not kill them at all? Would that be so hard?
2016 is supposed to be the Chinese Year of the Monkey. Instead, WildAid, a conservation nonprofit, is suggesting we wish people a happy Year of the Elephant.
Maybe if we can get everyone on board, we can help stamp out the ivory trade once and for all. A bunch of celebrities have already signed on to this idea including Lupita Nyong'o, Yao Ming, and Jackie Chan – Jackie Chan!