14 elephant facts you can use to impress people at parties (if they're into elephants).

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.

The platybelodon demonstrating that every body is a beach body. Image from Margret Flinsch/Wikimedia Commons.

There are currently two species of elephant — the Asian and the African elephant — but they have a long family tree. A long, very weird family tree. In addition to the woolly mammoth and mastodon, there were strange elephant-platypus-looking hybrids like the platybelodon, with its shovel-like jaws, or deinotherium, a species with tusks that pointed backward. Backward!

2. Speaking of weird relatives, the Mediterranean used to be home to a species of miniature elephants.

Image from ninjatacoshell/Wikimedia Commons.

Called dwarf elephants, these guys were found on islands such as Crete and Sicily.

3. A white elephant is a real thing.

Image from Walters Art Museum/Wikimedia Commons.

If you've ever received an automatic egg cooker or a leg lamp at an office party, you're probably familiar with the term "white elephant" — a gift you don't want but can't refuse. But did you know a white elephant is a real animal?

A white elephant is another name for a very pale, often albino, elephant. In some southeast Asian countries like Thailand and India, a white elephant is a sign of good luck.

So what do they have to do with stuff from SkyMall magazine?

Well, according to legend, the King of Thailand would occasionally give one of his sacred white elephants to a political enemy of his. The enemy couldn't exactly turn down a gift from the king, and it was considered impolite to use a sacred animal as a glorified pack mule, so they just had to keep it, leaving the elephant to eat the poor sap out of house and home. That's the legend anyway.

4. And, actually, a white elephant isn't actually white.

Image from Yathin S Krishnappa/Wikimedia Commons.

An albino elephant is actually kind of reddish-brown or pinkish. Both Indian and African elephants can be albinos.

5. Hannibal really did march elephants over the Alps.


Image by Henri Motte/Wikimedia Commons.

In 218 B.C., a Carthaginian general named Hannibal decided to invade Roman Italy. And Hannibal wanted to bring his famous war elephants. The problem? He was in Spain, with thousands of miles and multiple mountain ranges between him and Rome.

So what did he do? He marched his entire army including — yes — his elephants, right over the Alps. Talk about dedication.

Though maybe he would have had more luck trying to swim across because:

6. Elephants are great in the water...

No one will expect an attack ... from the aqueduct! Image from Hans Hillewaert/Wikimedia Commons.

Though they might not look it, elephants are practically synchronized swimmers. An elephant's trunk can even be used like a snorkel, which is just brilliant.

7. ...but they're not so great on the basketball court.

Elephants can't jump, but they can still dunk. Image from Charlesjsharp/Wikimedia Commons.

Elephants can't jump. They're just too big and weigh too much. Although, really, if we're still talking basketball, that might not matter so much considering they can be 11 feet tall!

8. They live in dusty habitats but still keep their homes in order.

Image from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr.

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.

Image from David Brossard/Flickr.

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.

Image from Brian Snelson/Flickr.

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.

Image from Michael Pereckas/Flickr.

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.

Image from Unsplash/Pixabay.

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.


Image from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain-Prairie/Flickr.

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.

Image from Yathin S Krishnappa/Wikimedia Commons.

Because poachers are targeting and killing elephants with big, impressive tusks, this may actually end up pushing future elephant generations to have smaller tusks or no tusks at all.

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!


Don't disappoint Jackie Chan. Image from Lee M. McCaskill/U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons.

Watch WildAid's surprisingly catchy video below and wish people a Xiàng Nián Kuài Lè — Happy Year of the Elephant!

This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015

Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

It starts early, with the movies we are plopped in front of as toddlers.

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This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015

Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

It starts early, with the movies we are plopped in front of as toddlers.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."