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!

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Emily Vondy's mom fail.

Sometimes, we have to just laugh at our failures.

“Here’s a little story to allow all the moms of littles out there to maybe feel a little better about yourself,” Emily Vondy told her 1.3 million TikTok followers.

In a TikTok video that has now garnered more than 500,000 views, Vondy shared perhaps one of the most hilarious “mom fail” stories of all time: forgetting her son’s actual birthdate.
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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Images from Denver Animal Shelter's Facebook page.

Imagine rummaging through secondhand finds in your local thrift store, only to find that some items include a bonus feline at no extra charge.

Montequlla the orange tabby had somehow not gotten the memo that he and his family were moving. As they dropped off furniture, including a big recliner chair, to the Denver Arc Thrift Store on New Year’s Eve, they had no idea that poor little Montequlla was tucked away inside.

Luckily, the staff began to notice the chair meowing.

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Peter Dinklage in 2013.

Disney has taken another step toward diversifying its iconic princesses by casting Rachel Zegler to play Snow White in its upcoming live-action version of the Grimms’ fairy tale. Zegler’s mother is of Colombian descent and her father has Polish roots. The 20-year-old actress recently wowed audiences in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.”

Disney has also announced that Halle Bailey, a Black actress, will play Ariel in its upcoming live-action version of “The Little Mermaid.”

Disney’s big push toward inclusivity in the casting of its princesses is definitely a welcome move, but according to actor Peter Dinklage, the Mouse may be missing the forest for the trees.

Dinklage, who was born with a form of dwarfism named achondroplasia, criticized Disney on the “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast for being hypocritical for focusing on race while completely missing the ball when it comes to people with disabilities.

"There's a lot of hypocrisy going on, I've gotta say, from being somebody who's a little bit unique," Dinklage told Maron.

"Really? Like what?" Maron asked. "What do you see?"


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