Elephants: Do you know enough to pass this quiz?

two elephants being loving
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Elephants are one of the most popular mammals on the planet, a part of our legends, traditions, even religions — not to mention countless nature documentaries. Test your knowledge of these amazing animals!

Question 1 of 15

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silhouette of asian elephant against a sunset
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How many species of elephants are alive today?

For a long time, science recognized two species of elephant: the Asian elephant and the African elephant, along with four Asian subspecies and two African subspecies. However, recent DNA analysis showed that one subspecies from Africa is actually its own species. Now, science recognizes three species: the Asian elephant, the African forest elephant, and the African savannah elephant.

Question 2 of 15

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herd of elephants at a watering hole
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How long can an elephant go without drinking water?

Though elephants prefer to drink every day (and can drink as much as 66 gallons a day!), they can go up to three days without water as they travel between sources.

Question 3 of 15

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elephant near waterhole showing nervous behavior
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What tiny animal are elephants scared of?

Elephants are scared of bees, and even have a specific alarm call to warn others about nearby bees. This fear has become a tool for coexisting peacefully with humans: some farmers in Kenya line the borders of their farms with beehives to keep elephants from raiding crops. Another tool is to use motion sensors to set off a speaker that plays the sound of buzzing bees to frighten off elephants. Both help prevent conflicts, though the strategy that comes with honey is more appealing!

Question 4 of 15

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elephant with raised trunk vocalizes
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How do elephants communicate over long distances

Elephants can make loud trumpeting calls that can be heard up to 5 miles away. However, they can communicate even farther than that — up to 10 miles away — by making an infrasonic rumbling that travels through the ground and can be detected by other elephants through their feet and trunks. The sound is too low for humans to hear, but we can feel it like a buzzing sensation. A recent study showed that elephants have a specific alarm rumble for humans, and another for bees. 

Question 5 of 15

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asian elephant in tall grass
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Which species of elephant is shown here?

This is a male Asian elephant. It is distinguishable from its African cousins by its much smaller ears and the domed head, among other smaller differences.

Question 6 of 15

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What is the average lifespan of an elephant?

Elephants can live to between 50 and 70 years of age. When elephants die of old age, it is often from starvation after their sixth and final set of molars wears out and they can no longer feed. The oldest elephant on record lived to a ripe old age of 82. 

Question 7 of 15

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elephant sprays water from its trunk
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How much water can an elephant hold in its trunk at one time?

Adult elephants can hold as much as 2 to 2.5 gallons of water in their trunks at a time. When drinking, they suck up then water and then spray the water in their mouths to swallow. They also use this trunk trick for bathing, and of course for splashing around in play.

Question 8 of 15

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bull elephant interested in female
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When male elephants begin looking for a mate, they enter a state known as:

During musth, a bull elephant's testosterone levels can be as much as 60 times higher than usual, which means heightened aggression and frustration — and that means you don't want to be anywhere near him! Aside from behavior, one can tell a male is in musth by the thick discharge, called temporin, from the sides of his head.

Question 9 of 15

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african species against a sunset
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What are elephants' closest living relatives?

The elephant’s closest living relative is, oddly enough, the hyrax. This small, furry mammal is found in rocky terrain in sub-Saharan Africa, and is often mistaken for a rodent. Some scientists dispute that the hyrax is the closest relative, as DNA suggests, or if sea cows are more closely related, as recent research suggests. Either way, the elephant's closest cousin probably isn't what you would expect!

Question 10 of 15

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elephant herd running including young elephants
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How fast can an elephant run?

It has long been debated whether elephants can run at all — but they do. Researchers call their stride "Groucho running." Stanford researchers say "it's an intermediate sort of gait, but it looks like what we biomechanically would call running." And when they do "run," they can reach surprising speeds. Elephants can hit 15-20 miles per hour for short distances. So don't think you can easily outrun a charging elephant!

Question 11 of 15

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elephant herd walking in a row
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The leader of an elephant herd is always:

Elephant herds are matriarchal, following the lead of an older female. The matriarch is always one of the oldest (but not necessarily the oldest in the group) because the leader needs a long memory of the best places to find food and water at different times of the year or during droughts. She also needs to be able to calm social unrest in the herd, keep youngsters in line, and keep the herd safe from harm.

Question 12 of 15

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pile of elephant tusks
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How many elephants are killed each year by poachers?

Estimates vary, but generally between 25,000-30,000 elephants are killed each year by poachers. The problem isn't getting improving; the worst years on record for elephant poaching have been 2011 and 2012. Last year, more than 25,000 elephants were killed in Africa alone. Only a cultural shift in how we see and value ivory — that it is more valuable on living elephants than in some carver's shop — can save the species. 

Question 13 of 15

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close-up of elephant eye
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Elephants recognize themselves in the mirror

An elephant is one of the few animals that can pass what's called the mirror test, an experiment developed by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr. in 1970 to determine if non-human animals are self-aware. Apes, orcas and dolphins are the only other animals besides humans and elephants that have passed it.

Question 14 of 15

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borneo pygmy elephant in grass
Which subspecies of elephant is this?

The Borneo elephant, or Borneo pygmy elephant, is the smallest subspecies of elephant. Though DNA analysis points toward the Borneo elephant being its own subspecies, a final decision has not been made by the scientific community. Meanwhile, the elephants are endangered, with a 50 percent decline in population in the last 60-75 years. Habitat loss and degradation may mean that the Borneo elephant goes extinct before its subspecies status is decided.

Question 15 of 15

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small herd of elephants walking away
How many elephants are left in the wild?

Expert estimates place wild elephant populations at between 400,000-650,000 elephants left in Africa (representing a 50 percent decline in the last 35 years) and between 35,000-40,000 elephants left in Asia. At the current rate of poaching, elephants could go extinct in the wild in as little as 20-30 years.