John Smith, age 9, from Miami, Florida, and his friends Ann, Bryan and Jo decided to go to Africa and spend a day in the savannah. They arrived to an African village where the houses looked like tents, with round thatched roofs and brick mud walls, and not from blocks and concrete. There were no TVs nor phones in them. John and his friends soon became good friends with the village children and began playing hide and seek.
When John strayed away from the village, running and hiding from his friends, he ran into a huge elephant. “Hello,” the elephant said, “I am Leon. Come, you can hide behind me.” John took a closer look at him: “Oh, you are as big as a truck!” Leon laughed: “True, I weigh five tons, I am four metres long and nearly as tall. But, you needn’t worry, I am the oldest and the most experienced. I take care of everyone and I will take care of you too.”
“And who is it that you take care of?” asked John. “Well, the elephants of my herd”, said Leon. “We live in groups of fifteen adults and our little ones – one big happy family. The biggest elephant leads his herd. Same as people, we take care of each other. When a female elephant gives birth to her little one, all other elephants gather in a circle and the most experienced female helps bring a baby elephant into the world. The newborn elephant will soon be able to stand on its feet, and the mother will feed it with her milk till it’s three or four years old. All that time she protects it with her body.
By the river, a female elephant was fanning herself with her ears, moving them slowly up and down. Her ears looked like two fans, over meter and a half wide. Having bathed in the river, the little elephants got to the river bank and rolled down in the dirt. “Oh, but they have only just bathed!” said John , turning to his huge friend. “Dirt protects us from the sun and insect bites – just like sun cream or mosquito lotion protects you people from these things!”
John was standing aside when, a little muddy elephant Nina invited him to play with her. “But how?” John asked, “I used my hands when I play.” Nina smiled: “It’s true, elephants have no hands, but the have a long trunk. Our trunk is both our nose and our hand – we use it to fetch things.
Look, I can fetch the smallest stone with my trunk and throw it high and far. I can suck water with it and smirk smirk it way up.” The next moment, John found himself in the most refreshing shower.
“Lovely! I would like to play with you!” John exclaimed, “but, tell me, why are you elephants so big?” Nina thought for a moment: “We drink a lot of water. We need to drink about one hundred liters of water a day, and it takes about two months to a human to drink as much. And we eat a lot. We walk all day long, and we eat grass, leaves, roots and fruits. Bigger elephants eat about two hundred kilos of food daily during twenty hours. Just like this, we pick a fruit with our trunk, and we put it in our mouth and eat it!”
“That is really a lot of food. Where do you find so much of it?” asked John.
“In Africa there are lots of plants but we have to walk a lot. We cross about ten thousand kilometers a year, and with our thick legs, which look like poles, we knock down many plants. Next year, those plants decompose and make the soil more fertile, making new, healthy and fresh grass able to grow. So, we are not only big, but very useful,” Nina explained.
“Tell me, are there many of you?” asked John. “In Africa and Asia there are about 640,000 of us. There used to be a lot more of us, and on all continents, but now we only live here and in India. In India, elephants are smaller than us, and they have smaller ears and trunks.
They are working elephants. Every year nearly 70,000 elephants are killed for tusks. We use our tusks, which can be up to three meters long, to defend ourselves, but some people use them to make ornaments and souvenirs in order to get rich.”
“That’s really sad,” John said. “And have you some more teeth?” Nina nodded: “We have four more molars. Because we live for about seventy years, we use them a lot, so our molars get replaced by new ones often – sometimes even six times in a lifetime. One liana plant is so huge and thick that only us elephants can open it with our tusks and reach its seed. Without us it could not survive, and without it some other species of plants and insects could not survive. We are all links in a natural lifecycle.”
Tired from playing, John and Nina went towards the village where Ann, Bryan and Jo were waiting for them. On their way they encountered a sad herd gathered around a corpse of an old elephant. Nina explained: “When an elephant dies, we cover his body with dirt and leaves and then we move on through the savannah. When
they burry him, they too will move on, happy that he had a long life.” Nina smiled
sadly, and John promised himself that he would do everything in his power so that every elephant can have a long life.