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Who does not know the elephant? It's probably the first animal children learn to recognize and is, as every schoolchild knows, the largest land animal. Besides its size, the elephant's trunk is unique in the animal kingdom.

According to Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, the elephant's trunk is the result of a tussle with a crocodile who grabbed hold of the elephant's nose so it stretched, and stretched and stretched until it was a long, long trunk. Biologists offer a variety of more prosaic (but plausible) evolutionary explanations. Whatever its origin, the trunk is an amazingly sophisticated appendage, able to manipulate small objects with delicate precision, or to bash big trees with fearsome power. Or it can serve as a hose to spray water on its back, or to gently caress another elephant.

Elephants can be unexpectedly variable in their behavior. At Liwonde National Park, Malawi, where they are unaccustomed to visitors they can be rather defensive, hence aggressive, as below, when they were photographed. On the other hand, at Amboseli National Park in Kenya, elephants seem to regard tourist buses as another savanna creature of no threat, and respond only when young are present.

Click below to see the photos and information on elephants:

protecting her baby

roaming the river's edge

charging the camera


Photo of elephant and baby, Amboseli National Park

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This female elephant shelters her young, as a precaution when the tour bus drives up at Amboseli National Park.

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Photo of pair of elephants, Liwonde National Park, Malawi

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The Shire River, which runs through Liwonde National Park, is ideal habitat for elephants who patrol the banks, foraging among the fifteen-foot high grass. When David Livingstone visited here in the mid-1800s he counted 800 elephants along one mile of the river.

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Photo of charging elephant, Liwonde National Park, Malawi

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Elephants at Liwonde National Park, near Blantyre, Malawi, are defensive and charge with little provocation. Local guides are accustomed to this behavior and know when to pull back. They hope that the elephants' aggression will diminish once the animals become more used to visitors.

Learn about elephant natural history

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