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The Verge Review of Animals: the elephant

The Verge Review of Animals: the elephant

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Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

This column is part of a series where Verge staffers post highly subjective reviews of animals. Up until now, we’ve written about animals without telling you whether they suck or rule. We are now rectifying this oversight.

One day, when the patriarchy inevitably fails and crushes underneath the weight of centuries of oppression, we'll need to establish a new world order. For guidance, I highly recommend emulating the elephant. These gentle giants have created the utopian matriarchal society of all our hopes and dreams.

The utopian matriarchal society of all our hopes and dreams

Elephant females live together with their young in tight-knit family groups. These herds are led by a single matriarch, often the biggest and oldest female, who makes the decisions for the group. She's Imperator Furiosa, leading her hardened band of Vuvalini warriors across the desert. Families usually make friends with other families too, creating a complex network of bond groups and clans that stick together. Female elephants know the importance of creating a tight squad.

As for the males, life is less social. Like drifters, they were born to walk alone. They learn early on that they aren't cut out for family life, and start to spend more time away from their groups when they become teenagers. Eventually the females start getting aggressive toward the adolescent males, so they get hint to butt out. Males then spend their days roaming the wild in isolation or hanging out with other loner male elephants from time to time.

The males and females do inevitably come together — when it's time to mate. Males periodically enter a state called musth, which is basically like sexual overdrive. Their testosterone levels go nuts and a weird tar-like juice starts leaking out of their faces. It all means one thing: time to Get. It. On. The males seek out family groups, looking for female elephants in heat, but these sexual rendezvouses don't always have a happy ending. Male elephants get a little too aggressive during musth and Hulk out, sometimes attacking the females they're courting.

Okay, so maybe this utopian society has a few problems to work out as well, but overall, those are the genius social dynamics of the elephants: the men come and go, but the women stick together. It's like Gilmore Girls, but in Africa and Asia.

elephants - blieusong (flickr)

Elephant mothers ultimately put Lorelai Gilmore to shame, though. These moms are hardcore. First, they have to go through a whopping 22-month pregnancy — the longest gestation period of any mammal. Just the thought of enduring a nine-month pregnancy is enough to make me not want to have kids. If I had to go through two years of gestation, I'm pretty sure I'd never do anything ever again. But not elephants. These female warriors have calves every four to five years. Plus, they aren't birthing small fetuses either. Newborn elephants are big, weighing over 200 pounds.

The trunk is essentially a Swiss army knife attached to the elephant's face

Even the elephant's physique is something to aspire to, at least in terms of efficiency. Take the animal's trunk. It's essentially a Swiss army knife attached to the elephant's face. At first glance, the trunk is your average nose, used for typical nose purposes like smelling and breathing. But this long schnoz can also be used to suck up water and even create high-frequency trumpeting. Plus, the trunk's flexibility makes it an excellent appendage for grabbing meals. If I could spoon food into mouth using just my nose, I'd have abandoned silverware long ago.

Then there are those amazing, floppy ears, which are both cute AND useful. Blood flows through them, allowing heat to escape to keep the elephant cool. And below the ears, the animal is equipped with two personal spears called tusks, which are used for digging, marking trees, and fighting (probably to keep off pesky males during musth). Sure, the elephant may have some exaggerated features, but they all serve an important purpose.

But above all, elephants are just damn smart. You may have heard of their excellent memories, which are pretty solid. Elephants are able to remember other elephants they've met long ago, and they're pretty good at remembering important locations, like where the nearest water hole is. They're also great problem solvers, using tools to dig for water underneath the ground, and they can even distinguish between different human languages. Plus, elephants have their own ceremonies for their dead. They'll stand vigil over the body of a recently deceased elephant, while trying to cover it with branches and dirt. That's some serious respect.

So to recap: elephant groups are comprised of badass female matriarchs that are smart as hell and have amazing facial features. Sign me up for the next herd!


The Elephant

Verge Score: 9.5


Verge Score

Good Stuff

  • Matriarchal society

  • Swiss army knife trunk

  • Smart AF

Bad Stuff

  • Sexed up males need to chill