Saturday, October 3, 2015


“Do Elephants really starve to death when old?

No – at least not as you would traditionally use the word starve. Their teeth do not suddenly fall out rendering them unable to feed. Were this to happen, death would result within days. Elephants essentially only have two types of teeth. The tusks are the modified upper incisors used for procuring food but not feeding. They are the only teeth in the front of the mouth. They have two sets during their lifetime, the milk set being lost within the first year of life.
Then there are the so–called cheek–teeth – the molars (or molars and premolars according to some). An Elephant has six sets of these teeth in its lifetime. Sometimes a seventh puts in an appearance, but it is usually underdeveloped and of little use in chewing. Unlike the usual situation of teeth erupting upward from the jaw, these teeth erupt from the back of the jaw – effectively moving forward in a track-like motion. As they reach the front of the jaw, they fragment and fall to the ground in pieces. As the animal gets older, the skull gets larger as does each set of teeth.  The ‘track’ of the jaw is longer than an individual tooth so that at any one time there may be parts of 2-3 cheek-teeth in each quadrant of the mouth. Owing to the very diverse and high roughage content of the Elephant’s diet, the teeth are continuously worn down – more so in populations where the diet is dominated by woody material. When the last set of cheek-teeth is in place and it is being worn down with no set to replace it the food intake becomes less efficient, and over a period of time – a few months at least – the animal slowly becomes malnourished because it cannot sustain its bulk. It loses condition, becomes weaker owing to lack of energy, and slowly deteriorates to the point of either being preyed upon (very unusual), or becoming susceptible to disease (lowered immune deficiency), or more usually succumbing to death via stress-induced heart problems.
Their natural lifespan varies considerably based on a variety of factors, most notably speed of tooth wear which is related to diet, and the protein content of the available food (higher protein contents sustain for longer, even with rapid tooth wear). In the wild, their longevity can be assumed to be from 45-65 years (possibly a little longer as an extreme).”