Even though the elephant is an ancient beast, it is strangely up-to-date. Many of its characteristics resemble modern inventions. Consider a four-wheel drive vehicle, a periscope, a vacuum cleaner, an air conditioner, and false teeth. The elephant has something in common with all of them.
Surprisingly, the huge elephant is sure-footed. Each of its feet adjusts independently to give it a secure foothold on uneven ground, similar to the way a four-wheel drive vehicle works.
The largest land animal, the elephant walks virtually on its tiptoes. The bones of its feet point toward the ground. That is why it can move so delicately. It tests a treacherous slope with its forefoot before putting its full weight on the ground. Each foot has a pad under the toes that flattens out under its body weight. If an elephant sinks into mud, it can pull its feet out because the pad becomes smaller when lifted. But an elephant cannot jump—not one inch off the ground! If it did, its legs would be crushed when it landed.
The elephant uses its trunk like a periscope, holding it up in the air and turning it to detect the smell of food or of enemies. It can sniff out water three miles away. When the rivers dry up, it uses its sensitive trunk to smell water underground, then digs down to it with its forelegs and tusks. From the small well it digs, it sucks up the water with its trunk and squirts it into its mouth.
Like a vacuum cleaner, the elephant’s trunk sucks up not only water, but dirt, sand, and mud. An elephant often sprays any one of these things over itself to cool off, prevent sunburn, keep insects away, or relieve the itching of insect bites. It may even roll in the mud to cover more of its body.
This animal loves water and often bathes three or four times a day. The water cools it off and helps keep its skin in good condition. The elephant is a good swimmer and likes to play in the water, squirting and splashing with its trunk. When swimming, it uses its trunk as a snorkel, holding the tip of it out of the water so that it can breathe.
The enormous ears of an elephant work as an air conditioner. Covered with thin skin that contains a dense network of blood vessels, its ears let its blood lose heat at a great rate. By flapping its ears, the elephant can cool its blood still more, causing its body temperature to drop as much as ten degrees.
The elephant has six sets of four teeth. Each tooth can measure up to a foot (30.5 cm) long and weigh about 8 1/2 pounds (4 kg). They are all molars for chewing and grinding the 650–770 pounds (295–349 kg) of vegetation a wild elephant eats each day. All this chewing wears the teeth away, but the elephant doesn’t need false teeth, because when one set is worn down, a new set grows in. As the sixth and last set of teeth wears down and flakes away, the elephant faces starvation, since it can no longer chew its food.
This marvelous beast, which has been on the earth for thousands of years and yet is in some ways extraordinarily up-to-date, is an amazing creation of our Lord, Jesus Christ.