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Elephants in Love

Do elephants say "I love you?" Do they do it any better than humans? How do you know when they’re in love? How intense is their passion? What makes an elephant romantic?

This Valentine’s day, VFAES attempts to get to the heart of our jungle sweethearts. Elephants are real charmers with a great capacity to love and form loyal and lasting relationships.

In 2018, Hungarian artist Gergely Dudás launched a Valentine brainteaser asking people to find a heart among a sea of pink, white, and purple elephants, and it immediately became a social media sensation, so much so that it actually drove people frantic to find that elusive elephant heart.

The big fat elephant heart

The curious part of the story, however, is that the elephant heart is not as tiny as it looks in the puzzle, but rather the round-shaped heart makes up about 5% of its body weight at 26-46 pounds. Also, instead of having a heart with a single point, an elephant’s heart has two points at its apex, an unusual trait among mammals.

Pumping blood through this massive body is a tiring task, but our gentle giants excel at it without any visible complaints. In fact, their heartbeat is incredibly slow at a pace of 30 times a minute--almost like a slow burner--churning passions in the most desirous way.

Besides that, elephants also have an overly developed and complex hippocampus--a part of the brain responsible for the emotions and the processing of them. With that kind of atypical anatomy, elephants are among the most exceptional non-humans that are capable of producing some incredibly profound range of emotions and deep love equations, all with an exemplary quiet grandeur.

Lovers’ call

Research shows that when love is in the air, male elephants feel it in their bones. Elephants give out love calls, more precisely, females in estrus. The audible sounds they produce travel as low-frequency seismic vibrations just under the soil's surface for distances up to several miles.

The bulls are attracted to these rumblings in two ways: by bone conduction, in which the vibrations travel from the toe tips into the foot bones, then up the leg and into the middle ear, and by somatosensory reception, involving vibration-sensitive cells at the bottom of the foot that send signals to the brain via nerves.

The estrus calls have a varying effect on the bulls; the ones that respond in the characteristic fashion are typically males in musth--a condition in which levels of reproductive hormones surge up. Testosterone levels in an elephant in musth can be as much as 10 times higher than at other times. With musth, male elephants announce their virility to the world.

The males exhibit physical behaviors, such as flapping their ears and rubbing their heads on trees and bushes to disperse the musth scent. These are particularly alluring to the females in the throes of passion. The women, taken in by the bull’s sexual prowess, see this as an opportunity to extend the gene pool and enjoy the bliss of motherhood.

Elephant sex is short-lived, and females may mate with more than one bull in each estrus cycle, which can last up to 18 weeks. While elephants do not mate for life, a female may repeatedly choose to mate with the same bull, and sometimes bulls tend to get protective of these females.

Display of emotions akin to humans

In a human world or, maybe if elephants were humans, these calls would possibly measure up as love letters or seduction games in a dating app. Or they could even mean a tantalizing battle of wits between lovers. In that case, it would not be wrong to assume that when romantic love beckons, elephants have all the wherewithal to show bursts of creative effervescence.

Touching is one of the primary ways elephants communicate to show they care. And elephants do indulge in a lot of PDA. They would stroke or lock their trunks in sheer excitement, put them over each other's heads, even put their ear over another male's rear or head, and use any way they can to touch each other. They love having fun with their mates, and all that wobbling and tripping and kissing with trunks is part of the courtship deal.

Being highly sentient they have a natural kinship with humans, and are capable of similar sensory receptions, such as sadness, joy, love, jealousy, fury, grief, compassion, and distress, in varying degrees. These quaint personality traits manifest in many ways; they can slide into easily recognizable depressive moods, or shed tears for a love lost, or even grieve profusely for the dead.

In a nutshell, elephants are extremely endearing, sensitive, and gifted with an innate softness, and a hidden strength that connects with the universal soul in ways beyond ordinary.

On that note, here’s a bit of elephant humor to begin your Valentine’s Day celebrations!

What did the elephant say to his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day?

“I love you a TON.”

VFAES wishes every living being on earth a Happy Valentine’s Day!

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