Learning from the Animal Kingdom – Elephants
The first in a five-part series about lessons we can learn from the animal kingdom
by Philippa Rae
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To consider the amazing qualities of elephants and highlight the fact that they are endangered animals.
Preparation and materials
You will need pictures of the two main species of elephant and the means to display them during the assembly:
- Asian elephant, available at: https://tinyurl.com/yakpuhpa
- African elephant, available at: http://tinyurl.com/johm9lb
Optional: you may wish to show images of subspecies of elephants, such as:
- forest elephants, available at: http://tinyurl.com/j2l55fo
- Borneo pygmy elephants, available at: http://tinyurl.com/jfh7ztz
Optional: you may wish to show some YouTube videos that demonstrate elephant behaviours, in which case you will also need the means to do this:
- matriarch elephants protect a baby from a crocodile attack, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGY0BHmjEtg
- a herd of elephants rescues a baby, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTHsyIQI2L0
- elephants mourning, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjtrdpSwEUY
This assembly has been checked by Whipsnade Zoo. More information about the Zoo is available at: https://www.zsl.org/
Introduce the assembly with some basic elephant facts.
There are two main species of elephants: African elephants and Asian elephants. These split into subspecies such as forest elephants and Borneo pygmy elephants.
Show the images of the Asian and African elephants and ask the children to spot the differences. (You may wish to repeat this with the subspecies, too.)
African elephants are classed as a vulnerable species and Indian elephants are classed as an endangered species. This means that population numbers have dropped, and they are vulnerable to extinction due to various reasons.
(Optional paragraph: one cause for concern is that elephants are poached for their tusks. These are the elephant’s incisor teeth, which they use for defence, digging for water and lifting things. Tusks are made of ivory, which can be sold for a lot of money.)
Elephants are remarkable animals. If they became extinct, they would be a great loss to the world. Did you know that they can hear sounds through their feet? They can pick up subsonic rumblings within the earth through vibrations in the ground and can also sense thunder in this way. Did you know that they have very small eyes and poor eyesight, but an amazing sense of smell? Did you know that they also have extremely long memories?
Alongside these interesting physical traits, elephants also demonstrate remarkable behaviour in other ways. They show developed and complex bonding between family and non-family members. They show compassion and caring in various ways, with the older, more experienced elephants passing on life skills to the next generation. (You may wish to show one of the videos here.)
An elephant herd can consist of up to 12 elephants, and is led by the wisest and oldest female, known as the matriarch. The herd relies on her to lead and make decisions on all occasions. She takes on the leadership role not through aggressive behaviour or physical strength or size, but by earning the respect of other elephants by demonstrating skills such as problem-solving, compassion, social intelligence, openness, decisiveness, patience and confidence.
Older elephants provide role models for younger elephants to learn social skills. They learn to behave appropriately with each other. For example, young females learn mothering skills by caring for the baby elephants of other mothers. When a younger female has a baby for the first time, more experienced mothers will help her to cope with the physical demands of birth. Likewise, male elephants provide role models to younger male elephants by bonding through play. Overall, elephants show a sense of community, connecting with each other through communication and sharing information. They don’t tolerate bad behaviour and will reprimand younger members if they overstep the mark.
Elephants will also help others in trouble. They have been known to rescue baby elephants who are stuck in mud, and other female elephants will adopt orphaned babies. They also grieve for lost members of the herd, demonstrating deeper attachments to other elephants. (You may wish to show another of the videos here.)
Time for reflection
Let us reflect on elephants, and the qualities that they demonstrate.
Elephants demonstrate patience in helping others, compassion in caring for each other and respect for all members of the herd. In these things, elephants remind us of the impact that we can have on each other.
Elephants demonstrate a great sense of community and social responsibility towards each other by sharing information for the greater good, which demonstrates their innate intelligence. They also work together as a team for the greater good, for protection against predators and for social harmony.
Repeat the bold words from the paragraph above.
Pause after each of the following questions to give the children the opportunity to think.
- Which of these qualities do we show in our own lives?
- Can we learn from the elephants and follow their example?
- How can we work to protect these amazing animals?
Let us remind ourselves of the wonderful world in which we live and the duty we have to preserve it for future generations.
Thank you for the world in which we live, and for all the wonderful animals.
May we learn to appreciate the Earth and everything in it.
Please help us to learn from creatures such as the elephant.
Help us to be kind and compassionate.
Help us to be team players who consider the needs of others.
Please help us to value the community around us.
‘All things bright and beautiful’ (Come and Praise, 3)