Two creamy white elephant skeletons stand on a rectangular plinth, skulls pointed forwards and vertebrae and ribs horizontal to the floor supported by four legs. The larger skeleton is 5 metres long and 2.8 metres high. The smaller elephant skeleton is in front of the larger one, and is about one third of its size.
The huge skull consists of a bony mass and two elongated tusks stretching out like bony tendrils above the smaller skeletons. The skull is rounded on the top but concave on the sides. A flattened area descends from the forehead between the concave areas to almost halfway down the face where there is a rectangular hole with rounded ends, where the elephant’s trunk or nose would be. An elephant’s trunk is made up of its nose and upper lip. The trunk contains over 150,000 micro-muscles, which makes it extremely sensitive and dextrous. It performs many functions, including breathing, smelling, feeding, drinking, trumpeting, showering and even snorkelling.
The lower side of this hole continues downwards to create a flatter area divided into two parts from which the tusks emerge. These are elongated and curl slightly inwards at the ends. The solid rectangular jaw hangs down from the sides of the skull like a garden swing seat. A bone continues from both sides of the concave area in a contour and joins with the skull again above the lower jaw. These bones create a hole on either side of the head.
Behind the skull the vertebrae sit up like a rack, the larger ones closer to the skull and diminishing as they descend to the tail. The ribs curl out from both sides under the spine and form a circular cage.
Two powerful foreleg bones come down from the two shoulder blades and at the ankles four large splayed toes. Similarly, the two bones of the rear back legs are attached to the pelvis with feet anchoring them to the floor.
Elephants are the largest living land animals, weighing six tonnes or more - that's as much as a school bus! They belong to the order Proboscidea, a group that includes extinct animals such as mammoths and mastodons, as well as three living species - two in Africa and one in Asia.
The large skeleton on display is of an elephant called Jumbo. He was an Asian Elephant and a present from King Chulalongkorn of Siam, now known as Thailand. In 1883, Jumbo arrived at Sydney's first zoo where he worked and gave rides to children. Jumbo died in 1896 at the age of 21 and found a new home at the Australian Museum, where he remains an important part of our collection.
Sadly, Asian Elephants are now listed as 'endangered', with less than 42 thousand left in the wild. The extinction risk of a species is assessed and rated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and used to prioritise conservation action. It's estimated that a fifth of all species could be extinct within the next 30 years. Human impacts such as climate change, habitat destruction, pollution and hunting are the main causes of animal extinction.