African Elephant

The largest of all land animals, the African elephant can be distinguished from its Asian relative by its much bigger ears.

There are two races of African elephants: the savannah elephant, which is the world’s largest living land animal, and the smaller forest elephant that lives in the rainforests of Central and western Africa. The savannah elephants are social animals and, like Indian elephants, they form groups consisting of related female elephants and their young. Mature male elephants, called bulls, live alone.

The leaders of elephant groups are always the eldest and largest females. Male African elephants leave their groups at puberty, driven away by older females, to go and join groups of other young males. Males compete to mate, and usually these contests are settled by pushing and aggressive displays, but sometimes fighting leads to fatal injuries.

Forest elephants do not form large groups, but are able to maintain contact with other elephants in the dense jungle.

One of the most distinctive features of an elephant is its trunk. It is a very adaptable tool, and can be used for picking up anything from peanuts to trees. It is used for feeding, drinking, fighting and communication.

African elephants roam over large areas, in herds led by a matriarch, who knows the territory well and can locate waterholes, for example, in times of drought. They have huge appetites, with adult elephants capable of eating 136 kg (300 lb) of food daily. It is thought that herd members keep in touch by ultrasound, which is too high-pitched to be audible to human ears.

Distribution: Poaching for their tusks has seriously impacted the numbers of these elephants across Africa. Their distribution is now scattered, occuring in areas south of the Sahara.

Habitat: Forest, savannah, marshland and semi-desert.

Weight: 2270 - 6350 kg (5000 - 14,000 lb); males are larger.

Length: 2.8 - 3.5 m (9.2 - 11.5 ft); up to 5 m (16.4 ft) tall at the shoulder.

Maturity: Females 9 - 12 years; males 11 - 21 years.

Gestation Period: Around 22 months (the longest of any mammal).

Breeding: 1; weaning occurs at 6.5 years; females give birth every 4 years.

Food: Grass, leaves, shrubs, bark, twigs, roots and fruit.

Lifespan: Up to 70 years.

Status: Endangered.

Ears

These help the African elephant to keep cool, dissipating heat from the body.

Trunk

Controlled by 100,000 muscles, the trunk is agile enough to pick up small objects.

Skin

The rough skin has a thick, leathery texture.

Tusks

These modified incisor teeth, made of ivory, can grow to a length of 2.4 m (8 ft) and weigh up to 45 kg (100 lb).

THE MOTHERHOOD

Herd members are very protective towards their young, and females will challenge predators such as lions that attack young elephants.

Gallery of African Elephant