Order Proboscidea

The elephants are the only surviving representatives of this once diverse and widespread group, which formerly contained many species of huge herbivorous mammal.

ELEPHANTIDAE: Elephant Family

The two species of elephant are by far the largest terrestrial mammals; they may stand up to 13 ft (4 m) at the shoulder and weigh as much as 13,000 lb (5,900 kg). One species lives in Africa, the other in India and Southeast Asia. Elephants have thick, pillarlike legs, and their feet are flattened, expanded pads. On the head are huge ears, which are fanned to and fro to help dissipate excess body heat. The elephant’s most remarkable of adaptations, the trunk, is an elongated nose and upper lip, which is extremely flexible and has a manipulative tip. This sensitive organ is used for gathering food, drinking, smelling and fighting.

Both species of elephant have suffered badly from destruction of forest and vegetation in their range, and large numbers have been killed for their ivory tusks. Although hunting is now strictly controlled, poaching continues.

African Elephant

A huge, heavily built animal with long, stout legs and large feet. The colour is brownish-grey and sometimes matches the ground colour of its habitat. Although the skin is hairless, the tip of the tail consists of long hair This animal is characterised by its large flat ears, a trunk, and tusks, which vary in length. The trunk serves as a nose and is also used for breaking off branches, for transferring all manner of vegetation to the mouth, and for siphoning up water for showering itself or for squirting into the mouth.

Sexual dimorphism: Females are smaller than males and have smaller tusks.

Habitat: Very adaptable, but they prefer areas providing enough grass and leafy vegetation and clean drinking water.

Habits: Elephants are diurnal and nocturnal, forming herds of 6 to approximately 200 animals, with a cow as herd leader. Old males form small bachelor herds, but sometimes go solitary. Elephants range widely in search of food. They are normally peaceful but can be dangerous, especially when they have calves or when wounded. They are not fond of sharing drinking places with other animals and may chase them away. They swim well and enjoy wallowing in mud. They have a strong sense of smell, but their hearing and sight are poor.

Voice: Trumpeting and a belly rumbling.

Breeding: 1, exceptionally 2, calves are born throughout the year after a gestation period of ± 22 months.

Weight: Males: 5500 - 6000 kg. Females: 3600 - 4000 kg.

Tusk: Record mass 102,7 kg. Record length 3,48 m.

Food: Grass, bark of trees, leaved branches, and fruit.

Life expectancy: 50 - 70 years.

Enemy: Lion.

Asian Elephant

Distribution: Originally found in the Middle East, India, southern China, South-east Asia, Java, Sumatra, Borneo and Sri Lanka.

Habitat: Forest, grassy plains.

Length: Body: 18 - 21 1/4 ft (5.5 - 6.5 m); Tail: 4 - 5 ft (1.2-1.5 m).

Weight: 2,720 - 6,700 kg (6,000 - 14,750 lb).

Food: Grass, leaves, roots, stems, fruit and other crops.

Maturity: 9 years.

Breeding: 1 calf born every 2 - 8 years.

Life span: 80 years.

Although an equally impressive animal, the Asian elephant has smaller ears than its African counterpart, a more humped back and only one fingerlike extension at the end of its mobile trunk. The female is smaller than the male and has only rudimentary tusks.

The main social unit is a herd led by an old female and including several females, their young and an old male, usually all related. Other males may live alone but near to a herd, and will sometimes feed or mate with members of the herd. The herd rests in the heat of the day, but spends much of the rest of the time feeding on grass, leaves, shoots, and fruit, all of which they search out and grasp with their trunks. Their hearing and sense of smell are excellent, and eyesight poor.

The male’s heat period, called musth, may be accompanied by a secretion from a gland on the side of the head, and animals can become excited and unpredictable. The female usually gives birth to a single young after a gestation of about 21 months.