The African elephant is the largest land mammal on Earth.
There are two species of African Elephant: African savanna, (Loxodonta africana) and African forest (Africana cyclotis).
Description and Characteristics
The African Elephant has a marked dip between its fore and hindquarters giving a concave curvature to its back. It's ears are large and fan-like and mainly used to control body temperature by the blood circulating through the large vessels in the ears being cooled by flapping. As you would expect they have acute hearing.
Large tusks are present in both sexes, they first appear at the age of about two and continue to grow throughout their lives. Elephants use tusks for peeling bark off trees, digging for roots, herding young, “drilling” for water and sometimes as a weapon.
An elephants skin is up to 2.5 cm thick in places.
The trunk is probably the most facsinating feature of the elephant - it has two prehensile protrusions at the tip (the Asian elephant has only one). The elephants use their trunks for eating, drinking, dust and water bathing, as well as an important form of communication. The trunk also shows the mood of an elephant, it uses it's trunk to ward off other elephants and intruders and also as a punching or thrusting weapon. An elephant has a strong sense of smell and can locate hidden water by smelling the earth above it.
An elephant has very small eyes in relation to its head and has poor eyesight.
Elephants form deep family bonds and live in tight social units. A family is led by an older matriarch and typically includes three or four of her offspring and their young. Males tend to leave the family unit between the ages of 12 and 15 and may lead solitary adult lives.
Elephants spend about 16 hours a day eating, their daily intake is between 4 and 7% of bodyweight. Elephants drink up to 160 liters of water per day. A mature elephant can carry up to 6.8 litres of water in its trunk. Their diet is varied and includes grass, leaves, twigs, bark and fruit.
Elephants are found, south of the Sahara, in 37 different countries in Africa, but are most populace in Southern and Eastern Africa. Food and water needs to be plentiful.
Size and Lifespan
The male elephant is much larger than the female. Male elephants grow up to 3.5m and females up to 2.7m. Males can weigh up 6 tons whilst females up to 2.7 tons. The life expectancy of a wild elephant is up to 60 years.
Elephants do not have any specific mating season. The elephant gestation period is 20 - 22 months. Calves weigh about 120kg at birth and they are born throughout the year. They are weaned at 3 - 8 years generally just before the birth of the next calf. A cow can give birth every 3 - 4 years
Predators and Threats
Elephants have no natural enemies, they are not a predator and there is no animal large and strong enough to challenge the elephant. However, their future is threatened by increasing human populations which causes the loss of their natural habitat plus the continued poaching for the illegal ivory trade.
Facts: Did you know?
- The African elephant is the largest living land mammal.
- An elephant can weigh 6 - 7 tons and has no natural enemies.
- An elephant drinks up to 160 liters of water per day.
- An African elephant possesses such "manual" dexterity in his/her trunk tip that he/she can actually turn the pages of a book with it.
- Elephants are right or left tusked (like people being right or left handed) and the dominant tusk is often grooved from use.