The elephant is the largest land animal on Earth.
There are actually three distinct species of elephant. Two genetically different species of African elephants. The savanna elephant (Loxodonata Africana) and the African forest elephant (Loxodonata Cyclotis). And the Asian forest elephant (Elephas Maximus Indicus).
All elephants have trunks.
These trunks are used for lots of different things:
- to greet other elephants; to make sounds
- to breathe; to draw up water for drinking and bathing
- and to pick up food.
Mastering the use of trunks takes practice.
It may surprise you to know that elephants have very sensitive skin. They take regular mud and dust baths to protect themselves from sunburn, insect bites and moisture loss.
Celebrating elephant differences
The African savanna elephant is the largest elephant species. Males can stand between 8 – 13 feet at shoulder height and weigh up to 7 tonnes.
The largest African elephant ever recorded was found in Angola. The impressive specimen weighed in at a mighty 24,000 pounds which is almost 11 tonnes and he had a shoulder height of 13 feet!
The African forest and the Asian forest elephant are somewhat smaller in size. They can stand between 6.6 – 11.5 feet at the shoulder, and can weigh up to 4 tonnes.
All elephants are herbivores and eat mainly grass, leaves, twigs, buds, fruit, roots and bark.
Asian elephants differ in a number of different ways from their African cousins.
Only male Asian elephants can have tusks.
Male and female African elephants can have them.
Asian elephants have smaller ears.
African elephants can live for around 70 years in the wild. Asian elephants have an average lifespan of around 48 years.
Elephants live in family groups called herds. The herd is made up of females and calves.
Male elephants, tend to live solitary lives or stay together in small bachelor groups. Females give birth after a 22 month pregnancy, and usually have a single baby. Elephant calves are watched over by the entire herd of related females who relish the role of babysitter. Females may stay with their herd for their entire lives. Males usually leave as they reach puberty.
Forest elephant herds may simply comprise of a mother and her offspring. Sometimes they do gather in larger groups in forest clearings.
African elephants can be right or left tusked. The favoured side is usually shorter.
Tusks are actually teeth. They serve lots of purposes:
- to protect the elephant’s trunk
- to gather food
- as a rest for their trunk
- to lift and move objects
- and even strip bark from trees
- for defence
- and to dig holes to find water underground
The most important thing to remember is that only ELEPHANTS need tusks and that we should do everything we can to stop the illegal ivory trade.
The poaching of elephant tusks has far reaching consequences, way beyond the loss of the individual.
The killing of mothers leaves calves orphaned and exceptionally vulnerable. Without the experience and knowledge of older females herds may be unable to survive. That knowledge is lost and gone forever.
If older bulls with huge tusks are murdered, these animals can no longer pass on the genes necessary to produce large tusks in future generations.
Everything is connected.
Elephants as a keystone species
African elephant populations have decreased at an alarming rate. A hundred years ago, it is estimated that there were 12 million individuals. That figure today has been reduced to around 400,000.
Elephants are a keystone species, meaning they play a vital role in maintaining a healthy eco-system.
Did you know an elephant footprint, when filled with water, can provide a home for tadpoles and other organisms?
Elephants need large areas of land to be able to survive and meet their need for food, water and space.
They can feed for up to 18 hours a day. This requires access to large amounts of food which can bring them in to conflict with expanding human populations.
Agricultural development and the building of roads, canals, fences and houses means less space for elephants.
We need to:
- consider the impact of our increasing global population on the natural world.
- take steps to protect ancient migratory routes, to reduce human-wildlife conflict
- educate people to make sure they understand how we humans affect wildlife
Banning the international commercial trade in elephant ivory is only one half of the story. Enforcement is key to its success.
Education, enforcement and protection.
How you can help
Please show your support in any way that you can. Spread the word to family and friends or donate directly to the organisations that are working hard to protect our wildlife.
We simply cannot lose them.