Intelligent, sociable, playful, and invariably entertaining to watch, the African elephant is the world’s largest terrestrial animal, with the bulkiest individual on record having weighed more than 13 tons. Its unique trunk, an elongated fusion of the nose and upper lip, enables it to reach into high branches for leaves, shake tree trunks to dislodge ripe fruit, and to suck up water. Elephants also have outsized tusks, an extension of the second incisors that can grow to be almost 10 foot long in extreme cases. A versatile tool, the tusks can be used to dig for salt and water, to debark and pulp tree trunks, or to clear obstructions. Most elephants are either right- or left-tusked, with the master tusk usually being shorter and having a more rounded tip as a result of greater wear and tear.
Species and subspecies: Recent genetic studies have determined that Africa’s elephants should be split into two distinct species: the familiar and widespread bush elephant and the smaller and hairier forest elephant of central Africa. The latter is confined to rainforests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea; its range does not extend into eastern or southern Africa, or northwest into the so-called Bulge of Africa.
Where to see Elephant in Africa
Most major safari destinations in Africa support decent numbers of elephant. Among the most rewarding places to see habituated elephants interact up close are Addo Elephant and Greater Kruger (South Africa), Hwange (Zimbabwe), Chobe (Botswana), Lower Zambezi (Zambia), Tarangire (Tanzania), Amboseli (Kenya) and Queen Elizabeth (Uganda).
Did you know?
- One of the elephant’s closest living relatives is the hyrax! Found in Africa, hyraxes look like rodents but they have similar bones and teeth to elephants. Their incisions grow into long tusks and their skull structure is similar. Elephants are also related to manatees and dugongs, both marine mammals.
- Elderly and dying elephants are often found near swamps. The food there is lacking in nutrition but it is softer and easier for an elephant with missing teeth to eat.
- An elephant’s tail is 4 feet long!
- An Elephant can circulate its entire blood supply (about 400l) through its ears in about 20 minutes. This is done for cooling.
- An elephant’s trunk contains up to 40’000 muscles which are divided up into 150’000 individual units.
- Elephant get 6 sets of teeth through their lifetime
- They are excellent swimmers.
- African elephants have two fingerlike features on the end of their trunk that they can use to grab small items.
Despite being relatively widespread and common in most major African national parks, elephants have become increasingly scarce outside of protected areas. This is partly as a result of habitat distraction and persecution by local farmers, but it is also the culmination of centuries of ivory and to a lesser extent trophy hunting. It is thought that the continental elephant population was at least five million in the early 20th century, whereas today it probably stands around 400,000, one-third of which is focused on Botswana. Both African elephant species are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, and while most populations in southern Africa have increased since the turn of the millennium, commercial ivory poaching remains a major concern in East and West Africa
Elephants are mixed grazers and browsers. An inefficient digestive system means they spend up to 15 hours daily foraging 400lb of vegetable matter, at least 50% of which is defecated undigested. They need to drink every day, typically arriving at a water source a few hours after sunrise, and sometimes lingering on until late afternoon.
Elephants normally range widely in search of food and water, but populations concentrated in protected areas can cause serious environmental damage by habitually uprooting trees.
Elephants live in closely-knit matriarchal herds that typically comprise several related adult cows and their subadult offspring. The eldest female in any given clan is generally dominant over her sisters, daughters, and granddaughters. Males leave the matriarchal group at the age of 12 to roam singly or join a bachelor herd. Females first become pregnant at a similar age, and give birth to a single 200lb calf following a gestation period of almost years, repeating the cycle at five-year intervals until they reach their late 50s. Each baby elephant thus represents a major genetic investment to the entire matriarchal herd, and it is raised communally. Dispersed herds communicate through subsonic rumblings that travel through the earth and are picked up by the skin on the trunk and feet.
Save The Elephants – https://www.savetheelephants.org
World Wildlife Fund – https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/african-elephant
African Conservation Foundation – https://africanconservation.org/projects/