African elephants also known as Savanna elephants are the largest land animals alive today. There are 3 extant species of elephant: the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant. The African elephant (Loxodonta) is a genus made up of two species: African forest elephant (L. cyclotis) and the larger African bush elephant (L. africana).
Formerly, there were representatives of the order proboscidea in every continent of the world except Antarctica and Australia. The largest populations of elephants are African elephants with about 415,000 in the wild; only an estimated 45,000 Asian elephants survive in their natural habitat.
African elephants are nomadic though their terrain remains in Sub Sahara Africa, West Africa and rainforests of central Africa.
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Differences Between African and Asian Elephants
From the outward view, the Asian elephant and African elephant are easily distinguishable. The African elephant is the larger of the two. Bulls stand at 11 feet or more at the shoulders, displaying tusks of between 6 and 8 feet long. The record confirmed height is 11 feet 6 inches at the shoulders so the full head height would have been close to 14 feet (4.26 m).
The largest known tusk recorded measures 11 feet 5.5 inches along the outside curve and weighs 293 Lbs. Conversely, the Asian elephant infrequently grows taller than 10 feet (3.04 m) at the shoulder and tusks grow invariably no more than 5 feet in length.
Whereas the tusks of the female African elephant are quite long and slender compared with the male, Asian female elephants are either ‘tuskless’ or display very small tusks called ‘tushes’ which do not project beyond the jaw.
A large African bull will typically weigh over 7 tonnes (7000 Kg) while an Asian bull will weigh about 6 tonnes. The females of both species weight about 1-2 tonnes lighter. Famously, African elephants have larger ears than Asian elephants.
The silhouette of the two species, when seen from the side marks a visible difference. The African elephant’s back has a dip between the forelegs and hind legs while the Asian elephant is shaped like an unbroken, convex curve.
The Asian elephant has a more twin domed forehead while the African’s is flatter and more elongated. The African elephant’s trunk is marked by repeated horizontal ridges and has two fleshy fingers at the tip while the Asian has one ‘finger’ at the tip.
What is the Elephant’s Trunk used for?
The trunk is sensitive and used like a limb to bring food and water to the mouth or for collecting dust to throw over its body. It is also vital in trumpeting different vocalizations that elephants use to communicate.
While the African elephant’s large ears help their excellent hearing, the elephant’s eyesight is poor. As well as an upper and lower eye lid there is a third membrane (nictitating membrane) which moves sideways across the eye and protects the eye from dust and keep it moist in the heat of the day.
Fantastic Facts About the African Elephant
- The molar teeth of an African elephant are a 1 foot (3.2 m) in length weighing 8 (3.6 KG) or 9 pounds (4.08 Kg).
- In 43 AD Roman Emperor Claudius took elephants to northern Europe including for the invasion of Britain.
Amongst the Greeks, the horses fly at the sight of an unarmed elephant; but armoured, and with a tower on its back, from which missiles and stones are continually hurled, it is a sight too formidable to be borne. The Britons accordingly with their cavalry and chariots abandoned themselves to flight, leaving the Romans to pass the river unmolested, after the enemy had been routed by the appearance of a single beast.In Polyaenus’ Stratagems 8.23.5 we read (via Attalus)
- Elephants are known to be partial to alcohol. In the wild they will seek the fermented fruit of the marula tree and can often be seen rolling about in the mashed fruit. In captivity African elephants have been known to draw corks from bottles of wine and drink the whole bottle without spilling a drop.
Habits, Lifestyle and Breeding
Elephants are famous for walking in single file. Mothers will keep a close eye on youngsters and stay close by them sometimes even reprimanding over excited calves. Juvenile males and adult males will often form their own groups.
It is thought African elephants migrate large distances in search of plants and fruit available at different seasons. A good example of this is the January and February migration to the higher slopes of Mount Kenya for the berries of the Mukaita tree.
Diet of African Elephants
African Elephants feed for at least 16 hours out of 24 hours. Herds often move as one one browsing the brush. In the wet season their preference is for grazing on grass, though in dry periods they will rip up trees to get to the roots for moisture; they too can be heard for great distances stripping off bark to eat.
Elephants are famed for their affection to one another. Females, like other animals come into season
and at the time they are ready to accept the male. Ductless glands and hormones secreted by the pituitary gland affect the ovaries typically between November and February.
There are a number of short peak heat moments during the season. The female becomes enthusiastic towards the bull and he will scent a change in the female. Couples can be seen flirting with each other by pinching each other with their mouths.
Bull African Elephants in Musth
Bull males will periodically enter a state called musth. Reproductive hormones are increased which is indicated by more aggressive behaviour. Researchers claim testosterone levels rise by about 60 times,
which can cause a usually placid bull to become violent toward humans and elephants alike.
Elephants in musth often discharge a gloppy liquid called temporin that trickles from the temporal
ducts on the sides of the head. The aggressive behaviour has also been suggested by experts to have been caused by the painful swelling of the temporal glands that press on the elephant’s eyes during this time. Digging tusks in the ground is a method bulls use to dissipate the pain.
Occasionally rival bulls will fight ferocious battles. Butting each other with their heads, they attempt to drive the rival backwards. The tussle sometimes draws the rival onto tusks and can end in death if a fleeing bull is caught by tusks side-on.
Bulls will vocalize a low and lingering pitch called a ‘musth rumble’ which can be heard by females from
afar; the rumble vibrates at about 12 Hz – more than 3 octaves below a man’s voice. Females in heat will become excited and gravitate to the bull but this is also a sign for non responsive, youths or out of season females to avoid the bulls.
Gestation Period of a Bull Elephant
The gestation period of elephants is very long with calves being born typically 21-23 months after conception. The calf can walk within an hour of being born and will will stand about 3 feet at the shoulder. Mothers will remain by calves sides protecting the babies. Weaning begins at about 3-4 months depending on whether the mothers milk supply will hold out.
Predators of African Elephants
Crocodiles are known to target the trunks of young elephants in rivers and cackles of hyenas will also target lone young elephants. Poachers can also disable and kill elephants with their snares. In parks like Kruger Park it is not rare to see elephants missing tips of their trunks.
Conservation of African Elephants
Poaching for ivory has over decades decimated Africa’s elephants, mostly for the desire through out the world and largely for medicine in China and Asia. However these countries have now banned the ivory trade.
The WWF claim the biggest threat to African elephants is the destruction of elephant habitat by humans and illegal poaching. As the threat to many wildlife Throughout the tropics, humans have cut down large sways of forest and have rapidly populated pastures, plains and river banks.
Sir David Attenborough
“The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see
an elephant except in a picture book?” “Many individuals are doing what they can. But real success can only come if there is a change in our societies and in our economics and in our politics.”
Q & A About the African Elephant
How big is an African elephant’s brain?
The African elephants’ brain is 4 times larger than the a humans brain but that doesn’t
make it more intelligent than a human as in relation to its body weight it’s much smaller.
How much water does an elephant drink?
The daily consumption of an elephant is 30-50 gallons a day. Each trunkful pumps
up to 1.5 gallons/4 litres down its throat.
What is the lifespan of an elephant?
Elephants live to about the same age as humans. 69 years and sometimes
Where are the most African elephants?
In Chad’s Zakouma National Park more than 500 African elephants are thriving due to poacher
crackdowns. However, the number was 4000 animals only a few decades before. Recent improvements are thanks largely to non profit company: National Parks.
How fast can African elephants run?
African elephants can neither trot or gallop. When charging they can reach speeds up to 18 miles per hour.
Can elephants swim?
African elephants are very good swimmers, with accounts claiming to have seen them cross a mile (1.6 KM) of ocean. They can use their trunks like periscopes as they float.
Elephants in Literature
“Savannah elephants are the largest of all elephants. Since ancient times, they have looked after the lands and contributed to the maintenance of the savannah. Without them, many other plants and creatures would not survive.”
Chena shepherded a baby elephant under her rotund belly. Then the baby broke, trundling ahead, her miniature white trunk, a replica of her mother’s playfully swinging sideways then swinging ahead and snorting at the air with a high trumpet as she continued to trundle apace.The Zambezi Allies by E.G. Price