About the African Elephant

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Description

  • The African elephant is the world’s largest land mammal – even larger than the Asian elephant.
  • A mature African elephant weighs 5,000 to 14,000 pounds.
  • The average bull (male) grows up to 12 feet tall at the shoulder, and the average cow (female) is about 9 feet tall at the shoulder.
  • The African elephant’s skin is gray and wrinkly. Moisture trapped within the wrinkles evaporates slower than it would if the elephant had smooth skin, so its wrinkly skin actually helps keep the African elephant cool.
  • This mammal’s ears are shaped like its native continent of Africa.
  • Both male and female African elephants have tusks, which continue to grow throughout the animals’ lives.
  • An elephant’s trunk has close to 10,000 different muscles.
  • Elephant trunks are prehensile, meaning they are used for gripping or grabbing things. The African elephant has two finger-like lips at the tip of its trunk that allows it to pick up small items. Its trunk can also wrap around and pick up large items, such as tree limbs.

Did you know?

  • The African elephant’s skull must support the animal’s heavy trunk and head. As a result, the skull makes up approximately 25 percent of the elephant’s entire body weight.

Habitat

  • The African elephant lives in a variety of habitats, including forests, savannahs, and marshes.

Range

  • The African elephant used to live throughout Africa south of the Sahara Desert.
  • Today populations have become smaller and more spread out, but elephants still live in 37 African countries.

Diet

  • Both African and Asian elephants are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants.
  • The African elephant’s diet consists of roots, bark, grass, and fruits.
  • It takes lots of food to keep an elephant’s belly full; one elephant may consume up to 300 pounds of food in a single day.

Behavior

  • Elephants spend much of their time wandering within their home range in search of food and water.
  • In the summer when water becomes scarce, the African elephant may dig holes in dried-up river beds in an attempt to uncover water.
  • When temperatures rise, the African elephant often flaps its ears to help cool the tiny blood vessels in its ears.
  • Female African elephants and their calves live together in small family groups. Each group of about 10 individuals is led by the oldest female, known as the matriarch.
  • Multiple family groups generally travel together in large herds. Herds may number in the hundreds, sometimes even in the thousands.
  • Males leave their mother’s herd once they reach maturity and generally spend the rest of their lives wandering alone.
  • African elephants use a variety of sounds to communicate with one another, including trumpets, growls, squeaks, and rumbles.

Reproduction

  • African elephants breed year-round.
  • Elephants have a longer gestation period than any other mammal. Pregnancy lasts 22 months.
  • Female African elephants give birth to one calf every two to nine years.
  • An African elephant calf weighs more than 200 pounds and is already 3 feet tall at birth.
  • All the females within the family unit help care for the calves. If a predator approaches, the females form a circle surrounding the calves. The adults face outward in order to see danger coming from any direction. The matriarch may even charge at an intruder.

Did you know?

  • Elephants live longer than most other mammals – about 70 years.

Status

  • The International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species classifies the African elephant as vulnerable.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classifies the African elephant as a threatened species.

Threats

  • Habitat alteration
  • Poaching
  • Human vs. elephant conflict

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