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Facts about African Elephants

Kashmira Lad
Gentle to some, threatening to others, African elephants continue to be a subject of interest for many animal lovers. This story provides some interesting facts about these magnificent creatures.

We Shower Too!

Elephants are known to be very fond of water. They suck water and spray it all over their body, thus, pampering themselves with a shower. Later on, they spray dust on their body, which acts as a protective coating.
Reputed to be the largest living land mammal, African elephants are known for many other characteristics apart from their large size. They differ from Asian elephants in terms of their very-large ears and tusks.
Besides, they also have a sloping forehead as compared to Asian elephants. If you find these observations intriguing, then take a look at many such amazing facts about African elephants.


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Proboscidea
Family: Elephantidae
Genus: Loxodonta
Species: Loxodonta africana and Loxodonta cyclotis

Subspecies Appearance


The African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) is believed to be the largest extant terrestrial animal in the world, whereas the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) is the third largest.
Bush elephant males are 10 to 13 feet tall at the withers and weigh between 8,800 to 14,800 pounds (4,000 to 6,000 kg), while females are 7 to 8 feet tall and weigh between 5,200 to 7,700 pounds (2,400 to 3,500 kg).
Forest elephants are 7 to 8 feet tall and weigh between 4,400 to 9,900 pounds (2,700 to 6,000 kg). The bodies of these elephants are heavy-set. Their legs are stocky and their back is concave-shaped. They have huge ears, which are important for radiating heat, as the heat in Africa is relatively higher.


The trunk is an extension of the upper lip and the nose. It acts as a fifth limb, and is used by the elephants to touch and feel things. There are two opposing lips at the end of their trunks.
They also use the trunk to pick up food, pluck leaves and peel bark off trees, hold water and then spray it into the mouth for drinking, and even to pick up their newborn babies and help them stand.


Loxodonta africana species generally have four toenails on the forefeet and three on the hind feet. Loxodonta cyclotis generally have five toenails on the forefeet and four on the hind feet.


Elephants are known as pachyderms. This Latin word is divided into 'pachy', meaning thick, and 'derm', meaning skin, which translates into thick-skinned. They fall into the same category as rhinos and hippos. The skin is as thick as 1 inch on their back and head, and as thin as 1 millimeter in other areas, like behind the ears, inside the mouth, etc.


African elephants have 4 molars. These molars are replaced 5 to 6 times in their lifetime. As the front pair of teeth wear out and fall off, a new pair emerges at the back and pushes the remaining teeth forward.
Each of these molars weighs 11 pounds (approx. 5 kg) and are 12 inches in length (approx. 30 cm). The incisors turn into tusks. They are used for digging, fighting, and as a defense. They weigh between 50 to 100 pounds (23 to 45 kg) and are between 4 to 8 feet long.

Habitat and Distribution

♦ African elephants can be found in a varied habitat. It ranges from deserts to marshes, to savanna grasslands, and even forests.

♦ These animals are found from the southern part of the Sahara desert to the southern end of Africa, and from the west coast where the Atlantic Ocean is, to the East side where the Indian Ocean is, and even in some parts of central Africa.


♦ Females give birth every 4 to 9 years. The reproduction rate goes up during the monsoon and reduces during times of drought. The gestation period lasts for about 22 months. The female gives birth to a single calf. Although twins are possible, they are extremely rare.
♦ The newborn calves weigh 200 to 300 pounds (90 to 130 kg). After birth, they immediately begin following their mothers on instinct. Females reach sexual maturity between 10 to 11 years of age, and males between 12 to 15 years. However, they do not mate until they are in their 20s so that they are physically big enough to compete with the other males and find a suitable mate.

♦ Other female members of the herd are also known to nurse calves that are not their own.


♦ African elephants eat grasses, leaves, bark of trees, twigs, roots, fruits, and vegetables. All elephants are herbivorous animals.

♦ They also need a regular water supply nearby.

♦ They even dig up the soil and eat small clumps of it to meet their salt and mineral requirement.

Communication with Each Other

Elephants are considered to be the most intelligent terrestrial animals. Their brain weighs about 5 kg. They communicate with each other in various ways.
♦ They make a very low frequency infrasound that is not detectable to human ears, but can be heard by elephants that are miles away. This sound can be detected by them with their feet, trunk tips, and ears.

♦ They also make a host of other sounds such as soft, quiet rumbles, trumpets, roars, and growls.
♦ Surprisingly, they can also pick up chemical signals from the various smells in the surrounding. They use their superior sense of smell for this purpose. They leave chemical signals in the form of urine, saliva, feces, and temporal gland secretions.

♦ Physical communication involves touching or leaning against each other, using the trunk as a greeting, for caressing, mock fighting, and guiding of the calf by the mother by holding its tail.


African elephants live for up to 70 years.

♦ One of the most common causes of their death is starvation as they usually lose their teeth by this age.

♦ They are also susceptible to diseases such as arthritis, septicemia, cardiovascular issues, rabies, tetanus, dysentery, tuberculosis, pneumonia, etc.


♦ African elephants need a large territory for their survival. However, the loss of their natural habitat due to human encroachment has led to their declining numbers. Now, African elephants are found mainly in reserves.
Poaching is another issue that needs to be tackled immediately. Elephants are killed for their tusks which is then used to create a variety of products. Although there is an international ban on the trade of ivory, when the buyers exist, so do the people who find illegal ways to sell such items.

♦ Other than that, elephants can also be killed by lions, or even when two males fight.

Social Hierarchy

♦ African elephants live in families of many related females. These families are called herds and the oldest female, who leads the herd, is called the matriarch.

♦ The herd consists of grandmothers, mothers, aunts, cousins, sisters, and their calves.

♦ The herd size can range from 20 to as many as 80 individuals.

♦ The females stay together, whereas the male calves leave once they reach puberty and join bachelor herds.

Ecological Importance

♦ When elephants uproot trees and bushes, they loosen the soil and aerate it. This uprooting also helps convert forests and woods into grasslands, that are required by wild animals for grazing.
♦ They also make burrows and expand caves when they dig up and eat soil for their salt requirement. These burrows are used as dwellings by many animals. This also leads to dry river beds being dug up at times, thus, creating new water holes. It can even help expand the existing ones.
♦ Their feces enable propagation of plants by the dispersal of the seeds, which pass through their system and do not get digested. Many plants depend on this method of propagation. Thus, elephants are very important to the ecology.

Conservation and Legal Protection

African elephants are now listed under the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List as a vulnerable species. Earlier, they were listed as endangered. Many laws are being made all over the world to protect elephants from being poached, mainly for their tusks, to supply the ever-booming ivory trade.
Although some places allow them to be hunted for sport, a majority of the countries are realizing the importance of these animals and their delicate situation. Their severely dwindling numbers due to poaching has attracted bans and punishments.

How Can You Help?

You can do your bit to help save the population of African elephants by donating to the cause.

♦ There are many organizations that are working towards saving these animals. You can even sponsor or foster an elephant and pay for its upkeep and maintenance.
♦ There is also an option of volunteering with these organizations and helping to take care and preserve these elephants.

♦ You can even start or join campaigns or petitions for their protection and for making the laws stricter.
African elephants, or any elephants and animals for that matter, are very important for maintaining the delicate ecological balance of the earth. Therefore, more efforts must be put into saving and preserving them, and also in prohibiting people from killing them for their tusks. With the reduction in buyers, the demand for ivory products will decrease automatically. Only then can we hope that this animal species will remain protected for our next generation.