EleFact Friday: The Elephant Walk

When sharing videos of the sanctuary residents, we often receive questions about their gaits, particularly about Rana and Mara. You may have noticed that Mara has an old permanent injury to her right front wrist, affecting her walk, and Rana has a fused elbow from a childhood injury which makes her gait quite noticeable as well. For today’s EleFACT, we want to look a bit closer at elephant limbs and movement. 

The limbs of an elephant are positioned directly under their body with their bones stacked on top of one another in order to best support their weight. Their front leg joints bend backwards, like the wrists of humans, which is the opposite of most other four-legged mammals. Their back legs are slightly longer than the front, but their high shoulders make the front limbs look longer. The back legs have knees with kneecaps.

Their limbs, and bodies in general, are built to move: we know that some elephants will walk hundreds of miles for food and water, and their anatomical makeup helps with that. The bones of an elephant’s limbs are long and spongy and made up of small, needle-like pieces of bone arranged like a honeycomb (instead of hollow parts that contain bone marrow). This allows for stronger bones while still promoting blood cell production. Both the front and back limbs can support an elephant’s weight, although the front bears sixty percent. An elephant’s bones are much wider than most mammals, which gives them a thicker cross-sectional area and makes them more resistant to the type of stresses that can cause breaks.

As far as their gaits, elephants only have one, compared to horses, who have three. Although elephants can reach top speeds of 15 miles per hour, which would typically be considered a gallop, the elephants can not be considered as runners because their four feet do not ever leave the ground at one time.

Mara with Rana in the background


  1. REPLY
    Melinda says

    Poor babies. But thank God they are now with GSE, in paradise! Thank you, as usual, for the fascinating information about elephant anatomy!

  2. REPLY
    Pamela Hall says

    Love these informative posts!

  3. REPLY
    Tammy says

    Wow, how interesting I never knew any of those things thank you for enlightening us with these fun facts!

  4. REPLY
    Eileen L. says

    Learned a lot in this post! Thankyou!

  5. REPLY
    Sheila says

    Yes. Dear Rana has the biggest handicap but she had it all her life so she has managed well. Her spirit and soul is so loving and knowing to other ladies and I think they respect RANA also because she has a handicapped front leg
    The habitat has not been difficult for her as she has plenty of flat area to roam about.Mz Matriarch Rana. Is a big Sweetness!!❤️🐘🤩

  6. REPLY
    Sandie says

    Yes, agree with all of the other messages. Really appreciate learning about these magnificent animals.

  7. REPLY
    Dinesh says

    Good article

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