There are 3 species of elephants:

  1. African savannah (Loxodonta africana)
  2. African forest (Loxodonta cyclones)
  3. Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus)

The Asian elephant is classified as endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). The African elephant is classified as threatened.


An Asian elephant can grow to 18-21 ft. (5.5-6.4m) in length, and weigh 4,000-10,000lbs. (2-5 tons/2000-5000kg.) and stand 8-10 ft at the shoulder. (2-3 meters)

An African elephant can grow to 30 ft. (9 meters) from trunk to tail, weigh more than 13,000 lbs. (6 tons/ 5,442 kilograms) and stand as tall as 12 ft. (4 meters) at the shoulder. The average car weighs 4000 lbs. and the average one story home is 8 ft. tall. The largest elephant on record was an adult male African elephant. He weighed about 24,000 pounds and was 13 feet tall at the shoulder. Elephants are the largest land-living mammals in the world.

Longevity and health problems:

In the wild, elephants can live to be about 70 years old. In a survey of 4,500 captive elephants worldwide, among African elephants, zoo-born females live an average of 16.9 years in zoos, while those in the wild make it to 56. Asian elephants, the more endangered of the two species, live 18.9 years in captivity and 41.7 in the wild. (Time 2008).

Captive elephants suffer from chronic health problems such as tuberculosis, arthritis, and foot abscesses, which nearly always lead to premature death.

Scientific name and territory:

elephant-territoryThe scientific name for the African elephant is Loxodonta Africana. African elephants live in the wild on much of the African continent south of the Sahara.

The scientific name for the Asian elephant is Elephas Maximus. Asian elephant live in the wild in India and Southeast Asia including Sumatra and Borneo. Their former range stretched from the region south of the Himalayas throughout Southeast Asia and into China north to the Yangtze River.

Elephants roam great distances to find enough food and water. Mali’s desert elephants migrate almost 300 miles in a year, as far as 35 miles in a day, all in pursuit of water.

Threats to elephants:

Elephants have no natural predators. However, lions will sometimes prey on young or weak elephants in the wild. The main risk to elephants is from humans through poaching and destruction of their habitat. At the turn of the 20th century, there were a few million African elephants and about 100,000 Asian elephants. Current data suggests, there is an estimated 450,000-650,000 African elephants and between 25,600-32,750 wild Asian elephants.

Herd and social behavior:

elephant-space-to-roamFemale elephants spend their entire lives living in large groups called herds. Male elephants leave their herds at about 13 years old and live fairly solitary lives, sometimes joining loose-knit “bachelor herds” of other male elephants, leaving at will to search for potential mates.

Female elephants are called “cows”, male elephants are called “bulls” and babies are called “calves” A herd can consist of 8-100 individuals depending on terrain, climate, and family size. Female herds are led by “matriarchs” often the oldest and wisest female in the group. An elephant will have 1 calf (twins are very rare) and the mother and all of the other females in the herd, including aunts, grandmothers, and sisters, will raise the baby.

An elephant in the wild will rarely have more than 4 children throughout her life. Female elephants can start to have babies when they are about 14 years old and they are pregnant for 22 months (the longest pregnancy of mammals).

From baby through adolescence:

A baby elephant weighs about 200-250 lbs. (91-113 kg). At birth, a calf’s trunk has little muscle tone and no coordination. It takes several months for a calf to gain full control of its trunk. Baby elephants suckle through their mouth. Young Asian elephants are reported to stand soon after birth. After several months, the calf begins to eat grass and foliage. It stays under the supervision of its mother for several years, but begins making independent movements at 4 years. Full size is attained at about 18-24 years.

Tusks and trunks:

Both female and male African elephants have tusks, but only the male Asian elephants have tusks. Female Asian elephants have “tushes” which are normally less than 4-6” (5-10 cm.)in length and only about 1” (2.5 cm.) in diameter.

Elephant tusks are ivory teeth (incisors) that grow throughout the animal’s lives. People hunt African elephants mostly for their tusks. Because of the nerve that runs through the center of their tusks, much like in human teeth, it is virtually impossible to harvest their tusks without injuring the elephant. African elephants prefer one tusk to the other, just as people are either left or right handed. In the wild, they will sometimes have a notch in their predominant tusk as a result of cutting grass and other foods.

African elephants use their tusks to get food by digging up roots and prying bark off trees. An elephant can use its tusks to dig for ground water. An adult elephant needs to drink around 37-53 gallons (140-200 liters) of water a day. That’s equivalent to 100 bottles of soda. When an elephant drinks, it sucks as much as 2 gallons (7.5 liters) of water into its trunk at a time. That’s equivalent to 4 bottles of soda. An elephant uses its trunk to lift food and suck up water then pour it into its mouth. An elephant can eat 300 lbs. (136 kg) of food in one day. That’s the equivalent of 900 apples.

An elephant’s trunk can grow to be about 7 feet (2 meters) long and can weigh up to 308 lbs. (140 kg.) That’s longer than two baseball bats end to end. Some elephants have known to stretch their trunk out to reach up to 10 feet (3 meters.)

Some scientists believe that an elephant’s trunk is made up of 100,000 muscles (made up of 6 major muscle groups) , more than in the entire human body, but no bones. An elephant’s trunk can pick up something weighing up to 450 lbs. (204 kg.), possibly more. An elephant’s trunk is actually an elongated nose and upper lip. Like most noses, trunks are for smelling. But they’re also for touching and grasping.

  • An elephant can smell water 3 miles away.

The elephant’s trunk is able to sense the size, shape and temperature of an object. Elephants are herbivores (they only eat plants) and can spend up to 16 hours a day collecting leaves, twigs, bamboo, grasses, bark, fruits, and roots. Elephants spend about 75% of their lives selecting, preparing, and eating food. An elephant’s digestive system is not particularly efficient, digesting less than 50% of its food. Some suggest they only utilize up to 35% of the nutrients in their food.

picking berries with trunkElephants can use the fingerlike parts on the tip of their trunk (African elephants have 2 fingerlike projections, Asian elephants have 1) to perform delicate maneuvers such as picking a berry or plucking a single leaf off a tree.

An elephant can also use its trunk to grasp an entire tree branch and pull it down. They also use their trunks to yank up clumps of grasses and put it in their mouths.

Elephants use their trunks to help them keep cool. First they squirt a trunkful of cool water over their bodies, then they often follow that with a sprinkling of dust to create a protective layer of dirt on their skin- it’s like elephant sunscreen and bug spray in one. Elephants pick up and spray dust the same way they do water-with their trunks.

  • Elephants can swim- they use their trunks to breathe like a snorkel in deep water.
  • If an elephant feels threatened or sometimes happy, it can use its trunk to make loud trumpeting noises.
  • Elephants are social beings. They sometimes hug by wrapping their trunks together in displays of greeting and affection.

Watch how elephants grow the forests!

(video created by Elephant Reintroduction Foundation)

Ears and hearing:

asian ear

Asian elephant’s ears are much smaller than African elephant’s ears.

Elephants have large, thin ears. Their ears are made up of a complex network of blood vessels, which help with regulating an elephant’s temperature. Blood is circulated through their ears to cool them down in hot climates.

African elephants often use their ears to communicate visually. Flapping their ears can signify either aggression or joy.

On average, an elephant can hear another elephant’s call at 2.5 miles (4 km) away. Under ideal conditions, their range of hearing can be increased to 6.2 miles (10 km). Elephants have an excellent sense of hearing and are said to be able to pick up some sounds over distances of 10 miles.


Elephants’ eyes are small; because of the position and size of the head and neck, they have limited peripheral vision.

Reportedly elephants have poor eyesight with a range of only 25 ft. This is slightly improved in forest shade.



Elephant ToothElephants have four molars, one on the top and one on the bottom of both sides of the mouth. One molar can weigh about 5 lbs. and is the size of a brick.

Elephants have six sets of teeth over their lifetime, with old teeth being replaced as they wear out through use. New teeth grow in the back of the mouth and move forward to replace old worn sets. Once all of an elephant’s teeth are used up, it is unable to feed properly. Solitary elephants will usually die of starvation whereas herd elephants will help feed starving members of their group.


Elephant’s feet are covered in a soft padding that help uphold their weight, prevent them from slipping, and dull any sound. Therefore, elephants can walk almost silently.

The sole pads expand when weight is brought down and contract when the pressure is released. This allows even distribution of the elephant’s massive bulk. Foot disease is the most common reason for captive elephant death. It comes from standing on hard surfaces (concrete) all day and developing deep bone infections (osteomyelitis).

Asian elephants have 5 toenails on their front feet and 4 on the back feet. African elephants have 4 toenails on both front and back. Elephants are the only mammals that can’t jump An amazing, but nevertheless accurate, fact is that an elephant’s height at the shoulder is twice the circumference of his foot. Elephants normally walk about 4 mph. but have been observed to reach speeds of 25 mph. The average human walks 3 mph, and the average speed of a person riding a bicycle is 15 mph.


An elephant’s skin is an inch thick in some areas but very thin behind their ears, under their legs (armpits), and around their eyes and rectum. Their skin is prone to irritation from insect bites. Asian elephants have more hair on their body than African elephants and this is especially evident in young Asian elephants, which are covered in a coat of reddish brown hair. The skin color of Asian elephants is dark grey to brown, with patches of pink on the forehead, the ears, and sometimes the base of the trunk and chest.


An elephant’s tail can be as long as 4.2 ft. (1.3 meters) and is tipped by a series of very coarse, wire-like hair. They have an extraordinary degree of control over tail movement and use them as fly swatters against insects.

Brain, intelligence and emotions:

Elephants have a highly developed brain and the largest of all the land mammals. Their brain is 3 or 4 times larger than that of humans although smaller as a proportion of body weight. Elephants are extremely intelligent animals and have memories that span many years. It is this memory that serves matriarchs well during dry seasons when they need to guide their herds, sometimes for tens of miles, to watering holes that they remember from the past. Elephants are highly sensitive and caring animals. If a baby elephant complains, the entire family will rumble and go over to touch and caress it. Elephants express grief, joy, compassion, self-awareness, altruism and play. Elephants pay homage to the bones of their dead, gently touching the skulls and tusks with their trunks and feet. When an elephant walks past a place that a loved one has died, he/she will stop; a silent and empty pause that can last several minutes. Elephants are one of the few species that recognize themselves in a mirror. The others are humans, apes, orcas, dolphins, and most recently discovered- magpies.

Additional facts about elephants:

  • Elephants have a slow pulse rate of 27. Humans average 60-80 and a canary pulse is 1000.
  • The average weight for an elephant heart is about 27 to 46 pounds. (12-21 kg.)
  • An elephant will urinate approximately 13 gallons (50 liters) throughout the day, voiding 3 gallons (10 liters) each time they urinate.  That’s the equivalent of 5 bottles of soda each time.
  • An elephant’s closest living relative is the rock hyrax.


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