BASIC ELEPHANT FACTS
What You Can Learn About Elephants is Never Ending
LET’S START WITH THE BASIC FACTS
There Are 3 Species of Elephants
An African Savanna 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 African Savanna elephant is classified as an Endangered Species.
Smaller than the African Savanna elephant, the Forest elephant weighs around 5,950 lbs (2.7 tons/2,743 kilograms) and stands up to 8.2 ft. (2.5 meters) at the shoulder. The African Forest elephant is classified as an Endangered Species.
An Asian elephant can grow to 18-21 ft. (5.5-6.4 meters) in length, and weigh 4,000-11,000 lbs. (2-5 tons/1,800-5,000 kilograms) and stand 8-10 ft. at the shoulder (2-3 meters). The Asian elephant is classified as an Endangered Species.
African elephants (both species) live in the wild on much of the African continent south of the Sahara.
Asian elephants 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 in Africa migrate almost 300 miles in a year, as far as 35 miles in a day, all in pursuit of water.
Just How Big Are Elephants
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 lbs. and was 13 ft. tall at the shoulder.
Elephants are the largest land-living mammals in the world.
Threats Facing Elephants
LONGEVITY & 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.
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 that there are now an estimated 450,000-650,000 African elephants and between 25,600-32,750 wild Asian elephants.
Watch How Elephants Grow the Forest
(video created by Elephant Reintroduction Foundation)
More Facts About Elephants
HERD & SOCIAL BEHAVIOR
Female 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 females in the group.
An elephant will have 1 calf (twins are very rare) at a time 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 four 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).
The elephants closest living relative is the rock hyrax.
FROM BABY THROUGH ADOLESCENCE
A baby elephant weighs about 200-250 lbs. (91-113 kilograms). 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 four years. Full size is attained at about 18-24 years.
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.
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, who 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.
Elephants 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.
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.
Asian elephants’ ears are much smaller than African elephants’ ears. Elephants have large, thin ears 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 kilometers) away. Under ideal conditions, their range of hearing can be increased to 6.2 miles (10 kilometers). Elephants have an excellent sense of hearing and are said to be able to pick up some sounds over distances of 10 miles.
BRAINS, INTELLIGENCE & EMOTIONS
Elephants have a highly developed brain, 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 where a loved one has died, he/she will stop, offering a silent 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.
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.
Elephant feet are covered in soft padding that helps 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 occurs as a result of 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.
Want to Learn More?
Read about the stark contrast between the life of a wild and captive elephant.
Meet Our Elephants
Take a look at their diary and get to know Maia, Rana, Lady, Mara, and Bambi.