Known as: African Elephant, African Forest Elephant, African Bush Elephant.
Estimated numbers left in the wild: 300,000 to 400,000.
Occupying the role of the world’s largest current land animal, the African elephant weighs up to 5.5 tonnes and stands 3.3 to 3.96 meters tall in the case of large males. Female elephants stand 2.8 meters tall and weigh 3.7 tonnes on average. Highly distinctive in appearance, these huge beasts have pillar-like legs, large heat-radiating ears, a prehensile trunk, leathery grey skin that includes only a very sparse dusting of hairs, and two ivory tusks adapted from their ancestors’ incisors.
Feeding and foraging: African elephants of both species are highly intelligent and gregarious herbivores. Adult elephants need to eat around 135 kilograms of food daily to sustain their enormous bodies. This food is taken in the form of herbs, tree leaves, and tree bark. Elephants range widely in search of food, and their dung is therefore crucial to spreading the seeds of many species into new habitats. These animals can be rather destructive in their quest for food, pushing over trees if the leaves are out of reach and using their powerful trunks to rip apart other plants to obtain the edible parts. The elephant’s trunk includes around 100,000 muscles, giving it immense dexterity as well as great power – it can be used for very fine manipulations with the twin “fingers” at its tip or a powerful tool for foraging, drinking water, using tools, and even disciplining rowdy youngsters.
Social and breeding: Bull elephants tend to be solitary, while cows form herds and cooperate in protecting their calves. Calf elephants are born after a gestation of 22 months and are born with a weight of 90 kilograms. Elephants, whether solitary or in a herd, move over large distances looking for food and water. They enjoy water immensely, drinking close to 200 litres daily to stay hydrated, and squirting the liquid over themselves with their trunks.
Lifespan: Elephants are complex creatures with many subtle emotions, and their brains show as much intricacy as those of humans. Their lifespan in the wild is limited to 60 or 70 years, and sometimes less, when their final set of molars wears out and the great beasts starve to death. Captive elephants can live into their 80s thanks to human care.
Location: African bush elephants are found in many of the nations of Africa south of the Sahara, including those in West, East, and Southern Africa. The African forest elephant, by contrast, is limited to the Congo River Basin. Bush elephants are found in open woodland, savannah, scrub, and even deserts, while forest elephants prefer dense forests near West African rivers, with at least 50% of the surviving animals living in Gabon.
Threats: Adult elephants are more or less immune to predation by lions, hyenas, and other carnivores of Africa, but are heavily targeted and hunted by humans, who crave their ivory tusks. Around 70% of poached ivory is sold to buyers in China, which is one of the world’s most active purchasers of rare animal parts. Hunting for ivory has occurred since at least the later 19th century, but modern weaponry allowed extreme destruction of elephants during the mid to late 20th century.
Conservation efforts: Strict bans on ivory trading have slowed the impact of poaching, but elephants are still at serious risk of extinction if additional measures are not taken. Major international conservation organizations such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, are working actively to promote better human-elephant relations to reduce risk of future conflict as well.
African Elephant Videos
Amboseli Trust for Elephants
Amboseli Trust for Elephants started and is still running the world’s longest study of African elephants to protect and conserve the species in Kenya. This has ensured the survival of the elephants and the eco-system in Amboseli National Park for more than three decades.
Call from the Wild
Call from the Wild is an organisation started by Frankfurt Zoological Society which supports a variety of national parks throughout Africa to protect different endangered species including elephants.
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust work to protect African elephants and black rhinos in Kenya through a nursery and hand-rearing, anti-poaching projects, de-snaring and education programmes.
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation sells artwork to fund breeding programmes, anti-poaching projects, field work and education programmes to protect elephants in South Africa and Namibia.
International Elephant Foundation
International Elephant Foundation is an American organisation founded by a corporation of individuals and institutions to protect elephants in Africa and in Asia.
Wildlife Conservation Society
Wildlife Conservation Society was formed in 1895 with the aim of protecting 25 percent of the world’s biodiversity by promoting the importance of protecting wildlife and their habitats. WCS has five zoos in New York.