Elephant African and Asian Elephants

African Elephant with zebras

Photo: African Elephant with zebras

Elephants are the largest land animals on Earth! They have large grey bodies, pillar-like legs, long trunks, large ears and long tails. Many also have curved ivory tasks. Elephants have thick, leathery skin, which protects them from the sun, insulates them from the cold,  and acts as a tough barrier against other elements. Elephants are highly intelligent animals with excellent memories and are capable of complex behaviours and learning from experience. They are highly social animals, living in large family groups led by an older female. Elephants are herbivores and use their highly flexible and agile trunk to grab food, drink water, and communicate with other elephants. There are two types of elephants. These are the African elephant and the Asian elephant.

Elephant walking

Photo: African Elephant

Photo: Asian Elephant

African bush elephants can stand at 3.2m (10ft) tall and weigh up to 6,000kg (13,225 lbs). African forest elephants can grow to 2.4 m (7 ft 10 in) tall and weigh up to 4,000kg (8,880lbs). These elephants have sloping foreheads, enormous ears, and concave backs (the middle of the spine curves downward). The African bush elephant and African forest elephant roam throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Wild African elephants have a lifespan of up to 70 years.

In contrast, Asian elephants have smaller ears, convex backs (the middle of the spine curves upward or is almost flat), and straighter foreheads with two bumps on either side. Asian elephants usually reach about 2.8m (9 ft) in height and 4,000kg (8,800lbs) in weight. The three subspecies of Asian elephants: the Indian Elephant, the Sumatran Elephant and the Sri Lankan Elephant, live in south and south-eastern Asia. Wild Asian elephants live for about 48 years.

Elephant's Trunk

The elephant's trunk hangs from the front of its face, grow up-to 2-3m (6-8ft) long, and functions as its nose and its hand. It is made up of an elongation of its nose and the upper lip of its mouth and can grow to 2-3m (6-8ft) in length and made up of eight pairs of strong, flexible muscles. capable of lifting up-to 250kg (55lbs). An elephant's trunk serves multiple functions, such as lifting, smelling, touching, breathing, trumpeting, drinking, feeding and even fighting. In addition, the trunk also enables the elephant to produce various vocalization sounds.

Are Elephants Scared of Mice?

While cartoons may have us believe that elephants are scared of mice, this is not true. The only thing an elephant would need to do to rid its trunk of a mouse is a quick and powerful sneeze, blowing the mouse out of its trunk at speeds over 100 mph.

But. Elephants really hate ants! This is because ants can climb inside their sensitive trunks and bite. Elephants dislike ants so much that they avoid acacia trees that harbour ants. Remove the ants, and the elephant will happily munch on the tree.

 An elephant's nostrils are at the tip of its trunk and surrounded by finger-like appendages. African elephants have two 'finger-like' appendages, while Asian elephant has a single curled tip with a pad on the opposite side. The African elephant grasps an object by pinching its two appendages together. An Asian elephant, on the other hand, curls the tip of its trunk around an item and picks it up. These appendages act like nimble fingers, enabling the elephant to hold and manipulate small items. They are so nimble in-fact that an elephant can pick up a peanut, crush its shell and extract the kernel.

Contrary to popular belief, the trunk is not used as a straw. Instead, it is used to suck up water and store it temporarily while the animal brings its trunk around and squirts the water into its mouth. This may be why this structure is called a trunk, as in "storage" trunk. The elephant can suck up nearly 8 litres (2 gal) of water into its trunk at one time.

The elephant sniffs the air with its trunk for information on the weather, food, predators, etc. It also collects dust or grass to spray onto itself to protect against insect bites and the sun. An adult male elephant can lift up to 250kg (55lbs) with its trunk. It even uses its trunk as a snorkel when swimming. As you can see, the trunk is indeed a very versatile part of the elephant's anatomy.

Elephant's Tusks & Teeth

Elephants have two large, curved tusks which protrude from their upper lip and grow thought its life. These tusks are extensions of the animal’s incisor teeth and can grow up to 3m (10ft) long and weigh up to 67kg (147lbs). Both male and female African elephants usually grow tusks, but it is predominantly only male Asian elephants that do so. Tusks serve many essential functions for elephants, such as tearing bark from trees or digging for plants, protecting their trunks, lifting or moving objects, and even for use as a weapon. In difficult times of drought or hardship, elephants may even dig holes in dried-up riverbeds and lakes with their tusks to search for underground water.

Photo: Elephant's upper jaw molar teeth visible

An elephant has four molar teeth at any given time. A single, large molar tooth occupies each side of its upper and lower jaws. The animal's rough diet constantly wears down these molar teeth. So, new ones grow from the rear of the animal's mouth and move forward to replace the worn teeth. The last molars appear when the elephant is about 30 years old and can measure 40cm (16in) and weigh 5 kg (11lbs). Both African and Asian elephants will grow a total of 26 teeth in their lifetimes. When these last sets of molars wear down, if the elephant is still alive, it will die of starvation because it has no teeth with which to chew its food.

Elephant's Ears

Photo: Elephant with ears extended

An elephant's oversized ears evolved primarily to keep the animal cool. Its thin-skinned ears are rich in blood vessels that radiates body heat and helps control body temperature. In addition, the elephant will fan itself with their ears to stay cool even further. African elephants have ears that can measure up to 2m (6ft) high and 1.5m (5ft) wide! These oversized ears evolved to handle the hot, dry climate of the African savannah. Asian elephants, on the other hand, have smaller ears as their environments have milder temperatures and don't require super-sized cooling.

Both African and Asian elephants have impressive hearing. They can detect sounds from 14hz to 12,000hz (Humans can hear in a much narrower range). Their excellent hearing even detect sounds up to 300km (185 miles) away. They even generate infrasonic, low-frequency sounds to communicate with each other over distances of 10km or more.

An elephant also uses its ears to warn or intimidate an adversary, it will spread its ears wide open and flap them threateningly. This usually enough to scare most predators away.

Elephant's Skin

Photo: Elephant dusting itself

An elephant has thick, folded, wrinkly skin up to 3.8cm (1.5in) thick. The Asian elephant has smoother, thinner skin than the African elephant. The folds and wrinkles of an elephant's skin increase its overall surface area and help retain moisture and cool the animal. This is vital because the elephant has virtually no sweat glands. The elephant doesn't have fur but has coarse hair instead. An elephant's skin, while extremely tough, is also very sensitive. It is so sensitive that it can feel an insect landing on its body. To protect its skin from sunburn and insect bites, an elephant may take mud baths and spray its body with dust.

Elephant's Legs & Feet

Photo: Elephants running

An elephant has straight, pillar-like legs positioned almost vertically under its body to support its great bulk and weight. Its back legs are slightly shorter than its front legs, but its high shoulders give the illusion that its front legs are longer. An elephant walks on its toes. Its feet have thick, spongy pads of fatty, fibrous tissue with ribbed soles that act as shock absorbers. These padded feet are well suited for the long daily treks they make. Elephants can also hear with their feet. They can sense low-frequency underground vibrations from up to 20 miles away.

An elephant walks at about 7kph (4.5mph) and can run at 24 kmh (15mph). But, technically speaking, an elephant doesn't run—it power walks.

The elephant has five conventional toes that point forwards, but hidden from view inside its foot is a sixth toe pointing backwards into its heal pad. This extra backwards-facing toe provided additional support to hold up its bulk. An elephant has five toes on each foot. The Asian elephant and African forest elephant have five toenails on the front feet and only four on the back feet. The African bush elephant has four toenails on each front foot and only three per rear foot.

Is an Elephant Left or Right Handed? An Elephant's Preference for One Side or Other

Photo: Elephant's shorter worn out task on the right

Elephants have a preference for using one tusk over another. That is, they are left or right-handed. We can identify an elephant's handedness by the wear and tear of the preferred task. It is usually shorter and more worn down because it is used more frequently. Most elephants prefer their right tusks. They also have a strong left or right side preference when using their trunks.

Elephant Sounds What Does an Elephant Sound Like?

Elephants produce two types of sounds. One type is produced by passing air through their trunks and controlling this airflow with their nostrils. These sounds include trumpeting, growls, snorts, roars, barks and cries. The other is low-frequency (5–24hz) infrasonic sounds produced in its voice box (larynx), similar to a purring cat. These low-frequency sounds travel through the air as well as through the ground. An elephant can detect these sounds with its ears and as seismic waves with its feet. In addition, elephants also produce sounds by beating their trunks against their tusks, trees, or ground.

Listen to Some Elephant Sounds

Elephant Habitat & Distribution Where Do Elephants Live?

GREEN = African Elephant RED = Asian Elephant

Photo: Elephant Distribution Map

African bush elephants live in habitats ranging from open savannah to desert in Sub-Saharan Africa at elevations ranging from sea-level up to 2500 meters. The largest populations are in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia, and South Africa. African bush elephants migrate between habitats, ranging from subtropical and temperate forests to wetlands, grasslands and woodlands, and agricultural land from sea level to mountain slopes.

African forest elephants inhabit dense rainforests from sea-level up-to an elevation of 2500 meters. They live in west and central Africa. They are most numerous in Gabon and the Republic of Congo. Smaller populations also exist in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, and Ghana.

Asian elephants are predominately forest animals. They live on the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia at elevations ranging from sea-level up-to 3,000 meters. Their preferred habitats are tropical forests, evergreen and semi-evergreen forests, wet and dry deciduous forests, prickly forests, intermittent open grassy plains with shade forests close by to escape from the sun. They also venture into cultivating lands which bring them into conflict with human farmers. The Sri Lankan elephant lives only in Sri Lanka, and the Sumatran elephant is only found on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia.

Elephants are not territorial but prefer moving around in their preferred home range, which can vary from 15 to 500 square kilometres (6 to 500 miles) depending on the quantity and quality of food available. On a daily basis, elephants walk 4-12km (2-7.5 miles) in search of food. This can be extended to upwards of 27km (17 miles) a day during seasonal migrations and during times of drought. Both African and Asian elephants generally follow the same migratory paths annually.

Elephant Diet What Elephants Eat

Photo: Elephant reaching higher branches for food

Elephants are herbivores that eat grasses, tree bark, roots, leaves, plants, fruit and twigs. They can rear up onto their hind legs and extend their trunk to reach vegetation as high as 5.7 m (19 ft). Elephants are also known to raid farm crops such as bananas, rice, and sugarcane, bringing them into conflict with farmers. An elephant can eat between 149-169 kg (330-375 lb) of vegetation daily. It feeds for sixteen to eighteen hours a day. That's nearly 80% of its day feeding. The elephant uses its trunk to grasp and transfer its food to its mouth. Tusks are used to carve into the trunks of trees to tear off strips of bark which it then transfers to its mouth using its trunk. Elephants mine minerals and salts by digging up the ground with their tusks.

Elephants Do Lots of Poop

Elephants eat up to 169 kg (375 lb) of food a day, however their digestive system is only about 50% efficient. This means that lots and lots of poop come out each day—about 113kgs (250lbs) of it. An elephant defecates 12-15 times a day.

An elephant requires a large quantity of water. It consumes 68 to 100 litres (18 to 26 gal) of water daily. An adult male can drink 212 litres (55 gal) of water in under five minutes.

What Kills Elephants? Humans are the Elephant's Most Dangerous Predator !

Photo: Herd of Elephants attacking a pride of lions

Because of their sheer size, strength, and social behaviour elephants have no natural predators. Even lions keep away. However, some young, sick, or ailing animals occasionally fall prey to lions, tigers, hyenas, and crocodiles.

Elephants have very strong herd coercion and coordination in the face of a threat. They will group together, with the most robust animals forming an outward-facing circle around the more vulnerable. Few predators dare challenge such a formidable line of defence.

Photo: What a crime! Killed only for its ivory tusks

The most dangerous predator of the elephant is humans. As many as 30,000 elephants are killed each year for their ivory. Humans have killed off millions of these majestic elephants and brought them to near extinction. For what? For ivory to decorate our bodies and for ornaments!

Are Elephants Endangered? Elephant Population

Photo: Ivory seized by the US government

Elephants face extinction due to pouching and habitat loss caused by humans. There are only half a million (500,000) wild elephants left in the world today. Approximately 415,000 are wild African elephants, and less than 45,000 are wild Asian elephants. An additional 15,000 Asian elephants survive in human care as work animals and in zoos and sanctuaries. Elephants are listed as endangered species.

Humans have killed off nearly 90% of African elephants for their ivory tusks in just the last 100 years.

21 Interesting Elephant Facts

  1. The African elephant has a more extendible trunk, but the Asian elephant's trunk is more dexterous.
  2. The elephant is sometimes referred to as a " pachyderm". This word is derived from the Latin words for "thick" ("pachy") and "skin" ("derm") and means, quite literally, "thick-skin."
  3. But, it is paper-thin thin in places, such has behind its ears.
  4. An elephant has no sweat glands—just a few around its toenails.
  5. Elephants have the largest brains of all land animals. That is why they are so clever and have incredible memory.
  6. Elephant carry grudges.
  7. Elephants use their trunk greet each other. They also hug with their trunks.
  8. The African forest elephant was recognised as a separate species only in 2000.
  9. Elephants do not have sweat glands, except for just above the toenails.
  10. Elephants don't have hooves or paws like many other animals. Instead, they have flat padded feet.
  11. Elephants one of the few animals that can recognize themselves in a mirror.
  12. Some African elephants live in the hot Sahel Desert of Mali, in Africa.
  13. Elephants are herbivorous. They only eat plant matter.
  14. An elephant's tasks grow throughout its life.
  15. Tusks are made of ivory, an incredibly dense form of bone.
  16. While the elephant is the largest land animal, the Antarctic blue whale is 33 times larger than an elephant.
  17. Elephants can suck water into their trunks at speeds of up to 540kmh (335mph).
  18. Elephants have course hair all over their bodies. They don't have fur.
  19. Elephants have eyelashes.
  20. Elephants can swim underwater. They use their trunk as a snorkel and breath through it.
  21. Elephant cannot jump. They weigh too much, have no reason to, and their legs aren't designed for jumping.