Elephants – The largest land mammals

Elephants - The largest land mammals


Elephants are the largest land mammals. They are characterized by their long noses, or trunks, large floppy ears, wide thick legs and their tusks, which are actually incisors. They use their trunks for breathing, grasping objects, as a horn to trumpet warnings, as an arm used in greeting fellow Elephants and as a hose for drinking water or bathing. Their tusks serve as weapons and tools for moving objects and digging, while their large ear flaps help to control their body temperature.

20 Fun Facts About Elephants

There are 3 types of Elephant species known to man: The African Bush Elephant, The African Forest Elephant and the Asian Elephant. African Elephants have got larger ears and concave backs while their Asian counterparts have smaller ears and convex or level backs. The Asian Elephant is divided into four subspecies (Sri Lankan, Indian, Sumatran and Borneo).

Asian Elephants differ in several ways from their African relatives. Their ears are straight at the bottom, unlike the large fan-shaped ears of the African species. Only some Asian male Elephants have tusks, while all African Elephants, both male and female, have tusks. Elephants are either left or right-tusked and the tusk they use the most is usually smaller because of wear and tear. Asian Elephants have four toes on the hind feet and five on the front feet, while African Elephants have three toes on the hind feet and five on the front feet.


The closest living relatives to Elephants are Manatees and Hyraxes. How? Well, all of these animals possess two mammary glands, a similar heart structure and a similar arrangement of teeth. Click To Tweet

Manatees Vs Elephants

Both Manatees and Elephants have molars that shift forward (towards the front of the mouth), gradually breaking off, and are replaced by those from behind. Manatees also possess two incisors that structurally resemble Elephant tusks.

Hyraxes Vs Elephants

Hyraxes are more distant from Elephants than Manatees are, but they still share several anatomical similarities.

  • Hyraxes have two incisors on their upper jaw that structurally resemble Elephant tusks.
  • Hyraxes have four claws on their front feet and three on the rear, just like the African Elephant.
  • Elephants and Hyraxes both have thick, padded soles on their feet, used to cushion walking.




Old Elephants with very large tusks are almost being wiped off the face of the earth due to poaching for their ivory.

African Elephants are the larger species. They grow up to anything from 8.2 – 13 feet (2.5 – 4 meters) from shoulder to toe and can weigh 5,000 – 14,000 lbs. (2,268 – 6,350 kilograms). Asian Elephants grow up to 6.6 – 9.8 feet (2 – 3 meters) from shoulder to toe and can weigh 2.25 – 5.5 tons (2,041 – 4,990 kg).


An Elephant’s staple diet includes grasses, leaves, bamboo, bark and roots. Elephants are also known to eat crops like banana and sugarcane which are grown by farmers living in areas with Elephants, which has caused a lot of human-Elephant conflict. Adult elephants can eat 300 – 400 lbs of food each day.


Elephants group together to form a herd, which consists of complex social structures of females and calves. The herd is led by a matriarch, which is usually the oldest female in the group. Herds may consist of anywhere from 8 to 100 individuals depending on terrain (availability of food and water).

When calves are born into the family, they are raised and protected by the whole matriarchal herd. Male calves usually leave the family unit once they reach the age of 12-15 years, and may lead solitary lives or live temporarily with other males.

Elephants have certain rules that govern the relationships within the herd. When they meet, they expect the other elephant to extend its trunk in greeting. The matriarch will often teach young elephants in her herd how to behave properly. Elephants are extremely intelligent animals and have a great memory. The matriarch, using her memory, guides the herd to the best feeding and watering spots, having acquired that knowledge over the years.

Elephants have been known to display signs of joy, anger, grief and play. Recent research has shown that Elephants can communicate over very long distances by producing a sub-sonic rumble that can travel over the ground faster than sound through air. Other Elephants receive the messages through the sensitive skin on their feet and trunks. It is believed that this is how potential mates and social groups communicate.


Asian Elephants may give birth to a calf every 2.5-4 years, each calf weighing between 50-150kg. On rare occasions, a female can give birth to twins. Both males and females may become sexually mature as early as 9. Males, however, do not start sexual activity until they are about 14 or 15, and even then have not fully attained the social dominance that is necessary for successful reproductive activity, especially as most elephants only reach their full size at about 17 years of age.

African Forest Elephants give birth to a single calf or twins (very rarely) every 5-6 years. They, however, get their first pregnancy from the age of 23.

Forest Vs Savannah Elephant
| Source: Nature

African Savannah Elephants mate mostly during the rainy season. They start giving birth every 3-4 years from the age of 12. A single calf is usually born after a gestation period of about 22 months and weighs anywhere between 200-250 lbs. At birth, a calf’s trunk has no muscle tone and therefore, it will suckle through its mouth. It takes several months for a calf to gain full control of its trunk. Young Elephants wean after 6-18 months but may continue nursing for over 6 years.


Elephants are scattered throughout sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. The African Savannah Elephants, in particular, are found in savannah zones in 37 countries south of the Sahara Desert, while the African Forest Elephants inhabit the dense rainforests of West and Central Africa. Asian Elephants are found in India, Sri Lanka, China and much of Southeast Asia.

Elephants need a lot of space and extensive amounts of food and water in order to survive. They roam in herds, consuming hundreds of pounds of plant matter in a single day. As a result, these large mammals place great demands on the environment and often come into conflict with people in competition for resources.

| Source: National Geographic


By the turn of the 20th century, there were several million African Elephants and about 100,000 Asian Elephants.
Today, however, due to poaching to meet the high demand for ivory, the African Forest Elephant population is estimated to have fallen from approximately 700,000 to less than 100,000, with about half of the remaining population in Gabon. The African Savannah Elephant population has also sharply declined to about 352,271 according to National Geographic.

The current yearly loss, overwhelmingly from poaching, is estimated at 8%. That is about 27,000 elephants slaughtered each year.

Source: National Geographic

Their Asian counterparts are not doing too well either. Their current population is said to be between 40,000 – 50,000 individuals.


In the past, the size of Elephants, their strength, and agility have enabled them to be utilized by humans in various capacities. Adult male Elephants have been used in military combat by several armies, such as the Persian Empire, Indian subcontinent armies, and Alexander the Great’s troops.

Elephants have also been used to carry loads of up to 500 kg (1,100 lb.) in weight. Prior to mechanized transport, the logging industry used Elephants to carry massive tree loads to nearby rivers, where the load was then transported to respective seaports. Fortunately, in the modern day, timber jacks, bulldozers, and four-wheel drive vehicles have significantly reduced the need for Elephant employment.

Field owners, especially in Asia, have used Elephants to assist with difficult agricultural tasks, such as plowing and drawing water carts.

The tourist industry has also utilized elephants to enhance their visitors’ overall experience. Tourists get an elevated seat on the back of an elephant to experience wildlife deep within jungles and savannas.

Elephants have also been used and trained to perform and entertain audiences in circuses. This often involves breaking the animal’s spirit in order to take charge of its behavior. Often these animals undergo a lot of cruel treatment and live in very poor conditions.



One of the largest threats to Elephant populations is poaching, which has seen populations of Elephants across the globe decline alarmingly, more so for the African Elephants. Elephants are killed mainly for their tusks which are made of ivory, as well as for their meat and skin. The main methods used for killing the Elephants are guns and poison arrows. Poaching of African Forest Elephants is of greater concern because it takes them a longer time to reach the calf-bearing age of 23 years, and they have calves every 5-6 years which is a longer period than their counterparts. Despite a ban on the international trade in ivory, African Elephants are still being poached in large numbers.

Loss of Habitat

Asia, being the world’s most densely populated continent has seen a huge percentage of the Elephants’ former range lost. As the human population continues to grow, the species’ remaining habitat is shrinking at a high rate.

This problem is also affecting African Elephants. Large development projects such as roads and railways, agricultural plantations and expanding human settlements have fragmented and shrunk Elephant habitats. Wild Elephant populations are now mostly small, isolated and unable to mingle as ancient migratory routes are cut off by human activity and interference.

Human-Wildlife Conflict

Increased human activity and encroachment into Elephant habitats have lead to an increase in human-wildlife conflict, which has seen a number of Elephants being killed off to protect people, property and crops.

In some countries, governments provide compensation for crop damage or deaths caused by Elephants, but there is still often strong political pressure on wildlife management authorities to eliminate Elephants near populated regions rather than to try to avoid conflicts.

Climate Change

Research into climate change indicates that key portions of Elephants’ habitats will become significantly hotter and drier as time goes by, resulting in poorer foraging conditions and threatening calf and adult survival.


Because of all the challenges facing wild Elephants, the partners and sponsors of the Big Five Festival came together to facilitate this annual festival that hopes to create awareness among the public and local communities of the various challenges facing these magnificent creatures. We also hope to educate communities living near Elephants and equip them with solutions that reduce human-wildlife conflict and enable them to live harmoniously with the Elephants.

Find out more

Elephant research has revealed a unique animal intelligence that displays joy, grief, anger, altruism, compassion, self-awareness, play, art and even music! Click To Tweet


Elephants can live up to around 70 years in the wild.
Did you know that Elephants are the only mammals that can’t jump, trot or gallop?
An Elephant’s skin is about an inch thick.
The Elephant’s trunk has more than 40,000 muscles.
When Elephants swim, they use their trunk to breathe in deep water like a snorkel.
Elephants have a slow pulse rate of 27.
The word “Elephant” comes from the Greek word “elephas” which means “ivory”.
The oldest known Elephant in the world lived for 86 years (1917 – 2003).
An Elephant’s are modified incisors and they grow throughout an Elephant’s lifetime.
The Elephant can suck up to 14 litres of water at a time through its trunk.
People are left or right-handed, Elephants are left or right-tusked.
Elephants are capable of hearing sound wave frequencies well below human hearing capability.
Blood is circulated through their ears to cool them down on hot days.
If a baby Elephant complains, the entire family will rumble and go over to comfort it.
An Elephant’s trunk is able to sense the size, shape and temperature of an object.
Elephants have four molars, one on the top and one on the bottom on both sides of the mouth.
An Elephant’s molar can weigh about five pounds and is the size of a brick!
A female Elephant can produce about four calves throughout her lifetime.
Elephants have poor eyesight but an amazing sense of smell.
Elephants have a very highly developed brain and the largest of all land mammals.