Elephant Facts

What is an elephant?

Elephants (Loxodonta) are large mammals which are famous for having several distinctive features, including a long trunk which they use for breathing, foraging, lifting water to drink and holding objects. Their incisor teeth grow into large tusks which are used as protection and as tools for digging and moving things. Elephants also have huge ears which they use to lower their temperature.

How many species of elephant exist?

There are two ‘families’ of elephants: the African family, and the Asian family, each with their own subspecies:

African elephants

Within the African family, there are two species: the African savanna or bush elephant and the African forest elephant.

Asian elephants

Within the Asian family, there are four species: the Pygmy elephant, the Sri Lankan elephant, the Sumatran elephant and the Indian elephant.

Where do elephants live?

Elephants live in Sub-Saharan Africa, West Africa, South Asia and South-East Asia. African elephants don’t stay within one country as a migratory species, but instead travel huge distances across 37 different African countries known as range states.

How many elephants are left in the wild?

As few as 450,000 elephants remain in the wild today across Africa and Asia. African elephant populations are estimated at 415,000 while Asian elephants are estimated at around 40,000-45,000 – just 10% of African elephant populations.

What is an elephant’s habitat?

Elephants live in savannas, forests, deserts and marshes.

How do elephants behave?

Elephants live in tightly-bonded female-led herds. This is led by the oldest and often largest female in the herd, called a matriarch. Herds usually consist of 8-100 individuals, depending on terrain and family size. When a calf is born, it is raised and protected by the whole matriarchal herd. Males, known as bulls, leave the family unit between the ages of 12-15 and may lead solitary lives or live temporarily in a smaller herd with other young bulls.

Elephants are extremely intelligent animals with incredible memories which the matriarch leaders rely on for survival during dry seasons, when they need to guide their herds for enormous distances to watering holes that they remember from the past. Elephants have also been recorded displaying clear signs of grief, joy, anger and playfulness.

Elephants can communicate over long distances by producing a subsonic 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, and it’s believed that this is how potential mates and social groups communicate.

What do elephants eat?

Elephants eat grasses, leaves, bamboo, bark and roots. Elephants are also known to eat crops like banana and sugarcane which are grown by farmers often resulting in crop raids, a cause of human-elephant conflict. Adult elephants eat an average 180kg of food per day.

How much do elephants weigh?

An adult African savanna elephant can weigh up to 6,000kg (13,200lbs), while an African forest elephant usually only weighs up to 2,700kg (around 6,000lbs). Asian elephants can weigh up to 5,400kg (around 12,000lbs).

How long do elephants live?

African elephants can live up to 60–70 years old, while Asian elephants live to around 50 years old.

What is the difference between African and Asian elephants?

There are three easy-to-spot differences between Asian and African elephants: head shape, ear size and tusks.

Head shape: African elephants have rounded heads and Asian elephants have twin-domed heads
Ear size: African elephants have huge ears, and Asian elephants have smaller, rounded ears
Tusks: African male and female elephants grow tusks, whereas Asian elephants only grow tusks if they are male. It’s important to note that not all elephants can grow tusks, regardless of whether they are African or Asian. There are ongoing scientific and biological studies into the rise of ‘tuskless’ elephants, potentially resulting from their adaptation to poaching.

Why do people buy ivory?

Across the world, ivory (also known as “white gold”) is bought as a way to prove wealth and social status and is used in luxury or ornamental items. Following a survey by National Geographic Society and GlobeScan, it was noted that the belief that ivory is the perfect gift is fuelled by the perception that it is “rare, precious, pure, beautiful, exotic, and, importantly, that it confers status to not only the receiver but the giver of the gift”.

Read more about the ivory trade here.

What is a group of elephants called?

A group of elephants is called a ‘herd’ – a herd of elephants.

Why not take a look at our gallery of elephant photos, find out how elephants cool off in the heat of the day, what an elephant dust bath looks like, and how they can make themselves look even bigger by spreading out their ears! There’s lots of elephant behaviour and adaptations to discover in these fantastic photos.

World Elephant Day is celebrated annually on 12 August.

Why not use this as your chance to fundraise to help protect elephants from extinction?