Matt Armstrong-Ford
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Elephant Facts

Elephants are one of the best-loved and most recognised animals on the planet. Famed for their problem-solving intelligence and incredible loyalty to each other, they are also subjects of mystery, with many aspects of their lives still unknown. Here, we’ve collated some great elephant facts.

Where do elephants live?

Elephants can be found on both the African and Asian continents. African bush elephants are found primarily in southern and eastern Africa, with the largest populations in Botswana, Kenya, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, and typically favour savannah, open brush, and open woodland.

African forest elephants are restricted to the equatorial rainforests of west and central Africa, where their preferred habitat of dense scrub and woodland still exists.

Asian elephants can be found in India (over half the existing wild population), as well as Nepal. Small, relatively isolated populations also exist in Cambodia, China, and Vietnam. They can be found in a wider range of habitats than their African cousins, including grasslands, scrub, both deciduous and evergreen forests, and even wetlands.

Steve Liffmann
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

is the speed an elephant can run


The age of the oldest elephant ever recorded


How much wild elephant populations have decreased in the last century.

African Forest Elephant

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Riccardo Maywald
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
Scientific Name: Loxodonta cyclotis
IUCN Red List Status: Critically Endangered
Population Trend: Decreasing
Biggest Threats: Poaching for ivory and habitat loss due to logging activities.
Geographic Distribution: Central and West Africa, including Cameroon, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Cote d’Ivoire.
Habitat: Dense rainforest and dense forest
Identifying Traits: The African forest elephant is smaller than their bush elephant counterparts, and the tusks tend to be longer, thinner and straighter than the curved tusks of a bush elephant. Their mandible (lower jaw) is narrower than the forest elephants. Their ears are more circular than those of the bush elephant.
Translation of the scientific name: Loxodonta” refers to the “lozenge shaped” enamel of the elephant’s molars. “Cyclotis” comes from the Latin for circle and is most likely to be a reference to the rounded ears of the forest elephant. This means that the scientific name of the forest elephant literally means “They are round and have lozenge shaped enamel”.

African Bush Elephant

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Adele Behles
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
Scientific Name: Loxodonta africana
IUCN Red List Status: Endangered
Population Trend: Decreasing
Biggest Threats: Poaching for ivory, habitat loss due to human encroachment, and human-wildlife conflict. 
Geographic Distribution: Sub-Saharan Africa including Kenya, Tanzania, Angola
Habitat: Savannah and Grassland 
Identifying Traits: The African bush elephant is larger in size than their forest elephant counterparts, and the tusks tend to curve outwards as compared to the longer and straighter tusks of a forest elephant. Whilst other elephant species have 5 toenails on their front feet and four on their back feet, the bush elephant is unique in only having 4 toenails on their front feet, and three on their back feet.
Translation of the scientific name: “Loxodonta” refers to the “lozenge shaped” enamel of the elephant’s molars.Africana” means “Come from Africa”. This means that the scientific name of the bush elephant literally means “Comes from Africa and has lozenge shaped enamel”.

Asian Elephant

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Scientific Name: Elephas maximus
IUCN Red List Status: Endangered
Population Trend: Decreasing
Biggest Threats: Habitat loss and fragmentation driven by agriculture and urbanization, poaching for ivory, and human-wildlife conflict.
Geographic Distribution: South and Southeast Asian countries, including India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Nepal.
Habitat: Tropical and subtropical rainforests
Identifying Traits: The ears of an Asian elephant are significantly smaller and rounder, and their head shape is much more rounded than the African elephant species. Only the male Asian elephants have tusks, whereas African elephants don’t display this sexual dimorphism. Not all males will have tusks however.
Translation of the scientific name: Elephas” is the Latin word for elephant, and “maximus” is the Latin word for “the greatest” or “the biggest” This means that the scientific name of the Asian elephant literally means “The largest elephant”.
David Shepherd
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

How many elephants are left in the world?

There are approximately 465,000 wild-living elephants left in the world. The populations in Africa account for 415,000, with a further 40-50,000 in India and Asia. Although this might sound like a lot – these animals used to number in their millions just a few centuries ago and are continuing to decline at an unsustainable rate.

How long are elephants pregnant for?

There is a slight variation with species, but pregnancy in African bush elephants lasts 22 months – the longest for any mammal. For Asian elephants, pregnancy lasts between 18-22 months.

How long do elephants live?

Elephants live for an average of 70 years in the wild – but this again varies with species. Asian elephants typically have slightly shorter lifespans, reaching approximately 50 years of age in the wild. However, the oldest elephant ever recorded was an Asian elephant that lived to be 89.

Why do elephants have tusks?

Tusks evolved from teeth and serve several purposes. They can be used as a tool, such as in digging for food and water, lifting objects, and stripping bark from trees. Tusks are also used in defence and in territorial displays and challenges. In all elephant species, the tusks naturally curve around the trunk, offering the appendage elephants rely on most, added protection.

Why do elephants have trunks?

It is likely that elephants evolved trunks as they grew in size and bulk. Their pillar-like legs and naturally heavyset heads and shoulders would be major obstacles to feeding and drinking without their trunks, which enable them to forage and drink with minimal head movement.

Some of the closest living relatives to elephants are dugongs and manatees – leading to some speculation that the elephant’s trunk initially evolved as a snorkel in a semi-aquatic ancestor.

Elephant trunks are prehensile and incredibly sensitive, making them an important part of how they communicate and show affection, as well as carrying out all the functions of a nose!


What is a group of elephants called?

Elephants are officially hooved mammals, so a group is technically known as a herd. However, the collective noun for elephants – perhaps more fittingly, is a memory. A group of elephants can also be called a parade, although this is far less common.

What do elephants eat?

Elephants eat grasses, leaves, shrubs, fruits, and roots. They also adapt their diet to their habitat and conditions. For instance, when it’s drier, they can subsist on eating twigs, branches, and bark.

How tall are elephants?

African bush elephants have been known to measure up to 3.2m (10.5 ft) at the shoulder. Some Asian elephant bulls can rival this, but typically, come in at 2.8m (9.2 ft). African forest elephants stand at 2.4-3m (8-10 ft).

How much do elephants weigh?

African bush elephants can weigh in at an impressive maximum of 6,000 kg (13,230 lbs.). Whereas an Asian elephant will top the scales at 4,000 kg (8,820 lbs.). African forest elephants can rival the top end of their larger cousins but can also be much more slimline – with some adults at just 2,700 kg (5,950 lbs.).

How fast can elephants run?

African bush elephants have been known to measure up to 3.2m (10.5 ft) at the shoulder. Some Asian elephant bulls can rival this, but typically, come in at 2.8m (9.2 ft). African forest elephants stand at 2.4-3m (8-10 ft).

How do elephants sleep?

Elephants usually lie on their sides to sleep – despite their size and cumbersome appearance. They have also been known to use trees and large boulders to support their weight whilst standing and taking short naps. And just like humans, elephants are one of the few animals that appear to experience Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep – believed to be critical to forming memories.

What do elephants symbolise?

In many cultures, elephants symbolise strength and good fortune. Elephants are also symbols of health and happiness, used as a focus to promote spiritual wellbeing. For others, elephants symbolise luck and prosperity. And their characteristic traits of being strong, nurturing, loyal family members are revered, especially in Asian cultures. From being determined and protective, to providing the strength to remove obstacles and negative forces, elephants have a wealth of meaning in human culture, spanning millennia.

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