Elephant Descriptions:

Three species remain on earth:

  • Loxodonta Africana (African Savanna/bush Elephant)
  • Loxodonta Cyclotis (African Forest Elephant)
  • Elephas Maximus (Asian Elephant)

Swahili name for Elephant is – Tembo or Ndlovu The Elephant family originated about 16 million years ago and there are only three species on earth today. These three species separated into two African and one Asian 6-7 million years ago. The Savannah and forest Elephants diverged from each other 2 million years ago. Mammoths belong to extinct genera of the Elephant family. Elephants were eliminated from Northern Africa in the middle ages and disappeared in Southern Africa in 1700 through the 1800s. Their ancient range was all of Africa except the Sahara. Elephant’s closest living relatives are the Hyrax, Sea Cows, Golden moles Characteristics and facts of the Elephants:

  • Elephants have large, complex brains
  • Have a complex social structure, complex communication skills, and advanced learning ability
  • Home ranges vary in size depending on quality and quantity of food and water, and whether the area is used primarily by bulls or cows with their young.
  • The Elephant is considered a keystone species within in their ecosystem
  • They may forage up to 80km from water.
  • Savannah Elephants occupy lowland montane forests, flood plains, and all types of woodland and savannah areas.

Forest Elephants occupy moist semi-deciduous rainforests. Asian Elephants occupy tropical and sub-tropical moist broadleaf forests Physical Characteristics:

  • Body weight: Savannah male…9-14,000 lbs. cow…5,200-7,700 lbs. Forest………………4,400-10,000 Asian……………….4,500-12,000
  • The Savanna’s back is markedly concave, Forest is straight, and Asian is rounded.
  • Shoulder height: Savannah. …males 11-13’ cow 9’ Forest. 8-9’ 6’-8’ Asian…………………. 10’ 6’-8’
  • Teeth: all species have six sets of teeth in their lifetime. A single molar can weigh 11#. Teeth replacements are at the ages of 1-2 years, 3-4, 8-10,20-25, 40-45, and the final set usually lost between 60-70 years. Tusks are upper incisors. The Savannah’s are curved outward and forward, the Forest’s point straight down, the Asian’s are slimmer and straighter In both African species the male and female have tusks. The Asian male only. Tusks can grow up to 10’ long and weigh up to 200 lbs. for a pair. However, the average weight of poached tusks is ~ 23 lbs./pair. Tusks are used for digging for water, salt, or roots, stripping tree bark, lifting, marking trees, sexual display, defense and offense. Elephants are either right tusked or left tusked favoring one side or the other. Tusks can grow up to 7” per year.
  • There are 8 major muscles on each side of the trunk 150,000-muscle fascicles (portions of muscles) for the entire trunk-no bones or cartilage. The trunk has 2 openings or nostrils at the tip. The trunk ends with prehensile fingers on the top and the bottom for grasping or pinching objects. The trunk is ~ 6.5 feet long. It weighs 330-440 lbs. 70% of the inhaled air is through the trunk. The trunk is an integral part of feeding. The trunk is not used to drink, water is sucked up and squirted into the mouth. The trunk can hold more than 2 gallons of water.
  • Their feet have 5 toes on each foot with 5 toenails on the fore foot and 3 on the rear. The feet are cushioned by pads to absorb shock and also serve as sensory receptors for communication.
  • The African species have ears twice the size of their Asian counterparts. The Elephant hears low frequency sounds better than any other animal tested. They have acute hearing. The ear also helps regulate the Elephant’s body temperature by flapping their ears thus cooling the blood supply flowing through the ear capillaries. Eyesight is poor
  • Internally the heart weighs 27-46 lbs. The heart beats 25-30 beats/min standing and 72-98 lying down. The brain weighs 11 lbs.
  • Activity Cycle: An average of 16 hours per day is spent feeding, 4-5 hours is spent sleeping usually between 0300 and 0700 hours but not necessarily in continuous cycles. Usual rest is in early afternoon in shade. Drink and bathe daily. Can go several days without drinking.
  • Family / Social groups: Matriarchal society consists of adult females, offspring and their young. Group may include matriarch’s sisters and their offspring. When groups get too large “bond groups” split off but maintain a close association. Males leave the family group usually in mid teens wandering alone or in small male groups. The Elephants develop complex social bonds with dozens of clan members and hundreds of acquaintances. Aggression among Elephants is rare thus threat behaviors usually dictate who is on top. Hierarchy is usually a matter of seniority.
  • Communication: family members often touch while standing, they may rub with a foot or slap with a trunk. Trunks are used in greeting, a lower ranking member insert its trunk tip into another’s mouth. The trunk may be held out to an approaching Elephant as a greeting. The trunk may also be used in caressing, wrestling, and checking reproductive status. Mothers may guide their calf by gripping its tail. Elephants also communicate through vocalization using infrasound which is a sound in lower frequencies of less than 20 Hz thus humans cannot hear these sounds. There are sensory receptors in the feet. The Vater-Pacinian cells in the cushion respond to pressure and vibrations from the rumblings. Meisner nerve endings in adjacent skin detect light touch. Four different sounds are produced in gradations of pitch, duration and volume.
    • Rumbling: various frequencies below human hearing. Can impart information over long distances. It is important to sexual behavior, and given as a signal to move or as a warning. Quiet audible rumblings are heard during feeding. A rumble or growl may be given as a greeting and when elevated to a bellow it indicates fear or pain.
    • Trumpeting: blowing through nostrils indicates excitement
    • Squealing: a juvenile distress call
    • Screaming: adult distress call (used with trumpeting) to intimidate.
  • Daily food intake: Herbivorous diet high in cellulose which mammals can’t digest. The colon and expanded caecum contain protozoans and bacteria that produce cellulose to digest by fermentation. Horses and Rhinos have similar structures. Length of large and small intestines is 35 meters long. Digestion takes about 12 hours. About 2/3 of the food consumed is undigested and eliminated 10-20 times a day.
  • Elephants require from 165 – 330 lbs. of food each day. They drink 20 – 50 gallons of water per day. Usually drink once a day, and may go several days without drinking in arid areas.
  • Reproduction: Females prefer large bulls in their prime of 40 – 50 years old. Mating and births usually occur in rainy seasons. When a bull is in musth he goes through a period of heightened sexual and aggressive activity at a specific time each year. Typically this period lasts 6-12 weeks. There is 4-6 year interval between calving. Over her lifetime a female can produce up to 7 calves. Population density and food availability influence birth frequency. Gestation is 22 months. Two teats are located between the two front legs. Litter size is usually one. Birth weight is 200-265 lbs., height 3’, are nearly blind at birth and treated as infant for about 1 year. Calves are weaned in 2-3 years. Females mature at 10-11 years, males at 12-15 years. Elephants grow continuously throughout their lifespan. Female growth slows after 25 years. It is estimated that Elephants can live up to 65 years in the wild. Elephants can live as long as their teeth will support them. As each tooth is worn down it passes to the front of the mouth and falls out to be replaced by the next in line. When the last tooth is used the Elephant is unable to chew its food properly. At this point they can chew softer vegetation in swamps and grasslands.
  • Mortality: Due to old age, drought, accidental slips and falls, bulls fighting in musth, killed by humans in defense of their crops and poaching. Lions, working together in groups may attack and kill young Elephants.
  • Tidbits: Elephants walk with one basic gait, and amble averaging 4-5 mph. By increasing their stride they can attain 10-13 mph, with a top speed of 25 mph. Elephants are good swimmers and can use their trunk as a snorkel. They mainly coexist with the Buffalo, Bush pig, and the Bushbuck. They will seek out Lions in their area and chase them away. Dogs can smell 400 times that of man. The Elephant can smell 2800 times that of man.
  • Populations: In 1930s and 1940s the African Elephant population was 3-5 million throughout Africa. 1979 – 1.3 million (decline due to heavy poaching and culling) 1987 – 760,000 1989 – 609,000 1998 – 750,000 2003 – 300,000 – 450,000 As of 2003 the Savannah Elephant population was 200,000-430,000 The Forest Elephant……………………………80,000 – 210,000 The Asian Elephant……………………………..41,500 – 52,350