Animal of the Month
December 2017

Name: African Elephant

Class: Mammalia
Order: Proboscidea
Family: Elephantidae
Subfamily: Elephantinae
Genus: Loxodonta
Number of Species: 2
Loxodonta africana (African Bush Elephant or African Savannah Elephant)
Loxodonta cyclotis (African Forest Elephant)

Size: Bush elephant 11.5 feet tall, forest elephant 8.5 feet tall.
Weight: Bush elephant about 6 tons, forest elephant about 3 tons.

Characteristics: Massive bodies, long pillar-like legs with rounded feet, large ears, an elongated nose forming a trunk, small tail with a tuft of black fur, sports two large tusks.
Color(s): Grayish-brown
Behavior: Constantly active, lives in herds
Preferred Habitat: Tropical and subtropical forests, grasslands, woodlands and savannahs.
Range: Across Sub-Saharan Africa
Diet: Grass, roots, bark,
Lifespan: 60-70 years

Status: Vulnerable, some populations are Endangered

Animals come in all shapes and sizes, though only one animal can claim to be the largest of the land animals! The African elephant is the largest living terrestrial animal on Earth. They can be found across Sub-Saharan Africa, living in various savannahs, forests and woodlands.

For many years it was thought that there are only two living species of elephant: the African elephant and the Asian elephant. However, recent research has determined that the African elephant is comprised of two separate species! They are now known as the African bush elephant or savannah elephant, and the African forest elephant. Bush elephants can be found on the savannahs or in forests, while forest elephants exclusively live in forests. Bush elephants are the larger species, reaching heights of 11 or 12 feet. Forest elephants are smaller, topping out at about eight feet tall. Bush elephants can also weigh around six tons. Forest elephants weigh about half that amount, though three tons is still incredibly heavy!

The two species may be different in size and in their DNA, but much of their behavior is similar. They use their large ears to catch the breeze and cool their bodies. They use their trunks to communicate and to manipulate objects like food. These elephants spend most of their time eating day and night, consuming up to 300 pounds a day! Both male and female African elephants possess long tusks, which are long teeth that extend out of the mouth. They differ from Asian elephants, where only the males possess tusks. African elephants use these tusks to find food as well as to defend themselves. Males will also use their tusks to fight rival males.

Like their Asian counterparts, African elephants live in herds. Female elephants live in herds with their young and adolescent males. These herds are led by an alpha female called the matriarch. When they are older, males will live together in "bachelor herds", and then finally live solitary lives. Adult males only come into contact with female herds to breed. Female elephants will start to have babies at 10-12 years of age. A pregnant elephant will carry her baby for 22 months-that's almost two years!

Elephants are incredibly social creatures. When a baby elephant is born, the whole herd will acknowledge its existence by touching it with their trunks! There is also a myth that elephants die in graveyards, such as the one depicted in The Lion King. While this is incorrect, elephants have been known to hold "funerals" for deceased elephants by standing around a body and touching it with their trunks. These animals feel far more than is taken for granted!

The IUCN currently classifies the African bush elephant as vulnerable, though many other parts of the world consider these elephants to be endangered. Meanwhile the African forest elephant is not formally evaluated. In any case, elephants are under heavy pressure due to poaching. Elephants are primarily hunted for their tusks, which are used to make ivory products. They are also affected by commercial logging, mining operations and human expansion. There are even grim reports that if these trends continue, African elephants could become extinct within our lifetimes. This would be a terrible loss for our planet.

Even as the elephant population declines, there are numerous campaigns fighting to protect them. Many African nations have protected large sections of land and stepped up law enforcement to crack down on poaching. African Elephants are also protected under CITES I or CITES II depending on the area. Certain countries allow limited trophy hunting of elephants, but many countries forbid it and many non-African countries ban the trade of elephant products.

African elephants have been registered as threatened in the United States under the Endangered Species Act. In 2014, President Barrak Obama strengthened elephant protections by banning the importation of elephant products from Tanzania and Zimbabwe. However, in November 2017 newly elected President Donald Trump attempted to partially reverse this provision, allowing American hunters to import elephant products from Zimbabwe as well as Zambia. Fortunately conservationists, celebrities and many concerned citizens voiced outrage at this senseless action. President Trump has since said he will postpone his decision "…until such time as I review all conservation facts". This is a fantastic example of how the public can shape animal conservation!

To learn more about these fantastic beasts and how you can help them, check out these awesome organizations:

International Elephant Foundation-Dedicated to producing a sustanible future for elephants.

ElephantVoices-An organization that focuses on studying elephant intelligence, social behavior and communication as well as protecting them.

Save The Elephants-A charity dedicated to addressing and ending threats to elephants.

And don't forget about one of the most powerful animal advocates out there…YOU! Please write to your local representatives and urge them to stand up for African elephants!


Contact Us