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Loxodonta africana [lok' suh don' tuh af' rih kan uh]; the heaviest animal on land
The heaviest animal on land, an adult bull elephant weighs from 12,000 to 14,000 pounds, and an adult cow from 8,000 to 10,000 pounds. The second tallest member of the animal kingdom, an adult bull stands about 11-1/2 feet at the shoulder. An African elephant is about the same height at its shoulder and its rump, and has a slight hollow in the middle of its back. Both bulls and cows have well developed tusks, which may grow up to 8 feet long on a bull.
African elephants can be distinguished from Indian elephants by the size of their ears and their trunks. An adult bull African elephant's ears may be as much as 4 feet across, while the Indian elephant's ears are much smaller. An African elephant has two fingerlike knobs on the tip of its trunk, while the Indian elephant only has one. Indian elephants are also smaller and lighter than African elephants.
Distribution and Habitat
African elephants live wild only in areas south of the Sahara, almost exclusively restricted to national parks and game preserves. They are found in deserts, forests, savannas, river valleys and marshes.
Females give birth every four to nine years. Most births occur during the rainy seasons, but may occur any time of the year. Elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal, 20 to 22 months. At birth, an elephant weighs about 200 pounds and stands about 3 feet tall. Although the calf can see, smell and walk soon after birth, it will not be fully weaned until it is 3 or 4 years old, and will not reach adult size until about the age of 20 years. Until it is fully independent, an elephant calf enjoys the protection of every female in the herd. An elephant cow will sacrifice its own life to save that of a calf, even if the calf is not hers. Daughters remain in their natal herd for life; sons leave their natal herd upon reaching sexual maturity.
Sexual maturity is reached between 10 and 12 years of age. Average life span for an African elephant in the wild is about 70 years, with signs of age beginning to appear at about 40 years.
African elephants live in herds of 10 to 50 or more. These herds are almost always led by the oldest female, and most of the herd members are related to each other. The matriarch is responsible for determining where the herd feeds, when it moves, and when it rests. The only male members of a herd are juveniles; adult bulls spend their lives alone or in bachelor herds, only coming near a herd for mating purposes.
Elephants feed on a variety of vegetable matter, including leaves, roots, bark, grasses and fruits. An adult elephant can consume from 220 to 660 pounds of food and up to 50 gallons of water per day.
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This page was last updated on August 31, 2018.