names in other languages
unusual features/differences from similar animals
Impossible to confuse with any other animal.
visible male/female differences
Besides the male’s penis and the female’s nipples, the males are larger, taller and twice as heavy as cows. Bulls typically have thicker tusks and wider heads. In profile males have a more rounded forehead, and a more curved outline to the back. An elephant’s height can be estimated from the size of its footprints. For females the shoulder height is approximately 5,5 times the length of the hind footprint and for males shoulder height is multiplying the circumference of the front spoor by 2.5 approximately or 5,8 times the length of the hind footprint.
The tallest bull ever measured was 4 m at the shoulder with a guessed weight of 10 tons. The biggest tusks from Southern Africa on record is in the British Museum and weigh 101,7 kg and 96,3 kg respectively. The heaviest reliably weighed tusks are 102,3 kg and 107,3 kg, are from near Mount Kilimanjaro.
habitat and distribution
Typically found in tree savanna, woodland and grassland near rivers, flood plains and similar areas providing food, water and shade. Dependent on water but can move up to 80 km from it. Their ability to move long distances allows them to use several different habitats within a wide area, and to move through habitats that provide no resources.
Diet is very unselective: when browsing acacias they swallow more wood than leaves. In summer grass forms the bulk of the diet, replaced in winter by woody plants. They eat soil, salt encrustations and rocks to obtain sodium and trace elements. Intake is about 150 kg wet weight per day. Elephants and crops cannot co-exist as this leads to confrontations with farmers.
A single calf weighing 120 kg and with a shoulder height 90 cm are born throughout the year after a gestation of 22 months. Calves are weaned at 3-8 years, just before the birth of the next calf. Calves are killed by lions and spotted hyenas. Permanent tusks erupt at 18 months in males and at 27 months in females.
Herds are matriarchal and females stay in their family groups. Females are sexually mature at 9-18 years and males at 7-18 years. Lifespan is 60 years.
behavior and habits
When using a spotlight at night, elephants turn their heads away when the light is shone into their eyes. Active during day and night, alternating feeding with movement, resting and drinking. They rest in shade in the heat of the day. Elephants lie down to sleep. The trunk is used to put food into the mouth and can pick small objects like single seeds yet is powerful enough to uproot trees. Trees are pushed over, bark is chiseled off with the tusks and roots are dug up with the feet and tusks. As the molars wear down they are replaced from behind in a series of six in each half of each jaw. Once the sixth molar is worn down the elephant cannot chew properly and slowly dies of starvation. Elephants suck about 4 liters of water into the trunk and spurt it into the mouth. They prefer clean water and intake is 120 liters a day for an adult bull. If no surface water is available they dig in river beds and make large holes that other animals also use. Elephants are not territorial.
Spreading and flapping the ears, head shaking, kicking up dust, standing tall and mock charging are used to intimidate threats and rivals. In a serious charge the ears back against the neck and the trunk is tucked up under the chin. Elephants have an inexplicable fascination with old elephant bones are they are carefully investigated by feeling with the trunk and carried around.
From the age of 25 upward bulls periodically go into must when their testosterone levels rise to six times the usual level. The must period becomes comes more often and lasts longer as bulls age then decreases in length after 45. Must bulls wander widely in search of females in heat and join female herds to check for cows that are close to oestrous. The glands on the sides of their heads swell and produce a sticky, smelly secretion during the must and urine dribbles continuously. The penis sheath and the inside of the back legs become stained dark green and gives of the typical elephant smell.
Bulls in must walk with their heads held high and become very aggressive. Must bulls will fight to the death over access to females
Elephants are very vocal, producing a wide variety of squeals, screams and high-pitched trumpeting which are audible to humans. 75% Of the vocal communication uses frequencies too low for humans to hear, commonly down to 14 vibrations per second. Some infrasonic calls are very loud at 110 decibels and carry for at least 5 kilometers.
Part of one call sounds like water sloshing in a pipe.
dung and field sign
Roughly spherical dung, very coarse and fibrous with undigested fragments of wood and bark. Rhino dung is comparable in size but more cylindrical. Demolished trees and bushes. Mud smears on trees and rocks above 1.8 m can only be made by elephants. Holes dug in river beds.
Shoulder height can be calculated by:
- Bulls: multiplying the circumference of the front spoor by 2.5 or 5.8 times the length of the hind footprint.
- For cows, multiply the circumference of the hind footprint 5.5 times