Did you know there are only three species of elephant living today? They are: the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant and the Asian elephant (also known as the Indian elephant). All other species are extinct.
Elephants are the world’s largest land animals now living. The largest elephant ever recorded was shot in Angola in 1956. This male weighed about 24,000 lb (11,000 kg), with a shoulder height of 3.96 meters (13.0 ft), a metre (yard) taller than the average male African elephant.
The elephant’s gestation period is 22 months, the longest of any land animal. At birth it is common for an elephant calf to weigh 120 kilograms (260 lb). They typically live for 50 to 70 years, but the oldest recorded elephant lived for 82 years. Healthy adult elephants have no natural predators, although lions may take calves or weak individuals.
With a mass just over 5 kg (11 lb), elephant brains are larger than those of any other land animal. A wide variety of behaviours associated with intelligence have been attributed to elephants, including those associated with grief, making music, art, altruism, play, use of tools, compassion and self-awareness.
Elephants live in a structured social order. The social lives of male and female elephants are very different. The females spend their entire lives in tightly knit family groups made up of mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts. These groups are led by the eldest female, or matriarch. Adult males, on the other hand, live mostly solitary lives.
The tusks of an elephant are its second upper incisors. Tusks grow continuously; an adult male’s tusks grow about 18 cm (7 in) a year. Tusks are used to dig for water, salt, and roots; to debark trees to eat the bark; to dig into baobab trees to get at the pulp inside; and to move trees and branches when clearing a path. In addition, they are used for marking trees to establish territory, and occasionally as weapons.
The proboscis, or trunk, is a fusion of the nose and upper lip, elongated and specialized to become the elephant’s most important and versatile appendage. African elephants are equipped with two fingerlike projections at the tip of their trunk, while Asians have only one. The elephant’s trunk is sensitive enough to pick up a single blade of grass, yet strong enough to rip the branches off a tree.
The trunk is also used for drinking. Elephants suck water up into the trunk—up to 14 liters (15 quarts) at a time—and then blow it into their mouths. Elephants also suck up water to spray on their bodies during bathing. On top of this watery coating, the animals will then spray dirt and mud, which dries and acts as a protective sunscreen. When swimming, the trunk makes an excellent snorkel.
African elephants, are currently found in 37 countries in Africa. They are distinguished from Asian elephants in several ways, the most noticeable being their much larger ears. Also, the African elephant is typically larger than the Asian elephant and has a concave back. In Asian elephants, only males have tusks, but both males and females of African elephants have tusks and are usually less hairy than their Asian cousins.
Elephants are herbivores and spend up to 16 hours a day eating plants. Their diets are highly variable, both seasonally and across habitats and regions. Elephants are primarily browsers, feeding on the leaves, bark, and fruits of trees and shrubs, but they may also eat considerable grasses and herb.