Giants: African Elephant

(Loxodonta africana)

Maximum Length = 25 feet (7.5 metres)
Maximum Weight = 6.6 tons (6 tonnes)* 

The largest living land animal, the African Elephant is more temperamental and harder to train than its smaller Indian counterpart (Elephas maximus).  African Elephants can be distinguished from Indian Elephants by their larger, triangular ear flaps, 4 instead of 5 toenails on its front feet, and 2 finger-like extensions on the tip of the trunk instead of one. Long hunted for the ivory in their tusks, African Elephants are now endangered in the wild and their range reduced to a fraction of what it was historically.  African Elephants sharpen their tusks against convenient trees, often pushing them over in the process, and must consume hundreds of pounds of vegetation each day to sustain their titanic bulk.  As a consequence, African Elephants strongly re-shape the entire appearance of their habitat.  African Elephants are intelligent and highly social, forming matriarchal societies led by a dominant female.  Males usually live in bachelor herds and generally do not consort with the females outside breeding season.  During the breeding season, males enter a highly agitated state known as musth, during which they become highly combative and quite dangerous.  Recent research by Cynthia Moss has demonstrated that African Elephants communicate with one another through low-frequency rumbles that are below the threshold of human hearing.  Despite their flat-footed appearance, elephants actually walk on tip-toe, supported largely by great spongy pads that form most of each foot's cross-sectional area. Elephants are also the only animals with four knees.  Historians speculate that a dwarf form of the African Elephant, known as the Forest Elephant, may be the type of elephant that Carthaginian general Hannibal used to cross the Alps.

*1 ton = 2,000 pounds:  1 tonne = 1,000 kilograms


ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research
Text and illustrations R. Aidan Martin
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