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April 21, 2018  |  Login

African Elephant
Loxodonta Africana

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What Are They Like?

The African bush elephant is the largest living land animal. Males (bulls) can grow to 12 feet tall (3.66 meters) at the shoulder and up to 24 feet (7.3 meters) in length, and can weigh up to 15,000 pounds (6,804 kilograms). Females (cows) are slightly smaller, reaching a height of 9-10 feet (2.7-3 meters) and weighing between 8,000-10,000 pounds (3,629-4,536 kilograms). Their skin is wrinkled and gray, and their extremely large ears not only help them hear things no human ear can detect, but also serve as giant fans to help them keep cool in Africa’s searing heat.

Where Do They Live?

African elephants can be found from sea level to altitudes of 16,000 feet (4,876.8 meters), across the continent south of the Sahara Desert (“sub-Saharan” Africa). During times of abundant water, they prefer the wide, semi-arid savannas, which offer plenty of grasses and other vegetation for them to eat. When it is hot and dry, they seek out habitat near forest streams where they can find enough fruit, tree bark, leaves and other plants to eat.

Did You Know?
Elephants often greet one another by putting the tip of their trunk in another’s mouth.

How Are Babies Made?

Pheromone receptors—two small holes in the roof of all elephants’ mouths—can pick up information that helps elephants know when to mate. A bull elephant can pick up information from the urine of a female that tells him she is fertile. This is extremely important, since it only happens for about three days every four years. Female (cow) elephants reach reproductive age at about ten years. After 22 months of pregnancy (the longest among mammals), the female gives birth to a single calf that weighs more than 220 pounds (99.8 kilograms) and is almost three feet (0.9 meter) tall at birth.

What Do They Eat?

Elephants are herbivores, capable of eating both grass and woody vegetation. They eat massive amounts of food—300-400 pounds (136-181.4 kilograms) each day. Only about 45 percent of that food is utilized to meet the elephant’s nutritional needs; the rest is passed through its digestive system.

Did You Know?
Unlike the Asian elephant, both male and female African elephants have tusks.

What Do They Do?

Elephants are extremely social animals, traveling in family groups of nine to ten animals, usually made up of females and young elephants led by the oldest and largest female. Adult males rarely join the pack. Males ultimately live alone and only approach the females during mating season. Elephants always stay near their families and will always be able to recognize them. When conditions are good and there’s plenty of food and water, elephants congregate in larger herds of up to100 elephants.

How Concerned Should We Be?

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which keeps a “Red List” of species in danger worldwide, lists the African Elephant as “endangered.” In the 1930s and 1940s, scientists estimate that there were between three and four million African elephants roaming the continent. Just a few decades later, the number stood at around 1.3 million. Between 1979 and 1989, African elephant populations dropped from 1.3 million to around 750,000. In Kenya, the population dropped from 130,000 to just 17,000. Poaching of elephants for their ivory tusks was the main reason for the steep decline.  Even though killing elephants for their tusks is prohibited under international laws like the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), illegal killing of elephants to support the black market ivory trade is still big business—and a big threat to Africa’s remaining bush elephants.

What's Being Done?

Although they are protected under international law, elephants are still hunted illegally in Africa for their meat and their ivory. Some African countries—including Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, and Botswana—claim that they need to sell ivory to stimulate their economies. They also want to reduce the size of large elephant herds that invade ranches and farms and destroy crops. To date, only two legal auctions of elephant ivory recovered from poachers have been allowed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and requests for additional ivory auctions have been denied because DNA analysis has proven that most of the illegally poached ivory to be offered for sale comes from the very countries that want to auction the ivory. To help prevent herds of elephants from damaging crops, new research has shown that it is possible to drive groups of elephants away from humans by using the recorded sounds of angry honey bees. Getting elephants to flee an area is far more humane than slaughtering this endangered giant.


Gentle giants: Cute endangered elephants are cared for by conservationists - BBC wildlife

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