Elefante Africano (Sp), Afrikanischer Elefant (G), Eléphant d'Afrique (F), Afrikaans olifant (Af). "Elephant" is from the Greek elaphus, the Latin elephantus, for this animal.
DESCRIPTION Bush elephant: (male) Shoulder height 10-13 feet (300-400 cm). Weight 9,000-13,000 pounds (4,000-6,000 kg). (female) Shoulder height 8-11 feet (240-340 cm). Weight 5,000-8,000 pounds (2,200-3,500 kg). Forest elephant: (male) Shoulder height 5-1/2 to 9 feet (170-280 cm). Weight 2,600-8,000 pounds (1,200-3,500 kg). (female) Shoulder height 5-8 feet (160-240 cm). Weight 2,000-6,500 pounds (900-3,000 kg).
The African elephant is larger than the Asian elephant (the one normally found in zoos and circuses), with much larger ears, a more convex forehead, a more sloping back so that the shoulders are the highest point of the animal, 21 pairs of ribs (instead of 19), a maximum of 26 vertebrae in the tail (instead of 33), and two prehensile projections at the tip of the trunk (instead of one).
There are two recognizable types of African elephants, the bush elephant and the forest elephant. They are so unlike that they would be considered separate species if they did not hybridize where their ranges overlap. The bush, or savanna, elephant is the larger, with larger ears that are triangular in shape, a larger skull, and thick tusks that curve forward. The forest elephant is smaller, with smaller, more oval ears, a smaller skull, and thinner, straighter tusks that are directed downward. In overlap areas, many degrees of hybridization can be observed.
The African elephant is a ponderous creature with pillar-like limbs and a huge head and ears. The trunk is the greatly lengthened nose, which is flexible and powerfully muscled, with two prehensile projections at the tip. The trunk is used as a tool and weapon in addition to its breathing and smelling functions. The upper incisor teeth protrude from the head as tusks in both sexes, although some individuals are tuskless. The tusks vary greatly in length and weight, and are used for fighting, in digging for water and as an aid in feeding. Elephants use one tusk (usually the right tusk) more than the other, thereby wearing it down to a shorter length. Occasionally, an abnormal elephant will have two or more tusks growing from one socket. The skin is thick and wrinkled, medium gray in color, and sparsely covered with coarse hair. The tail is fairly long and has stiff hairs at the tip. There are five nails on the front feet and four on the hind feet, although some are usually missing from injury or wear. Females are about two-thirds the size of males and have thinner, lighter tusks; otherwise they are similar.
BEHAVIOR Gregarious, with cows and calves always in family herds consisting of mothers, daughters and sisters. Bulls are often in bachelor groups, and old bulls are sometimes solitary. Most breeding seems to take place during the rainy season, though it may occur year-round. There is normally a single calf born after a gestation period of about 22 months. Newborn calves can stand in a half-hour, and travel with the herd in two days. Females are sexually mature at 14, and may bear 4-5 calves in a lifetime. Life expectancy is 50-70 years.
Elephants feed during evening, night and morning. They rest during midday, and normally sleep standing up. An adult male will consume about 375 pounds (170 kg) of leaves, twigs, bark, roots, fruit, grass and crops each day; a female about 330 pounds (150 kg). They are voracious, destructive feeders and can be very detrimental to their habitat. They must drink water daily and are constantly on the move in search of food and water. Senses of smell and hearing are very good, but eyesight is poor. Their normal pace is a fast walk, but they can run swiftly for a short distance and are capable of moving silently through the thickest cover. Not able to jump, but can negotiate steep slopes. They are good swimmers. African elephants are intelligent, and not difficult to tame.
HABITAT From subdesert to rain forest, at altitudes from sea level to 12,000 feet (3,650 m), and sometimes even to 15,000 feet (4,570 m). Seldom found very far from water.
DISTRIBUTION Widespread throughout Africa from south of the Sahara to northern Namibia, northern Botswana and northeastern Transvaal in South Africa. The forest elephant lives in the rain forest of western and central Africa; the bush elephant is found in the rest of the range.
REMARKS An elephant with really good ivory (100 pounds, or 45 kg, per tusk used to be the magic number, though these days 70 pounds, or 32 kg, is considered very good) is generally considered Africa's top hunting trophy. Trophy quality is determined by the weight and beauty of the tusks. Finding good, heavy ivory is much more difficult today than it was a few years ago, and many sportsmen spend a great deal of time and money in unsuccessful pursuit. The classic hunting method is by tracking on foot: a large fresh track is found early in the morning, normally near water, and is followed until the elephant is encountered, which is likely to be at midday in the midst of a herd. To penetrate a herd and identify and take a good bull-or to withdraw undetected and unscathed if no shootable bull is found-can be the finest sport in Africa or, for that matter, in the world.
Elephants can be very dangerous when wounded or-especially the female-when provoked. Hunting them today is a serious undertaking, for widespread commercial poaching has driven them into the thickest cover and has left many with festering wounds from inadequate weapons. Short-tempered animals are common, and unprovoked charges an ever-present possibility. Today's elephant hunter should be fit enough to walk long hours, day after day, in humidity and heat, and his feet should be tough enough to resist blistering. He should be psychologically able to withstand the stress of close proximity to these huge, dangerous beasts, and his weapon and shooting ability should be capable of dealing with them at point-blank range.
The African elephant has many estimable qualities, and is respected and admired by those who hunt it. Many professional hunters would rather hunt elephants than anything else, and frequently do so when hunting for their own pleasure.
TAXONOMIC NOTES As many as 25 subspecies of African elephants have been proposed; however, most authorities accept only two: bush elephant (L. a. africana) and forest elephant (L. a. cyclotis<'em>). At one time they were considered separate species; however, they interbreed where their ranges overlap, and many degrees of hybridization can be observed in these areas.
The so-called pygmy elephant (pumilio) of the equatorial rain forest, which was once believed to be a separate species by several taxonomists, it now regarded as either a subspecies of forest elephant that has adapted to an unfavorable habitat, or as merely an immature forest elephant. It is said to stand 5 to 6-1/2 feet (150-200 cm) at the shoulder, weigh 2,000-3,300 pounds (900-1,500 kg), grow very small tusks (that some say are pink), and live in small groups in swampy forests, keeping apart from the larger forest elephants. Little is actually known about this animal.
For record-keeping, we combine all African elephants in one list.