African Elephant

African Elephant Facts
Size Up to 13 ft (3.96 m)
Speed Up to 24 mph (39 km/h)
Weight Up to 6 tons
Lifespan 60-70 years
Food Plants, fruit, roots
Predators Crocodiles, lions, hyenas
Habitat African steppe
Order Proboscidea
Family Elephantidae
Scientific name Loxodonta africana
Characteristics Trunk, tusks, large ears

The African elephant is - on land - the heaviest mammal in the world. It is also the second largest animal after the giraffe. His two "relatives", the Asian elephant and the forest elephant are a little smaller and lighter. Its most striking features are its trunk and its tusks.

The Trunk – a Unique Tool

The trunk constitutes both the upper lip and the nose of the elephant. Often the elephant appears to be drinking with its trunk, but the elephant only sucks the water up to spray it into its mouth. The elephant can suck in up to 2 gal (8 l) of water in one go with its trunk. But the trunk has many more functions: The elephant can use it to dig, to grab or take up, draw, push, and throw things. Eight big muscles help the elephant to move its trunk.

African Elephant African Elephant - Photo: JONATHAN PLEDGER/Shutterstock

A Thick-Skinned Animal – Really?

Elephants are often called thick-skinned animals. Their skin is indeed thicker than ours. Ours is only a few millimeters thick, while the elephant’s skin measures about 0.8 inch (2 cm). If we call another person “thick-skinned”, we usually talk about someone who is not very sensitive. Yet, this does not apply to elephants. Elephants have a very sensitive skin and can even get a sunburn.

African Elephant African Elephant - Photo: RZ Design/Shutterstock

Why Do Elephants Splash Mud on Their Bodies?

The mud protects the elephants from sunburns and the heat.

The Tusks and Teeth

Elephants have tusks and molar teeth. The tusks have developed from incisors and are also called ivory. Even though it is strictly prohibited, elephants are still hunted down by poachers because of the ivory. The elephant needs its molar teeth to grind plant food. They have five sets of molars – six sets if you also count milk teeth. While our third set consists of false teeth, elephants still can go on munching happily.

African Elephant African Elephant - Photo: Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock

The Big Thirst

An elephant consumes about 80 gal (300 l) of water per day. For comparison: Humans should drink about 0.5-0.8 gal (2-3 l) every day. Elephants can sniff where they can find water in the wide steppes of Africa and Asia – with their tusks of course.

Ears Like a Fan

In contrast to its colleagues, the African steppe elephant has huge ears. They help it to cool down, because during midday heat an elephant can easily have an attack of sweating. It pumps blood into its ears, uses them like a fan and then pumps the cooled down blood back into its body. African forest elephants and Asian elephants mainly loiter under the shady canopy of leaves of tropical forests or they are active at night. Therefore they do not need ears of this size.

African Elephant African Elephant - Photo: Four Oaks/Shutterstock

Which enemies do African Elephants have?

Adult elephants have no enemies (except humans), but young elephants do have. If the animals bathe in a river or lake, they can fall prey to crocodiles. Sometimes young or sick animals are also killed by leopards, hyenas or lions.


African elephants have the longest gestation period of all mammals: 22 months! At birth, the little calf already measures 35 inch (90 cm), weighs 220 lb (100 kg), and can stand on its own legs after half an hour. It is breast-fed by its mother for one year.

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