- The Animal Encyclopedia for Kids

African Elephant

African Bush 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

Main Characteristics

The African elephant is - on land - the heaviest mammal in the world. It is also the second largest animal after the giraffe. Its 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.

Physical Description

How Much Does an Elephant Weigh?

Elephants are the heaviest mammals to live on land. A fully grown male elephant can weigh up to six tons. That's roughly the same as six small cars. A hippopotamus “only” weighs up to 4.5 tons and a rhinoceros 3-4 tons. There are mammals, which are much heavier than the African Elephant, but they don't live on land. They live in water, for example the whale shark or the blue whale.

What Size Is an Elephant?

Elephants reach a height of 13 feet (3.96 meters), which is almost the length of an average small car. To imagine it, you just have to turn it 90 degrees in your mind. There is only one animal larger than the elephant: the giraffe. It grows 18.7 feet (5-6 meters) tall.

African Elephant African Elephant - Photo: JONATHAN PLEDGER/Shutterstock

The Elephant Trunk

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 two gallons (eight liters) 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.

In 2021, researchers found that elephants can suck three liters of water per second. At a speed of 330 mph (530 km/h). That's 50 times faster than a human sneeze. The animals also widen their nostrils and dilate their trunk by 30%.

Why Do Elephants Have Big Ears?

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: RZ Design/Shutterstock

Why Do Elephants Have Tusks?

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.

Is It True That Elephants Are "Thick Skinned"?

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 inches (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 very sensitive skin and can even get a sunburn.

African Elephant African Elephant - Photo: Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock


Why Do Elephants Bath in Mud?

The mud protects the elephants from sunburns and the heat.

How Much Water Does an Elephant Drink a Day?

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

Enemies and Threats

Do African Elephants Have Enemies?

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 Elephant African Elephant - Photo: Four Oaks/Shutterstock


African elephants have the longest gestation period of all mammals: 22 months! At birth, the little calf already measures 35 inches (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.

The African Bush Elephant Is Related To:

Animals in the Same Biome:


Pupils are welcome to use this information at school for animal profiles, fact sheets, essays, work sheets, presentations, posters or homework. All information appearing on this site has been precisely and thoroughly researched, nevertheless should you notice any errors, please do notify us via email.

See all topics on

Copyright © 2018-2023 All rights reserved. No part of this site or its content may be reproduced without the permission of the copyright holder.