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Gentle Giants The Elephant

Updated on August 4, 2007

The Gentle Giants

ELEPHANT - Loxodonta Africana

Physical Characteristics

The African elephant is the largest living land mammal. Of all its specialized features, the muscular trunk is perhaps the most extraordinary. It serves as a nose, hand, extra foot, signaling device and tool for gathering food, siphoning water, dusting, and digging.! The long trunk permits the elephant to reach as high as 23 feet. It is capable of powerful twisting and coiling movements used for tearing down trees or fighting.The tusks are another notable feature of both males and females. The tusks, another remarkable feature, are greatly elongated incisors (elephants have no canine teeth). Tusks grow for most of an elephant's lifetime and are an indicator of age.Elephants are right or left-tusked, using the favored tusk more often, thus shortening it from constant wear. Tusks differ in size, shape and angle and researchers can use them to identify individuals.


Elephants can live in nearly any habitat that has adequate quantities of food and water. Their ideal habitat consists of plentiful grass and browse. Elephant graze and browse and eat up to 600 pounds of food a day. They can be extremely destructive in their feeding habits by pushing over trees, pulling them up by their roots or breaking off branches


They are widely distributed throughout central, western and eastern Africa, south of the Sahara, with the forest elephant inhabiting the rainforests of the Congo basin. There are isolated populations in the southern African sub-region.


Elephants are gregarious and form small family groups consisting of an older matriarch and several generations of relatives. These family groups are often visited by mature males, who check for females in estrus. Several interrelated family groups may inhabit an area and know each other well. When they meet at watering holes and feeding places, they greet each other affectionately.

Smell is the most highly developed sense, but sound deep growling or rumbling noises is the principle means of communication. Some researchers think that each individual has its signature growl by which it can be distinguished. Sometimes elephants communicate with an ear-splitting blast when in danger or alarmed, causing others to form a protective circle around the younger members of the family group. Elephants make low-frequency calls, many of which, though loud, are too low for humans to hear. These sounds allow elephants to communicate with one another at distances of five or six miles.

Reproduction: Single young born any time of the year. Gestation 22 months.

Life span: 60 to 70 years

Usually only one calf is born to a pregnant female. An orphaned calf will usually be adopted by one of the family's lactating females or suckled by various females. Elephants are very attentive mothers, and because most elephant behavior has to be learned, they keep their offspring with them for many years. Tusks erupt at 16 months but do not show externally until 30 months. The calf suckles with its mouth (the trunk is held over its head); when its tusks are 5 or 6 inches long, they begin to disturb the mother and she weans it. Once weaned usually at age 4 or 5, the calf still remains in the maternal group.

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Predators and Threats

When AWF chose the elephant as its logo over 40 years ago, the elephant's survival was not a subject of great concern. Today, it is difficult for elephants to live outside protected parks like ( The Kruger National Park of South Africa) as they are pressured by poachers and by the habitat loss that comes with increasing human settlement. For more than 40 years, AWF has been involved with elephant research in eastern and southern Africa, developing management strategies to minimize human-elephant conflict. Elephants are an essential component of African ecosystems, but when they are confined by park boundaries and human settlements, their impact can upset the ecological balance. Thus, the identification and protection of migration corridors and dispersal areas outside of parks is critical.

Did You Know?

  • The elephant is distinguished by its high level of intelligence, interesting behavior, methods of communication and complex social structure.

  • Elephants seem to be fascinated with the tusks and bones of dead elephants, fondling and examining them. The myth that they carry them to secret "elephant burial grounds," however, has no factual base.

  • Elephants are very social, frequently touching and caressing one another and entwining their trunks.

  • Elephants demonstrate concern for members of their families they take care of weak or injured members and appear to grieve over a dead companion.


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  • profile image

    Sarah 6 years ago

    i love the baby elephant!!! hes so cute:) this artical gets to me because im actually doing a paper on the abuse of circus elephants.

  • angela_michelle profile image

    Angela Michelle Schultz 7 years ago from United States

    I find elephants extremely fascinating. Although, they are so strong, I imagine, if they wanted to harm you, they really could.

  • LRobbins profile image

    Laurel 8 years ago from Germany

    I love elephants, great info, very informative. I can't imagine being pregnant for 22 months - wow!

  • Annalene profile image

    Annalene 10 years ago from Richards bay South-Africa

    Hi there suscan long time no hear, I am glad you enjoyed it

  • profile image

    suscan 10 years ago

    Ver nice. Interesting article. i love the information you post on animals. It is so sad they have been hunted for their tusks for so long.

  • Annalene profile image

    Annalene 10 years ago from Richards bay South-Africa

    I am so glad you like them. Most people go for the cute and the cuddly. I think because they are so humongous they don't really get the attention they deserve. Their skin feels quite rough:)

  • SneakyHousewife profile image

    SneakyHousewife 10 years ago

    Anna, I love this. I have never seen the skin of an elephant so close up. I wonder how they see with such long curly eye lashes. When I was bumped on the neck by an elephant...just a love tap. Still, never saw their skin so close up. Wonder what it feels like.



  • Annalene profile image

    Annalene 10 years ago from Richards bay South-Africa

    Hi there Janice, unfortunately not. I have some awesome pictures that we took in Kruger, but my husband's scanner broke and I couldn't wait any longer. I am starting to put up all my wildlife picture's on shareapic.

  • profile image

    Janice 10 years ago

    Lovely article. The photo's are beautifuly. Did you take them. I love the baby. Interesting article.

  • Annalene profile image

    Annalene 10 years ago from Richards bay South-Africa

    I grew up in Africa and are quite used to our wild animals. You are so right bluewings, each time I see an Elephant I am in awe of their quiet strength. cgull isn't it ironic that their awesome tusks are the main reason they get killed in the most horrendous ways! Their habitat is a huge problem every 5 years, whole families get culled in the Kruger National Park. A very distressful time not only for the Elephants but also for the Rangers and Veterinarians. They have tried many other solutions but unfortunately culling is still taking place.

  • bluewings profile image

    bluewings 10 years ago from Milkyway

    Their tusks look so handsome! It's hard to comprehend how that little baby elephant becomes such a handsome giant.If they were not so huge ,I'd have loved to have an elephant as a pet,a friend,but they might not fit under the ceiling of my house,lol.Their calmness ,inspite of their obvious strength,perhaps is the perfect testimony to the axiom 'When you have power,it shows'.Great article,Annie!

  • cgull8m profile image

    cgull8m 10 years ago from North Carolina

    Great Post Annalene, I loved it, learnt a lot about their tusks, right handed or left handed, very interesting. Also about their communications. Too bad their habitat is getting limited everyday and then they are hunted for their tusks. Loved this Hub Annalene, well done. Cheers.