Meet the World's Elephants

Elephants are a group of 3 species within the family Elephantidae.

These animals are well known as they are the world's largest land animal. The largest species of elephant, the African savanna elephant may reach a length up to 5m (16ft) long with a weight up to 7 tonnes (7 tons).

They have a number of identifiable, unique features. The most obvious of these is the trunk. This is a flexible elongation of the upper lip and nose. It includes thousands of muscles and is used to collect food, lift items and suck up water.

Another feature is the tusks which are the upper incisors. In all species the male has large visible tusks. Male African elephants have visible tusks while those of females do not protrude past the lips.

A major threat to elephants is poaching to obtain the ivory from which their tusks are formed.

The final feature is the large ears which fan out on either side of the head. These are filled with a network of blood vessels which helps them to remove heat from their body. African elephants have larger ears than the Asian elephants and it is said that they look like the shape of Africa.

African savanna elephant

A herd of African Savanna Elephants

Elephants of all species will form a group known as a herd (also called a parade). These herds are matriarchal with the most experienced female in the group leading them. Males tend to only join these herds for the period during which they are receptive to mating.

The elephants have the longest gestation of any mammal lasting between 18 and 22 months.

Captive elephants may live for up to 80 years while in the wild an age around 60 years is more common.

Around 16 hours of their day are spent feeding. They will spend four hours sleeping with two of these normally spent standing and the other two spent on their side.

They are able to run at speeds up to 30km/h (18mph) per hour.

While elephants have thick skin it is highly sensitive to the point that they can feel a fly land on their skin. It is also prone to sunburn and they will roll in mud or dust bathe them to protect against this.

Much like humans have a dominant hand elephants have a dominant tusk which they favor. They will use their left or right tusk more often and this one shows more wear.

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Elephants are herbivores. Their diet includes a range of grass, fruit, bushes, twigs, roots, leaves and bark.

While eating elephants cause significant damage including uprooting trees. Some areas have changed from closed woodland to open savanna after being destroyed by elephants.

Each day an elephant will need to eat between 75 and 150kg (165-330lbs). To fulfill this they may spend as much as 16 hours of their day feeding. They will also consume 75-190 liters (20-50 gallons) of water each day.


As their name suggests the Asian elephants are found in Asia while the African elephant species are found in Africa.

The Asian elephants can be found in scrub forest, rainforest and along rivers.

African savanna elephants live in lowland and montane forests, woodlands, savanna and flood plains.

Finally the African forest elephant can be found in semi-deciduous rainforests within the Congo basin.

asian elephant

An Asian Elephant

Elephant Species - A full list of the 3 Species

  • African Savanna Elephant (Loxodonta african)
  • African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis)
  • Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus)

Three subspecies of the Asian elephant are recognized

  • Indian (Mainland) Elephant (E. maximus indicus)
  • Sumatran Elephant (E. maximus sumatranus)
  • Sri Lankan Elephant (E. maximus maximus)

Species Profiles - A detailed fact file on some of the world's elephant species


Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Encyclopedia Britannica. 2021. Elephant | Description, Habitat, Scientific Names, Weight, & Facts. [online] Available at: <https://www.britannica.com/animal/elephant-mammal> [Accessed 14 January 2021].

World Wildlife Fund. 2021. Elephant | Species | WWF. [online] Available at: <https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/elephant> [Accessed 14 January 2021].

Seaworld.org. 2021. All About Elephants | Seaworld Parks & Entertainment. [online] Available at: <https://seaworld.org/animals/all-about/elephants/> [Accessed 14 January 2021].

Animals.sandiegozoo.org. 2021. Elephant | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/elephant> [Accessed 14 January 2021].

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