There are two different species of elephants left in the world, the African and the Asian elephant. Elephants have two very distinctive features being their very large ears and their trunk. They range in colour from a very light to very dark grey. Elephants are called pachyderms which means they are thick-skinned animals, their skin is very tough and is around 2.5 cms (1 in) thick. Even though their skin is very thick it is also very sensitive so elephants also have mud baths to protect their skin from insect bites and sunburn. They wallow in water to try and cool down their extremely large bodies in high temperatures. They have large legs which are shaped a bit like columns and large padded feet, they have five hoofed toes on the the front feet and four on the back feet. Male and female African elephants have tusks but only male Asian elephants have them. The tusks continue to grow through most of the elephants life and are an indication of age, an adult male’s tusks can grow about 18 cms (7 in) in a year. Just like humans are either right or left handed elephants too favour one of their tusks, this tusk is often shorter and rounder than the other one as it is used so much more. Elephants teeth are replaced when they are badly worn up until the elephant is about 25 years of age. When the last set of teeth is worn down the elephant isn’t able to chew properly so they become malnourished causing the animal to die younger. The elephants ears are one of their most distinguishing features with the African species ears about twice as large as the Asians, and have a shape similar to the map of Africa. The ears also regulate the body temperature of the elephant. On hot days they will flap their ears which circulates the blood through the numerous veins in the ears and cools it down before returning it to the body which cools the animal down, a bit like an airconditioner. The trunk of the elephant has more than 40,000 muscles in it. African elephants have two finger-like projections at the end of their trunk while Asian elephants only have one. The trunk is sensitive enough to be able to pick a single straw up of the ground but it is also strong enough to tear branches from a tree. Elephants also rely on the trunk for their sense of smell. By putting their trunk in the air and moving it from side to side they are able to find where food is, the location of other elephants and also enemies. The average shoulder height of the elephant is 2.5 to 2.9 metres (8.2 to 9.8 ft) with the male weighing an average of 4.990 kgs (11,000 pounds) with the average female weighing 2.720 kgs (6,000 pounds).
The average lifespan of the elephant is between 50 – 70 years depending on environment and the condition of the elephants teeth.
Elephants are herbivores which means that they only eat plants. They eat all different types of vegetation like grass, leaves, bark, fruit and shrubs. They spend a large part of their day eating plants, usually about 16 hours, and are able to eat a wide variety of things as their trunk allows them to pick things up of the ground as well as reach high up into the trees. Elephants need to eat a large amount of food each day about 100 to 200 kgs each day because they only digest about 40% of the food that they eat. They also need lots of water and drink between 100 to 200 litres (about 30 to 50 gallons) a day, if they are finding it hard to get water they will dig into the ground with their tusks to get it.
The African elephants are found in Africa and live in habitats like grassland savanna and open woodlands. Smaller subspecies of the African elephants can also be found in tropical and subtropical forests. The Asian elephants are found in Southeast Asia, Nepal and India and live in habitats like scrub forest and the edge of rain forests. Their habitat is becoming smaller and smaller due to human expansion but also because they eat such large amounts of food it is hard to confine them to one area as they will easily destroy all the vegetation there is they cannot roam further.
Females and males only come together to mate as they do not live in the same herds. Females will prefer to mate with older, and stronger males as it will give their offspring the best chance of survival. Elephants have a long gestation period of 22 months after which the female will give birth to one calf which can be up to 1 metre (3 ft) tall and weigh about 50 to 113 kgs (110 to 250 pounds). When the calves are born they are quite hairy with a long tail , big ears and a short trunk. They use their mouths to drink milk from their mothers and don’t learn to use their trunk until they are older. Elephant calves don’t seem to have many survival skills are are very reliant on their mothers. The other females in the group that don’t have their own offspring become involved in helping raise the calves and help to teach them what they need to know, they will also look after the calf so the mother can have time to eat enough food to supply milk for the calf.
Elephants live in social groups called herds, herds are made up of females which are usually related and their offspring. The head of the herd is called the matriach and is usually the eldest and most experienced female. They also will have some interaction with other herds. Once the group starts to get too big some of the elder daughters will break off from the group and form their own small group, but they will always be aware of which of the local herds are their relatives and which are not. The life of the adult male is very different from the female. Once a young male elephant starts to get older he will start spending more time on the edge of the herd before going off on his own for a few hours, then a few days, then weeks until he is about 14 when he will begin to live on his own. While males don’t live in herds they will spend some time together and spend alot of time fighting for dominance as only the most dominant males get to breed with the females. It is usually the older males, about 40 or 50 years of age, that get to breed. Elephants communicate with many sounds, some that humans can not even hear. They use these sounds so that they are able to communicate over long distances with each other. Stomach growls in an elephant seem to be contented sounds so they can signal to other elephants that everything is okay.
Even though elephants have skin that looks thick and tough it is so sensitive that they can feel a fly landing on them.
Even though they use their trunks to suck up water like a straw it doesn’t go all the way up the trunk, they curl the trunk up towards their mouth, tilt their heads up and let the water pour in.
Elephants seem to show emotions just like humans. They are very social and will touch and caress each other often. They also show concern for sick or injured family members and seem to grieve when one of their family dies.