African Elephant

Scientific Name
Loxodonta africana, Loxodonta cylotisCommon Names
African Bush Elephant, African Forest ElephantClassification

Close Relatives

Elephants are the largest land animals living in the world today, their great stature and thick grey skin gives them an overpowering presence. Africa is home for two of the three living elephant species: the African bush elephant and the African forest elephant. Select a link to access specific information, or continue reading for an overview of African elephants.Both the African bush elephant and African forest elephant were once considered the same species, known simply as the African elephant. Their classification is still under debate which is a very common occurrence. Traditionally, a species is one that may interbreed with another; therefore it requires proof that African bush elephants may not breed with African forest elephants. Today, a more common approach is sequencing specific parts of the elephant’s DNA and comparing the differences (phylogenetics); this may also serve as proof for a new classification. The exact requirements are ‘fuzzy’ at best, and therefore it is perhaps a decision left up to the reader. Differences in appearance (morphogenetics) are sometimes valid and helpful, but the variance between species can sometimes be misleading, even the variance between in-species males and females is often extreme.

Due to their size, elephants do not have any predators in the wild; even a keen hunter such as a lion may try, but is not able to overpower these creatures. Elephant calves however may be preyed upon particularly if the mother is not nearby, otherwise the mother will often assist in protecting the calf.


On average African Elephants stand at around 3 metres (10 feet) tall and weigh in at 5 or 6 tonnes (10,000 to 12,000 pounds).

These unique mammals have large tusks, the tusks are their second upper incisors; in humans the equivalent would be our second front set of teeth! Both the male and female African elephants have tusks which can reach sizes of up to 3 metres (10 feet). Their tusks are useful in a number of different ways: primarily they are used for digging (i.e. digging for roots as a food and water source) and carving into trees (such as puncturing the baobab trees to feed on the pulp inside). Secondly the tusks are often used to debark trees; the elephants do this to mark their territory to other elephants. They are also useful in general where elephants can move fallen branches or tear branches from trees in effort to clear a path through dense areas, they also offer some form of protection and defence if the elephant is being attacked.

The trunk is another characteristic feature of the elephant that provides a number of uses, the trunk forms part of their nose and also part of their upper lip. It is a useful tool for drinking where elephants use it to suck up water which is held briefly in the trunk before they open their mouth and spray the water out of the trunk into their mouth for consumption. Their trunks are also used to gather food, allowing them to reach high up into trees or collecting from the ground; the end of their trunk can easily pick up and grasp objects. Another common use is to spray the water over their bodies when bathing or to keep cool in hot weather, and even as a snorkel when wading through deeper water. Trunks are used in social interactions between elephants where often elephants will greet each other by locking their trunks together, and any other number of possible uses that an elephant creates; similar to how we use our arm and hand.

Their ears may also be up to a metre (3-4 feet) long, apart from helping the elephant to hear they can be used as their own personal fan. In hot weather they flap their ears which provides a breeze to cool them and dissipate heat.


The largest elephant recorded stood just under 4 metres (13 feet) tall and weighed a massive 11 tonnes (24,000 pounds),
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