African Elephant | Endangered Species Series

African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

Quick Facts:

Status: Threatened

Population: 470,000

Height: 8.2 - 13 ft

Weight: 5,000 - 14,000 lbs

Average Lifespan: up to 70 years

Habitat: Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests, Flooded Grasslands and Savannahs, Miombo woodlands, Acacia savannahs

Range: Central and Southern Africa

Diet: Herbivores - roots, grasses, fruit, and bark; they consume up to 300 lbs in one day

African Elephants are the largest land animals and are slightly larger than their Asian cousins. They can be distinguished by the shape of their ears - African elephants' ears are larger and resemble the shape of Africa. Elephant ears radiate heat to help keep the large animals cool in the intense heat. They also shower themselves with water by sucking it into their trunks and spraying. Afterward, they spray a layer of dust to protect their skin.

The elephants' trunk contains 100,000 different muscles. They use the trunk for smelling, trumpeting, breathing, drinking, and grabbing things. African elephants have two fingerlike features on the end of the trunk to grab small objects. Both male and female elephants have tusks that they use for digging and stripping bark from trees. The males also use the tusks for battling each other.

Elephants don't sleep often because they eat so much and have to travel great distances to sustain their large bodies. Female elephants live in herds with their young, while adult males tend to roam alone. The elephant's gestation period is 22 months - longer than any other mammal. Cows (females) give birth to one calf every two to four years and calves are born weighing almost 200 lbs and standing at three feet tall.


The illegal demand for ivory (mostly from Asia) is the biggest driver of elephant poaching. In the 1980's, close to 100,000 elephants were killed each year and up to 80% of herds were lost in some regions. While the trade of ivory is illegal today, it has not been eliminated and populations that once showed signs of recovery could be at risk due to the recent surge in poaching for ivory.

Habitat loss and fragmentation has reduced the elephant's range. Growing human populations, expanding agricultural land and developments have chopped the elephant's range from three million square miles to just over one million square miles. Poverty, armed conflict, and the displacement of people due to civil conflict also contribute to habitat loss. Shrinking room to roam for the elephants has increased human and elephant contact. Where farms boarder the elephants' habitat or cross their migration corridors, damage to drops or villages have occurred leading to conflicts that elephants often lose.

Sources: National Geographic, World Wildlife Fund

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