African Elephant Facts

Latin name: Loxodonta africana

The average large Elephant bull reaches a weight of 5.5 tons. Some males can be as heavy as 6.5 tons. The females average about 3.5 to 4 tons.

Sexuall differentiation:
Bulls are heavier in weight and generally have thicker tusks than the cows do.
A cow has a more prominent forehead when compared to the bull. With young calves it is rather difficult to see the difference in the forehead.

Gestation period:
The female is pregnant for 22 months.

Breeding and reproduction:
By 10 years of age both males and females are sexually mature. The male however, may only have his first opportunity of mating at the age of 20 to 25 years of age.
The female can give birth to her first calf at 12 years of age.

Only the stronger more dominant bulls get to mate and roughly once a year for about 1 week or as long as 2 or 3 months, the bull goes into a reproductive condition known a musth. When in musth, the male’s temporal glands start secreting excessive fluid and there is also a very visible flow of fluid from the genitals, which has a very prominent /powerful smell. This is all as a result of an increased level in testosterone.

Bulls in musth actively seek breeding herds to find potential females to mate with.
After a successful copulation the female gives birth after a gestation of 22 months. The newborn calf suckles for 18 months or as long as 2 years.
The reason for such a long weaning period is because of the many thousands of muscles that they have in their trunks, making it very difficult for the calf to control. As the calf learns how to use its trunk, it will start feeding more off vegetation and become less dependent on its mother’s milk.

The female’s on average give birth every 5 to 7 years.

Social Life:
There are two main types of herds to be found, breeding herds and bachelor herds.

The breeding herd consists of predominantly females which are related in some way or another. The oldest female normally leads the herd and is known as the matriarch. The matriarch has the most knowledge of the area in which they live. She knows where to find the best feeding areas as well as water.
Over time a breeding herd can get quite large with as many as 200 individuals or more. Large herds will often split with the second oldest female taking charge of the new herd. The two herds will go separate ways and on occasion will join up again for short periods.

Young males, at the age 13 years are chased out of the breeding herd by the adults to be on their own or to join up with other males in the bachelor herds.
Bachelor herds consist of only males. The size of a bachelor herd changes on a regular basis as the males come and go as they please.
Competition for dominance between males is fierce with a definite hierarchy.

Lifespan & Feeding:
A large Elephant bull will eat as much a 200 kg of food a day. Only 40% of that is digested as they have a very weak digestive system. They will eat on average 18 hours a day.

The age will vary from one area to the next. In South Africa they normally reach 60-65 years. In Kenya & Tanzania about 70-75 years. The world record oldest Elephant reached an age of 86 years.
The reason why there is such an age difference in the different countries is due to the type of vegetation that the Elephants are eating. The softer the vegetation is, the longer the lifespan of the animal.

Excluding the tusks, an Elephant has 8 teeth in its’ mouth, 4 molars on the top and 4 on the bottom. They eat on average 18 hours a day so eventually the teeth start cracking and fall out. A new set of teeth will then replace the old set. An Elephant goes through 6 sets of teeth in a lifetime and at the age of about 47 years the last set will push through. Once the last set of teeth have fallen out Elephant starts rubbing the vegetation between its’ gums to try break it down. The condition of the animal deteriorates as it can’t chew its’ food properly to get enough nutrition and eventually dies.

The Elephants in Kenya & Tanzania feed mainly on grass, which is their favourite food. The grass is soft on the teeth, so the Elephants last set of teeth last quite a long time.

The elephants in South Africa also prefer grass but in the winter period when there less grass to eat they then start feeding more on leaves, roots and the bark of trees. This vegetation is a lot harder on the teeth so the last set of teeth don’t last as long as the Elephants in Kenya/Tanzania.

Elephant's Trunk:
No one knows for 100% how many muscles there are. I have heard two figures, one of
40 0000 and another of 140 000 muscles. With so many muscles so close together it makes it difficult to count. What might look like 1 muscle could be a small group of muscles.
So the correct answer would be "the elephant has thousands of muscles in the trunk".

Quick Facts:
- An Elephant is capable of running at a top speed of 45km/hour.
- The African Elephant's closest relative is the Dassie (Hyrax)
- The collective name for elephant is a parade or memory of elephants.
- A Mature elephant bull produces on average 120 kg of dung every day!!


Anonymous said...

HI well im a elephant lover to the extreme and i love reading these articals, because one day i wish to become a wildlife conservationist for them in africa. I love elephants and africa so it seems so perfect. Im just thankful this blog is here so i can read and learn more interesting facts about them. Did i mention i love elephants? haha I love the pictures they are steller and the info is even better.

Suzanne Arruda said...

The great elephant herds on Mount Marsabit in 1920 Kenya (then BEA) are the focus of my 2nd historical mystery, STALKING IVORY. Researching their stories was fascinating.
Suzanne Arruda

Anonymous said...

I am a Safari Guide and have worked with Elephants over the last few years both in captivity and in the wild. There is still so much we don't know about them, in relation to their social structure and infrasound communications.
Thank you for sharing, very well writen and great facts.

Daniel Peel