African Elephant

African Elephant


Most of Africa south of the Sahara.


Savanna or forest areas.


African elephants are the world's largest living land mammals. They are mostly gray in color, wrinkled, and have thick baggy skin with sparse hairs. African Elephants have large ears, shaped like the continent of Africa. These ears wave away insects and have many blood vessels that help disperse heat. They also help direct sound and aide in excellent hearing. Elephant trunks can be up to 6 ft. long and weigh up to 300 lbs. They are boneless with more than 40,000 muscles and tendons. Two finger-like projections are at the end to help grasp small objects. Elephants use their trunks to eat, drink, bathe, feel and lift heavy objects. They can hold up to 1 1/2 gallons of water at a time. Their trunk also provides them with an excellent sense of smell. Both sexes of the African elephant species have visible tusks. Tusks grow about 4 inches each year, but wear and breakage keeps them worn down. Tusks can reach lengths of 6-8' but are usually in the range of 2-3' long and can weigh up to 300 lbs. Elephants use them to dig for food, to lift and carry objects and in fighting. Molars may weigh 9 pounds each and measure about 1 foot long. Only 4 of these are present at a time, one in each side of upper and lower jaws. As these are being worn down, new molars gradually push old ones forward and out. Elephants have small eyes with long lashes and poor eyesight. Elephants have strong, round legs, heavy bodies, and round feet about 18 inches in diameter. Because of their stature, they are unable to jump. However, they can run up to 25 mph for short distances.

African Elephant

Elephants are usually social animals with females and young living in family groups dominated by matriarchs, usually the oldest females in the groups. In cases of danger, herds form a defensive circle with oldest or largest cows assuming front positions, and spreading huge ears in a threatening display. Males live alone or in small groups, only joining cows temporarily during estrus. Male calves are forced out of cow-calf groups at puberty, from 11 to 13 years, and may join up with other young males or live singly. Elephants are not generally territorial, but have home ranges which they travel for food and water, but they do not try to defend it from others. A condition called "musth" occurs in some elephants, where the temporal gland located between the eye and ear secretes a strong-smelling substance that runs down the animal's face. Males often become bad-tempered and unmanageable. It has been assumed this "musth" is a sexual phase but this has not been proved. Both sexes of African elephants exhibit the glandular flow, especially when aroused, but not necessarily sexually. This condition is still not completely understood. Adult elephants sleep only about 3 - 5 hours daily and seldom lie down. Bathing is a treat when possible and mud baths are often taken to help relieve them from ticks and other insects. If no water is available, digging with forefeet in moist spots often produces pools which also benefits other animals.


Females become sexually mature at about 11 years. Gestation is 22 months and usually leads to single births; twins are very rare. Calves weigh about 200 lbs. and stand 3 ft. high. Mothers nurse their young from 2 pectoral mammary glands. This continues until 2 years of age, with calves remaining close to mother another 2-3 years. A birth may occur every 3-4 years for the remainder of the cow's life. Female calves usually remain with the mother throughout their lives but not the males. Breeding can occur year-round.

Interesting Facts:
  • The term pachyderm is Latin for thick-skinned. Referring to an elephant's 1 inch thick skin.
  • Elephants have about 25 different sounds used for communication. Most of these cannot be heard by humans.
  • Elephants use tools, such as sticks and branches, for scratching.
About Our Animals:

The Zoo currently houses two elephants.

  • Christie (female): born 1986, received at Hogle Zoo 1988
  • Zuri (female): born August 10, 2009 at Hogle Zoo to Christie and father, Jackson (Pittsburgh Zoo)
African Elephant

Although it is difficult to know the current wild population of African Elephants, it is thought that fewer than 500,000 animals remain today. There may have been 3-5 million African elephants in the 1930s and 1940s. During the 1970s and 1980s, the population is estimated to have declined significantly. Most of this decline was believed to be from poaching and the illegal trade of ivory along with habitat loss due to human population pressure. Historically, the ivory trade was the greatest threat to African elephant populations, and remains a potential threat today. In 1989, CITES (Convention for the International Trade of Endangered Species Flora and Fauna)transferred the African elephant from Appendix II (which allows international trade under a system of permits) to Appendix I (the highest level of protection - no international trade). Now concern about conserving elephants centers around the reduction of their habitat due to expansion of human activities. Most elephant range extends outside the protected areas, and human-elephant conflicts occur when farming activities take place within an elephant range. It is predicted that as human populations continue to grow, habitat loss will become the major threat to their survival. AZA Zoos and other conservation organizations are working together to help this amazing species.

Did YOU Know?    
African elephant ears are shaped like the continent of Africa.
African Elephant
Class: mammals
Order: Proboscidea
Family: Elephantidae
Genus: Loxodonta
Species: africana
Length: 10-12 feet
Height: 8-11 feet
Weight: up to 12,000 pounds
Average Lifespan: 35-45 years
Wild Diet: Herbivorous: Grasses, roots, leaves, tree bark, branches and twigs; drinks 30-50 gallons of water daily
Zoo Diet: Hay, grain, 50 pounds of vegetables, fruits and bread daily
Predators: Humans

This is an ssp animal

USFWS Status: Threatened
CITES Status: Appendix I
Where at the Zoo? Elephant Encounter Exhibit

Learn more about mammals or animals from Africa!
Or, cross-reference the two!